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June 1, 2012

The return of the evil spelling test
Posted by Teresa at 09:40 AM * 319 comments

This is the latest version of my evil spelling test, enlarged and with extra evil added. As noted on a previous occasion, it’s built around words that trip up good spellers, arranged in an order that’s intended to increase their difficulty.

The origin of the test was pragmatic rather than theoretical. I made it out of words and word combinations which I’d seen misspelled by good spellers. I’ve gradually come to appreciate the role played in it by over-thinking and second-guessing. It’s easier to remember how to spell battalion when it’s on its own (two Ts, one L) than when it follows artillery (one T, two Ls), and is followed by vermilion (one L, though it’s pronounced like million) and guerrilla. Millennium and millenarian are a wicked pair all by themselves. They’re followed by miscellaneous because (a.) it’s often misspelled, and (b.) it’ll trip up test-takers who figure that if the last three words had double Ls, this one has to be single.

I first imagined it as an oral spelling test, where you hear the word and spell it out loud, the way you do in a spelling bee. (Thus the phonetic spelling of ˈkæʊnslər: it’s there for the momentary free-falling panic of hearing that set of sounds and not knowing which of its four alternate spellings (two if you define the word) is called for.) I’ve seen the spelling bee/oral test format criticized for its artificiality, but it has a strength others lack: it tests your real knowledge of how a word is spelled. Feeling that a word “looks wrong” is not the same thing as knowing how to correctly spell it.

Digression: old copy editors and proofreaders know that a typo you missed will often be right next to a typo you corrected. My theory is that closely adjacent typos mess up our “something is wrong at this location” radar. In the next pass, the first typo will be corrected, so the second typo will become visible. Of course, if the next pass is the printed book, that’s not going to help.

The proofreader’s sense that “something is wrong at this location” is a genuinely weird phenomenon. People who have a serious case of it will “feel” a typo go past when they’re riffling through pages too fast to be reading them. They’ll gradually sense the presence of a typo in their peripheral vision — for example, in the small print on a poster located eight feet up on the opposite wall, when they’re concentrating on reading something right in front of them.* When they’re proofreading, sometimes the typos on the next page will “light up” as soon as they turn the page. They’ll still methodically read that page against the setting copy, but there’s a good chance that the typos they saw in that first moment will be the only ones on the page.

If you can get enough of these people together for a conversation, it’s fascinating to hear them discuss the experience. For some, the misspelled text flashes the first time they see it, or is a different color, or floats slightly above the surface of the page, or vibrates. For me, there’s a bump at that spot, about the size of a caraway or fennel seed lying on the desktop underneath the paper. My mind can feel it, though my fingers know it’s not there.

Back to the test. Since spelling bees are impractical, I suppose it could be implemented as an online test that speaks the word out loud, and gives you the options of seeing a brief definition of it, seeing its phonetic spelling, and hearing it spoken again. You then type in its standard English spelling. It would be interesting to see whether error rates changed if you did or didn’t display the words already typed.

For the benefit of the copyright-impaired, this test is copyright © 2012 by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, all rights reserved; but if someone wants to implement it as an online test, talk to me.


a cappella



Comments on The return of the evil spelling test:
#1 ::: Tiercelet ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 10:09 AM:

Regarding the "missing the second error" effect, this is a real & scientifically studied phenomenon. There's a sort of "reset time" required between catching a second error, related to the way the attention "catches" on the first distracting experience. Richard J. Davidson discusses this incidentally in The Emotional Life Of Your Brain, though I don't have my copy to hand & can't cite more specifics right now (and it's a pop work anyway, not a detailed discussion of the actual research, but still).

I'd speculate that part of the proofreader's art -- or rather psychology, because people who are proofreaders never seem to stop practicing the art, even when it distracts them from their daily lives -- is finding spelling and typographical errors more distracting than do ordinary mortals...

#2 ::: Ole Phat Stu ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 10:16 AM:

When I ran a manual-writing department for an electronics manufacturer, we had two independent proofreaders and did Bayesian statistics to get an estimate of the number of remaining errors in the texts. The re-run was done by two other proof-readers.

#3 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 10:23 AM:

It must be a pretty indivudual thing, the misspelling of words; only about 20% of the list is liable to give me problems,* and I'm not great at spelling. My nemesis isn't even on there--and no matter how many times I check I *cannot remember* whether it should be "separate" or "seperate".

I wonder where my error is in this post. :)

* In the sense that I type them, look at them, and go, "That's not right".

#4 ::: Aubergino the Eggplant Boy ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 10:33 AM:

Eek! I believe there's an error in the list. It's icHthyology, not icthyology. Does Muphry's Law apply for spelling tests?

#5 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 10:46 AM:


"icthyology" must be a remaining cut-and-paste error from the previous incarnation of this test, which had the same error (inherited from an external list). I remember that one either by thinking of the Christian fish symbol which has a chi in it, or by remembering that "cth"starts spelling Cthulhu and is therefore to be avoided.

#6 ::: L.N. Hammer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:05 AM:

For me the location of the issue is almost tactile, but it's not so concentrated as a bump -- it's more of a "there's something wrong in this general area," which makes me stop and look through the passage/paragraph in more detail. No pinpointing. I say "almost tactile" because while it's a texture, it's a visual texture. Sort of.

(I'm not very good at describing synesthetic effects ... )


#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:12 AM:

Dang. I knew there had to be a misspelling somewhere in that entry; it's the price of writing about spelling. Lorax is right about the source of that error. The external list from which I got it was compiled by Edmund Weiner, deputy chief editor of the OED. Being of greater dignity in these matters, I hope he was commensurately more embarrassed.

What actually embarrasses me is that I forgot ajay corrected me last time around. I'll fix the spelling, and footnote its antecedents.

#8 ::: parkrrrr ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:27 AM:

Carrie S.:

When I was in high school, one of my English teachers took it upon herself to teach us ten words a week that were likely to cause us trouble either in spelling or in usage. The trick she taught us, and that I still remember, is that when you separate something you make one into a pair. So I mentally pronounce it "sep-pair-ate" and never accidentally spell it with an E.

(The same teacher also set me on a lifelong course of misery, for it is because of her that I can't help but notice and cringe at each usage of "between each.")

#9 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:59 AM:

I'm not even trying the test-- I'm highly dependent on a spell-checker. Fortunately, I'm not apt to substitute a real but unintended word.

I've come up with a heuristic-- if a word seems like it should have two pairs of double letters but it doesn't, the first potential pair is actually a singleton. This solves 'tomorrow' and 'necessary', but I don't know whether it generalizes.

Any comments on 'judgment' vs. 'judgement'? The spell-checker has trained me into the latter, but is the former actually wrong?

#10 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 12:05 PM:

Carrie S. @3: One mnemonic I've heard is that "there's 'a rat' in 'separate"."

#11 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 12:31 PM:

Both judgment and judgement are correct. Just be consistent.

#12 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 12:38 PM:

Glad to hear that, Jim, because it looks wrong to me, without an 'e'. I blame my French origins. What used to really throw me off are words that are almost exactly the same ib both languages, but one of them adds an extra letter. For example, 'address' and 'adresse'...

#13 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 12:39 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz (9): My mnemonic for 'necessary' is that a double 'c' would make the pronunciation 'neck-sessary', which is wrong.

#14 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 12:41 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ #9: "Judgment" usually looks wrong to me, but in fact it's the preferred US spelling, with "judgement" more common in the UK. But it's a matter of what your stylebook says.

Canadians tend to mix and match, sometimes in the same piece of writing They're pretty consistent in preferring "-our" to "-or", less so about "-re" to "-er", and as for doubling the l in "shovelled/shoveled" they're all over the map.

#15 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 12:42 PM:

I'd like to see how well I'd do with this list as an oral spelling test. Right now, I think I'd do well -- but then, reading them and recognizing the spelling is quite different from hearing them and coming up with the spelling.

Last night, Keith and I went out for our anniversary dinner at a local French restaurant. We were seated near the bar, where a TV was playing the National Spelling Bee. The sound was turned off and closed-captioning was turned on.

By the time it was down to four contestants, it seemed like many of the spelling words were just straight-up not in English. Not even loan words; just purely foreign. I don't even know how to pronounce "arrondissement" in any sort of anglicized way ("AIR-un-DISS-munt?" joked Keith) and I'd never use it in English writing without italicizing it to indicate that it is in a foreign language.

I was interested to note that one of the questions contestants could ask was the origin of the word (i.e. French, German, etc.). I don't remember that being an option in the regional spelling bee I went to in eighth grade. That would really help -- tells you which set of spelling rules to apply. They could also ask about the part of speech of the word (i.e. verb, singular noun, plural noun, adjective, etc.)

I did feel bad for the boy (maybe 12-13 years old, I estimated) who got "vetiver." I only know that word from reading perfume descriptions, and the number of young teen boys who read a lot of perfume descriptions is probably quite small. Keith said he'd never encountered "vetiver" before that moment, either, probably because he still doesn't read a lot of perfume descriptions.

I did learn that "vetiver" is from Tamil via French. Neat.

Re: proofreading: Sometimes a misspelling will light up at me at a glance (I'm guilty of glancing at Keith's computer while he works on web design and blurting "That's not how you spell [word]"). Sometimes I'll just get a vague sense of something being wrong, and won't know whether it's spelling, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, or what, until I look carefully. I have never analyzed the difference between the two situations. I know it's not just "isolated words" vs. "wall o' text." Is it how I'm reading (for content vs. for corrections), or something about the particular error, or what? I wonder.

Another thought: I always misspelled "fuchsia" until I read someone laughing that English-speakers misspell "fuchsia" because we're uncomfortable with starting a word "F-U-C." (Can't recall who. Someone here? Maybe Randall Munroe?) So now, when I write or type "fuchsia," I think of the other "F-U-C" word, snicker to myself -- and spell "fuchsia" correctly.

#16 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 12:47 PM:

Out of curiosity, is the timing (the day after the National Spelling Bee finals) deliberate?

Incidentally, I'd assumed for years as a kid that "calender*" was a valid alternate spelling, because one of my Infocom games (Deadline, maybe?) accepted it. It wasn't until years after I'd learned the correct spelling that I found out that the Infocom parser (at least for the Atari 8-bit versions) only paid attention to the fist six letters of each word.

*Yes, I know "calender" is actually the correct spelling of a word that doesn't mean the same thing as "calendar."

#17 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 12:47 PM:

Mary Aileen @ #13: That's why I say "suck-sinct", and cringe on hearing "sussinct" or "flassid".

#18 ::: Lawrence ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 12:53 PM:

The discussion of "ichthyology" took me back to the 2007 article, which I read with enjoyment, but it brings me to note a disagreement with Teresa. She cites "fuchsia" as the only difficult word on the OED list, and I'd point to "plagiarism," as well. I see that as "plagerism" a lot, most recently on rec.arts.sf.written, where after seeing it misspelled five times in a row I could no longer resist correcting it.

"Fuchsia," incidentally, stopped giving me trouble roughly forty years ago, when I realized its origin.

#19 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 12:55 PM:

Mary Eileen @13: Mine for "necessary" is "May it not have departed!"

...which...only maybe works for people looking at Latin "ne" plus "cessi" for the perfect form of cedo, and still ignores what the proper subjunctive would have been. But it helps me. I found a lot of peculiar doubling (or lack thereof) of consonants in English made more sense once I encountered the root words in Latin, and saw what prefixes where being slapped onto what verbs.

(Knowing Greek has helped almost not at all with words derived from those roots, though. I think it's because of the different alphabet; my brain refuses to swap between the two easily.)

#20 ::: Aubergino the Eggplant Boy ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 12:57 PM:

TNH @7: ”the price of writing about spelling.”
Agreed. The glee with which others point out errors I’ve let slip is the only part of being an editor that gets me down.

(Though I confess my pulse races too when I spot an error in a site of such authority [e.g., on a list from Edmund Weiner]. A moment when I think I’m passing some sort of test or receiving a coded message. Too much Borges too close to bedtime...)

#21 ::: Aubergino the Eggplant Boy ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:00 PM:

Lorax @5: I like your “chi” trick for ichthyology. I remember the extra h from games of superghost in the car, when “chthonic” and “ichthyology” were good traps for someone hoping to spell “lunchtime.”

Nancy Lebovitz @9: I think “judgment” is preferred in American English but “judgement” is preferred in British English (except in legal documents, where it’s judgment in both). That’s a common split between AmE and BrE; a cringing acknowledgment in AmE, a cringeing acknowledgement in BrE. Just the sort of nice* distinction that’s kept me in work as a professional nitpicker for years.

*In the sense of “demanding excessive precision and delicacy” or “trivial”; i.e., not nice at all.

#22 ::: Beth Friedman ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:30 PM:

Fun. I honestly think the only one of these that would have tripped me up is vermilion, but I do this for a living, and have the spelling gene.

As long as you're annotating things, is it worth noting that you mean the verb form of "prophesy"? The preferred version for the noun (MW11 and AHD3) is a different, but also correct, spelling.

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:43 PM:

Beth Friedman: Does it help to know that it's got "vermeil" in its roots?

#24 ::: Craig ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:52 PM:

I still don't get why it is strategy, but stratagem. Aside from that, I'm pretty sure I'd have an error rate of about 10%.

#25 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:55 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Lillian Edwards

OK, the last two may commonly be misspelled by a smaller population demographic.

#26 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 02:20 PM:

Fade Manley (19): I'm only correcting this because it's a spelling thread: 'Aileen', not 'Eileen'. :)

(now, what error did I make in this post?)

#27 ::: stfg ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 02:30 PM:

The word I always have to think about before spelling is 'ophthalmologist.' There are two 'h's in the first syllable and a silent 'l.'

#28 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 02:42 PM:

'Supersede' reminds me of having to type it when I wanted to supersede a Usenet post, back in the day. One had to edit 'Supersedes:' (and the ID of the original post) into the heading of the new post, which was a good way of learning to spell it properly.

I read the Internet rather quickly and it disturbs me, a bit, how much I use duff spelling as an excuse to skip what that writer's saying. It's only partly the issue that I can't read badly-spelt stuff at speed; I'm basically always looking for excuses to move onto something else, and bad spelling is one that I do use a lot.

Do a site-specific Google search on a physics-journal site for the word you get when you swap the middle two letters in 'hadron'. The Large Hadron Collider has a shamefully-misspelt ithyphallic twin, evidently difficult to spot if you're not being hypercautious.

#29 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 02:44 PM:

Caroline, #15: Re "vetiver", are you another BPAL aficionado? Because I know that's where I know it from!

Teresa, #23: Well, it helps me! And no, I didn't know that.

#30 ::: Fox ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 02:52 PM:

Hmm, mnemonics.

- Parallel has a pair o' ells. (This was when we were nine or ten and learning about parallelograms - which, side note, just the other day I witnessed a kid and his mom talking about how the crosswalk was full of parallelograms, and I was delighted.)

- Rhythm Has Your Two Hips Moving.

- Never Eat Cheese, Eat Sausage Sandwiches. (-ary)

There was one for "tomorrow" as well, but I can't remember it at this late date (but am still bugged when my choir director e-mails about the "schedule for tomm."; then again, this is the guy who says we'll be rehearsing a piece by "Palistrina", when the poor fellow's name is right there on the page for him to read, so what can you do).

These days I mostly get stumped by the occasional in- vs. un- prefix, and by seize, graffiti, and Sagittarius, but not spaghetti, Mississippi, Cincinnati, or Massachusetts.

#31 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 02:56 PM:

Mary Aileen @26:

*facepalms* Sorry about that. And this would be why I usually copy-paste usernames, instead of typing them out. I will blame the nature of the thread for convincing me to do otherwise.

#32 ::: Cath ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:04 PM:

I don't feel tactile or colour signals for typos - my eye just goes there. For example: in the first few minutes of the first Iron Man movie, Tony Stark is at an awards ceremony, surrounded by magazine covers which all feature him. One of the headlines has a word misspelled in it. First thing I saw as the scene began.

I've wondered if proofreaders tend to a certain personality type, as well as expression of the spelling gene? As a depressive perfectionist, I tend to focus on the "wrong thing" component of my environment first. This often makes me more depressed. The first time I ever positively reframed this trait as one that could be useful, and marketable, was to connect it to my talent for proofreading.

#33 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:08 PM:

The proofreader’s sense that “something is wrong at this location” is a genuinely weird phenomenon. People who have a serious case of it will “feel” a typo go past when they’re riffling through pages too fast to be reading them.

It's similar for picking up anomalies in software test results.

What happens to me is that, if I read or review something with the appropriate level of inattention, I stop at errors. If then get paranoid and reread with very close attention, I discover that my inattentive self caught all of the errors.

If I lose the flow and pay too much attention, I miss things until I find the right level of distraction again.

#34 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:11 PM:

Adam Lipkin @16: "Colander," actually (other uses of the tennis racquet [both spellings of the tennis implement are correct, but one would not speak of "racqueteering."]).

Beth Friedman @22: I was just about to note that about "prophesy" and "prophecy," but you beat me to it.

And yes, a misspelling or grammatical infelicity in a block of text fairly leaps out at me. It's somewhere between a gift and a superpower.

#35 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:15 PM:

L.N. Hammer @6: Your synaesthetic effect might be similar to my synaesthetic effect. Neat, if so. Mine shows up as part of the page being a little out of plane with the rest of it -- or at least that's the closest I can come to actually describing it. There was a Zenna Henderson story in which a kid with a similar ability to spot mathematical errors in architectural paperwork reaches over and "tries to pick up that funny little room" that nobody else can see. Does that sound at all familiar to how yours works?

#36 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:19 PM:

A pal of mine was in the region-and-time-delimited cohort on which the Initial Teaching Alphabet was, briefly, tried. He blames it for the fact that he's never been able to spell.

#37 ::: Adam Rice ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:24 PM:

I like how you punted on counselor. Or is it councilor?

#38 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:32 PM:

abi@33: I hadn't thought of the analogy, but you're right. I'll often find myself paging through test output faster than I would think I'd be able to process it. Some anomalies, at least, just pop out. (It sometimes doesn't register until my fingers have already carried me several pages on.)

#39 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:38 PM:

Lee @ 29: I'm more of a BPAL aspirant, in that I read all the BPAL descriptions and wish I could justify spending the money when really, I just want to sniff them.

However, I suspect the BPAL descriptions may indeed be where I know "vetiver" from. Either that or The Perfumed Court.

#40 ::: Barbara ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:54 PM:

My trick for 'necessary' is that it's the same order as in 'cessation'.
And my bugbears are the -s/cens/ce words. Incense, absence, licence, presence. (Which one have I spelt wrong? argh)

I have TNH to thank for giving me the vermeil root for vermilion so that I can always get it right.

#41 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 04:01 PM:

You should add 'seigneur' near the end of the list.

#42 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 04:07 PM:

Lee @29 and Caroline @38:

*raises hand* BPAL person here. And yep, spelling of vetiver. Also the spelling of Xiuhtecuhtli, though sometimes I forget that first h.

(Memo to self: time to find homes for more of the excess BPAL again.)

#43 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 04:08 PM:

And vermilion has a red lion in it, at least for me. A red lion chasing a worm.

#44 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 04:09 PM:

Oh and I'll bet that 'corroborate' needs to go between 'hemorrhage' and 'corollary' because that double-r followed by the single-b will make 'corollary' that much harder to spell correctly when it comes.

#45 ::: Aubergino the Eggplant Boy ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 04:11 PM:

Cath @32:
I’d venture to guess that the spelling gene and depressive perfectionism are related. If there’s a neural quirk (or superpower, or affliction) that lets one see “the wrong thing” quickly -- that in fact makes it impossible not to see it -- it could lead to an outlook that might seem critical & dissatisfied to others & oneself. The depressive part of perfectionism.

People of this sort who find their way toward activities where the trait is useful and not a social or psychological liability are, I think, lucky.

Abi @33:
...until I find the right level of distraction again.

Constructive inattention, yes. When I’m proofing, as opposed to copy editing, I unfocus my eyes a bit until the text gets blurry; misspelled words then pop right out, as they still appear in sharp focus to me. If I trudge through prose word by word I’m much more likely to miss errors.

#46 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 04:13 PM:

Fade Manley (31): Don't worry about it. It happens. (I very carefully copied and pasted your name that time.)

Barbara (39): 'License' always used to give me trouble because I'd start off 'lis' and then get lost. The closest I usually got is 'liscense'. Which isn't very close. I can usually get it right nowadays, but it sometimes takes me several tries.

My big problem with the tricky words is that I know when they're wrong*, but I can't always figure out how to fix them. 'Corollary' completely defeated me once; even the dictionary failed me. I was spelling it with a double 'r', and then got hung up on the similarity to 'correlation'. I finally just rewrote the sentence.

*they just look Wrong

#47 ::: Pamela Dean ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 05:12 PM:

I just want to say, as someone who does not have the proofreader sense but is generally accounted a good speller, this test is uniquely horrible. I can feel my ability to spell anything at all eroding with each additional word as I read on in the list. I am truly afraid to continue through it. It's like a malign spell.

Um, which is to say, I think, well done.


#48 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 05:21 PM:

When I was grading tests, I zoomed right through-- count up points, go. I discovered fairly quickly that a certain amount of caffeine is completely necessary to put me in the right headspace. Without coffee, I go too fast and miss things, plus I want to stop about an hour earlier than I can. With caffeine, I zone out in the right way and go all the way to the end of my shift.

I sometimes boggle people by saying I don't use spellcheck. I have the spelling gene, as others here do, and I also write fantasy and science fiction and scientific stuff. I'm much more likely to typo by swapping words entirely* and spellcheck's not going to let me know that I typed 'everyone' when I meant 'elephant' or whatever other mistake I've made.

*this is not true of as-I-type typos, which are fairly common, more so since the Scary Stroke Migraine, and we're just not thinking about that.

My thoughts on spelling bees: here.

#49 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 05:21 PM:

The test probably would toast me. Maybe not if I could write the answers, but decidedly if I had to speak it. Things don't quite just "look wrong" to me; my fingers know them, too. But my tongue isn't as reliable.

I would actually be likely to spell it haemorrhage. I seem to have inherited a number of mostly-phased-out "ae"s, but only in medical terminology.

Serge @ 12: The one French vs. English one that kills me is yogourt. Because I'm an anglophone, but it darn near physically hurts to spell it yogurt. It's WRONG. But it seems to be the accepted spelling for most of the English sides* of containers. (Although I note the current spellchecker agrees with me.)

And of course there's "manoeuvre". That's officially the Canadian accepted spelling and easy to remember due to oeuvre, but when I used it at my last workplace, one of the therapists asked me to please use the American "maneuver" instead. (which latter I probably screwed up spelling.)

*For those who don't know, Canadian packaging is bilingual. EU packaging looks to be even more entertaining, as one tries to guess how many languages, and which ones, *this* company will use.

#50 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 05:21 PM:

Possibly add "Faroes" after "Pharaoh"?

Or are homonyms considered too evil?

#51 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 05:34 PM:

What's funniest to me is that between this and coeur, people might start thinking I'm remotely fluent in French. Pas depuis longtemps. I was fluent at half my current age.

Although it's amazing how much came back to me in two weeks in Spain. (yes, Spain. A: see above re: food packaging. B: French tourists, especially in our resort. C: It did sometimes help in deciphering Spanish to have a romance language in mind. And most of all: D: Something I discovered when attempting to learn Welsh in university is that when I know I'm attempting to figure out or recall something *not in English*, especially Indo-European, it uses the same part of my brain that knows/knew French. If I were asked for the Welsh word for a building from which one borrows books, if I couldn't recall 'llyfrgell' (god I hope I spelled that right), I'd be more likely to think 'bibliotheque' than 'library'. Worked for Spanish, too, only moreso.

#52 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 06:04 PM:

For me, it's a sensation like an itch, or that tickle you get at the roof of your mouth where scratching only makes it worse (that may just be me). Misspelled words itch in my eyeballs somewhere, and like mosquito bites, I can't quite get my attention back off of them.

And I am definitely guilty of the "there are three egregiously misspelled words in this one paragraph, therefore nothing that this person has to say is worth my time to read." My lovely partner is... how shall I say? a creative speller, and it drives me right round the bend, to the point where the only way I can cope with it is to find amusement in it. (Making the grocery list together one morning, I said we needed hoagies, and she dutifully wrote "hogges." It still makes me giggle.)

And on the brain's segregation of native vs. later-acquisition languages: because I speak Japanese, I am the go-to person for the people I know when they want to spell [random Japanese word]. That's not a thing that works out for me well, unfortunately, because they don't seem to really truly grok that Japanese doesn't use the Roman alphabet, and for some reason trying to break down spelling and transliterate at the same time breaks my brain. They say, "Spell kamikaze for me," and they want me to come back with, "Kay, ay, em..." and instead I just stand there flopping my mouth open and closed like a fish while my brain goes, "Sure! か み か ぜ. There you go."

Thanks, brain. :|

#53 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 06:08 PM:

Lenora Rose (49): Oh, yes, if I had to spell these out loud, I'd flunk badly. My spelling ability is entirely visual. I can't even reliably spell easy words out loud; I have to write them down and look at them.

I also have trouble writing down people's names when they're spelling them to me. I lose letters, or get them reversed, or something.

#54 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 06:11 PM:

alsafi (52): Would it help to write it down in Japanese and then transliterate the results?

#55 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 06:11 PM:

David Wald @ #38, regarding anomalies:

"Other sins only speak, murder shrieks out."

#56 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 06:12 PM:

Steve w/b, #36: I knew someone (a friend's kid brother) who was subjected to that lunacy. I still remember thinking, "I'm only 12, and I can understand that having to learn to read twice is a terrible idea. What's wrong with the grownups, that they can't understand it?" I've lost track of that friend since, or I'd inquire as to how things came out for him.

Caroline, #39: I saw what you did there. :-) Sometime we should get together and I'll bring my imp collection. I mostly buy imps because that way I can afford more stuff!

Elise, #42: I've got a fair amount of excess as well. I'm considering putting up a post in the For Sale section on the forum.

Diatryma, #48: That sort of word-swapping typo has become more common for me of late (as in, the past year or so). I'll be zipping along on something, and look back and there's a place where I typed a completely different word that happens to have the same first 3 letters as the one I intended. That's kind of scary, because I never used to do that, and I don't know why it's happening now.

#57 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 06:21 PM:

Ole Phat Stu @2: Did you do your own typesetting, or always use the same typesetting service? I love the idea of using Bayesian analysis to estimate typos, but most of my work has been with texts set by large typesetting firms that employ multiple keyboarders. That's either too much noise or too little text for mathematical analysis.

Carrie @3: The true mnemonic for separate is that it's from the same root as "parity".

I like etymological mnemonics because I'm not good at remembering arbitrary ones. "Necessary" I remember as "without stopping" (ne + cessare).

L. N. Hammer @6: It's a good description of a very odd phenomenon. "Synesthesia" and "visual texture" are right because your brain is trying to translate or represent something that's not part of the normal sensorium, so it turns it into other sensations.

If I can see and identify typos, there's a bump under them that slightly elevates the paper. But if there's an unlooked-at typo in my field of vision, and my brain is trying to tell me about it, it starts as a vague ...something over there --? feeling, and gradually becomes a sort of haze or halo, like a circle of probability that's shaded more densely toward the center.

This is where the phrase I saw in a flash becomes interesting. It could be explained as "I saw quickly or instantly," but I wonder whether this class of experiences lurks behind it. Patrick and I have both had the experience of turning a page and having the typos on the next page "flash" in that weird synesthetic way. Abi sometimes sees software errors do that, and S. T. Joshi once told me that he saw it happen with bibliographical errors. I've also had it happen with mechanical problems, and when I'm doing cryptogram puzzles, I'll occasionally see the entire puzzle flash as my brain translates the complete passage in one jump.

It can be completely internal as well. I remember it happening when Joanna Russ and I were patching together a new critical synthesis. It was like sheet lightning going off in my head.

What's common to all these experiences is synthesis, as though your brain were highlighting the objects pertaining to its instantaneous new knowledge. There's a tiny high that goes with it, a little reward from your neurochemistry.

Nancy @9, judgment/judgement and acknowledgment/acknowledgement were the only point of usage where Robert Legault and I could not agree, which makes it a very fine point indeed. He felt it was inappropriate to use the extra "e" if you weren't British. I held that I didn't have to be British to spell them with the extra "e", and anyway the other versions Just Looked Wrong.

We didn't so much settle it as mutually recognize that there was no point arguing about it, so I'd put the "e" versions in when I created frontmatter and checked copy edits, and he'd take them out during proofreading.

Caroline @15, spelling bee word lists are by nature somewhat arbitrary, though I'm surprised to hear that arrondissement made it onto the list, since it's not the least bit English. Usually the most alien words are names of imported products for which we don't yet have a domestic equivalent, which is why caoutchouc and ipecacuanha turn up in early 20th C. word lists.

I studied the Words of Champions chapbook when I was in that age range, and it added some highly ornamental specimens to my vocabulary: eleemosynary, recrudescence, onomatopoeia, tintinnabulation, syzygy, fuchsia, supercilious, antediluvian, and so forth. I hardly ever use them, but when I do it's always an occasion of secret glee.

I observed the same embarrassing fact about fuchsia that you did, back when I was a clean-minded young lady. Nowadays I just remember that it's named after a German scientist named Fuchs.

Adam Lipkin @16: The timing isn't intentional. I've had this in draft for a while.

Lawrence @18: Plagiarism is frequently misspelled, but it's not a word that normally trips up good spellers. For that, you need bad logic, misapplied etymology, arbitrary features, or foreign orthography.

Fade Manley @19:

I found a lot of the peculiar doubling (or lack thereof) of consonants in English made more sense once I encountered the root words in Latin, and saw what prefixes were being slapped onto what verbs.

(Knowing Greek has helped almost not at all with words derived from those roots, though. I think it's because of the different alphabet; my brain refuses to swap between the two easily.)

Yes. Enough people spoke Latin that its spellings kept seeping into ours. Greek was a rarer language, and transliteration was a barrier, so we ignored its grammar and just raided it for vocabulary.

Aubergino @20:

A moment when I think I’m passing some sort of test or receiving a coded message. Too much Borges too close to bedtime...
Who but we know about the hauntings of textuality, its half-seen suggestions and momentary apparitions?

Tell me you've never had the printer or typesetter of an old text show up in your dreams to explain what happened. That's how I met the poor hapless tradesman who undertook to produce the original edition of The King in Yellow. He looked a lot like Will Shetterly. It ended badly, of course.

Just the sort of nice* distinction --
Awwww, that's sweet.

Beth Friedman @22: Yes, that's the verb. Would it cause trouble if I followed it with the noun? I'm all about the trouble.

Cath @32, I think the personality type connects not with the ability but with the willingness to do that thankless job. My shrink used to tell me that the language I used to talk about copy editing sounded just like her patients who talked about their dysfunctional families.

Or maybe there is a necessarily pessimistic component. You know how there are people who can switch in and out of copy editor mode, and others who are permanently stuck in it? I've heard from more than one switch hitter that when they've got their copy editor head on, they'll fail to register the existence of jokes they would normally catch.

Steve with a book @36, he might have been a nonspeller anyway, but the IES can't have helped.

If English were going to be spelled logically, we'd have done it by now. Spelling reform just creates two spellings where there used to be one. Being English speakers, we don't decide which one is right. Instead, we add the new one to our collection.

Adam Rice @37, that's counselor, counsellor, councilor, and councillor. The doubled Ls are British-preponderant. Counsel(l)or is one who gives counsel; council(l)or is a member of a council. They're on the list because they're amusingly disorienting, not because they're hard to spell.

j h woodyatt @41: Nice one. Seigneur shall be added. Now, where would it cause the most confusion ...?

j h woodyatt again, @44:

Oh and I'll bet that 'corroborate' needs to go between 'hemorrhage' and 'corollary' because that double-r followed by the single-b will make 'corollary' that much harder to spell correctly when it comes.
Mmm, evil. I like that. Got any more additions or reshufflings?

Abi and Aubergino, re distraction and constructive inattention: IME, a sudden flurry of unnecessary queries from a copy editor or proofreader probably means they were getting tired, and were concentrating on the text to stay awake. They lose their proper focal length.

Pamela Dean @47:

I just want to say, as someone who does not have the proofreader sense but is generally accounted a good speller, this test is uniquely horrible. I can feel my ability to spell anything at all eroding with each additional word as I read on in the list. I am truly afraid to continue through it. It's like a malign spell.
Yessssssssssssssss! Bwah-ha-ha-hah! It worked!

...You aren't just saying that to be nice, are you?

#58 ::: Beth Friedman ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 06:43 PM:

TNH @23: Knowing it has "vermeil" in its roots might help, but just having it mentioned here will probably create the mental flag I need to remember it. Also someone's "red lion" comment.

#59 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 06:56 PM:

Diatryma @48, that's an amazing story. Forty-six rounds! Any one of those kids would have won in any other bee.

I just looked up weissnichtwo. Cool word. It's a sister city of Utopia and Kennaquhair.

#60 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 07:32 PM:

Now you've got me imagining a vermilion gorilla with blue suede pseudopods.

#61 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 08:10 PM:

Oh! On the topic of spelling bees, I've recently been playing a marvelous bit Choose Your Own Adventure? Text adventure? Narrative with choices involved? It's a story thing, in any case, done up as part of the beta for a new site by the people who did Echo Bazaar.

The main site is Varytale, and it has a few different story options, but I've been fascinated for days (partly because taking actions is on a refill timer) by the one called Bee. You play a young home-schooled girl who's training for the spelling bee.

It's fascinating to me, how the family dynamics and cultural dynamics--and the growth of the main character--weave in and out with the concentration on learning how to spell strange and unusual words. The protagonist has a distinct personality, but the choices she (well, you) make are constrained and opened both by earlier choices, and cultural indoctrination, and all sorts of other things. And it often comes back to spelling: as a concentration tool, a mode of defiance against parents, a meditation on spiritual matters.

Anyway. It's a bit hard to describe. I recommend playing it. (Now, recommend, that was a word that tripped me up for a long time. It's surprising how long it took me to realize it was just "commend" with a prefix.) It doesn't require any sort of login or account creation, though if so you'll want to keep your story tab open so that you don't lose your place.

#62 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 08:27 PM:

I too had a younger sister who was subjected to ITA for the first couple years of elementary school (suburban NJ, around 1970). It helped her write more elaborate pieces than were normal at that age, but it gave her great difficulties in spelling for several years afterwards.

#63 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 08:33 PM:

Why is a spelling bee called a spelling bee?

#64 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 08:37 PM:

Serge @63: I'd assume it was by analogy with a quilting bee, where people got together to quilt and worked industriously (like bees?); possibly as short for "bazaar"....

#65 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 08:40 PM:

TNH @ 57,

Got any more additions or reshufflings?


p1. Consider adding 'dissension' just before 'desiccated' and following it with 'dysentery' for the killing blow.

p2. Consider adding 'naïve' (award bonus points for getting the diaeresis correct) almost anywhere... maybe after 'nonpareil' so you can tempt them into putting an extra 'e' into it.

p3. Speaking of which, note that 'diaeresis' is an evil, evil word to be asked to spell properly.

p4. Consider following 'liquefy' with 'aquifer' then 'acquaintance' because that -ance suffix will almost certainly trip your victim if the 'acq-' string at the beginning doesn't.

p5. Consider adding 'schist' after 'miscellaneous' because you haven't hurt them with a silent 'c' yet and it comes right after a nicely voice one, so they might be tricked into leaving it out.

I'll think of more, but my bus is about to arrive at my stop.

#66 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 09:19 PM:

I have a small knack for spotting typos which is handy but it's an "always on" power that is triggered sometimes by incorrect spelling, sometimes by inconsistent formatting. When it happens, it does feel like it's come about as a flash of recognition.

The above list? Some of the words are easy because I use them regularly, while some trigger the feeling that 'I can't spell anything right at all' which is disconcerting. A combination that often gives me pause is 'dependent/resistant'.

Different variant spellings also give me pause: 'colour' vs 'color' is easy. 'Manoeuvre' vs 'maneuver'? Not so much.

NB: A dictionary was consulted in the production of this comment.

#67 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 10:31 PM:

Diphthong. People misspell this one because they mispronounce it DIP-thong as opposed to DIFF-thong.

#68 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 10:31 PM:

Teresa, I looked up a very few of the words-- I mostly relied on people I told the story to to boggle and prove to themselves that the words were real. I dropped 'jnana' into a Scrabble game recently. Felt awesome.

I sometimes think about going back to volunteer for the big Bee-- past spellers are encouraged to do so-- but it's Wiscon weekend, so that's probably not going to happen.

#69 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:02 PM:

I think the only one of those I really have to think about is occurrence, which doesn't seem as though it should be all that difficult.

TNH said I've heard from more than one switch hitter that when they've got their copy editor head on, they'll fail to register the existence of jokes they would normally catch.

That's interesting. I don't think it's true for me. I'm definitely good at catching inadvertent dirty jokes while I'm editing. Okay, maybe I do sometimes miss some of the intentional ones, but I don't offhand ever remember realizing on second pass that I'd missed a joke.

#70 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:09 PM:

I remember the day I got the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, cracked it open, and found a typo within moments. I've also found a typo in the OED (a reference to Beverley Hills).

Unfortunately my family does not appreciate my superpower as they should.

#71 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:27 PM:

I hate "fuchsia", not because I don't know how to spell it, but because it's just Wrong. And vermilion should have two lls. I don't know why.

I used to be a terrific speller, and over the last ten years I find I have to double-check words I used to be able to spell without difficulty. Though some of the words on your list have always given me problems: iridescent, for example. I add a second "r", and then my head says, No, that's wrong, and I have to look it up.


#72 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:04 AM:

Non-working asterisk on ambience.

#73 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:39 AM:

The anatomy of Pac-Man: (there are other pictures elsewhere with a similar theme linked to on these threads a while back)

#74 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:41 AM:

oops wrong thread

#75 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:42 AM:

Erik, there's mouseover text.

Fade Manley @61, I'm having a lovely time reading/navigating Bee!

My own error-sense matches L.N. Hammer's description @6 -- "Something's wrong somewhere in here." Synesthetically speaking, it's most like the day I spent wondering where my formless, low-level discomfort came from, then discovered at bedtime that a hair had threaded itself through my bra cup so as to poke me almost undetectably.

I was all set to say that the spelling test holds no particular terror for me (maybe "plenitude"), but then I had to check whether "synesthetically" had a second A in it.

#76 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:44 AM:

...As in "synaesthetically." Not "synestheticaally."

#77 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:48 AM:

I am pretty good at picking out misspellings (though spellcheck is WONDERFUL for real typos), but the thing I'm good at that is somewhat odd is finding extra spaces, or where somebody used spaces instead of a tab, or fairly bizarre occurrences such as that. I only discovered this ability due to my job at a photography studio. We create our own promotional materials, and since it's a small family company staffed with people whose primary skills tend to be visual rather than verbal-visual, the results can be hilarious. And then I started pointing out the extra spaces (usually after periods, go figure that JM learned on a typewriter) and things got extra-weird.

I work there a few days a month, and they have been known to save copyediting for me. Along with the usual load of emergency photoshop stuff.

I've noticed an odd typo habit that's started cropping up with my typing. I'll start switching C and S, usually when it's the soft-c, but sometimes just wholesale swapping. Of course, it usually happens when I'm tired. There has to be a fascinating brain reason for it.

#78 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 01:33 AM:

Synaesthetic has an ae ligature :) At least in some 19th century books.

I'm a good speller, and a dang good proofreader, but volunteering at Distributed Proofreaders for eight years has seriously messed up my spelling. I can't remember whether I should be spelling for the 18th, 19th, or 20th century, ir whether to use AmE or BrE. I have to remember that "bowlder" and "choak" are acceptable for their time and place.

Then there's proofing old French, or 16th century Scots dialect. We had a fascinating discussion in the DP forums a while ago re the word "umquhile" -- Scots version of the perfectly ordinary "whilom" :)

#79 ::: ctate ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 01:40 AM:

So why do we spell phis with a "ph" sequence, anyway, when there's been a perfectly serviceable 'f' for the sound all along?

[Aside: "serviceable" is one of my bugaboos, the -eable just does NOT want to reach print when I write it, despite it making perfect sense.]

#80 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 04:30 AM:

alsafi @52: Not 神風?

ctate@79: Because the Romans did. (And the Italians and Spanish went and changed all those ph's into f's, engaging in fotografia rather than photography.) According to current scholarship, in Classical times a φ was not an f sound but an aspirated p, and so they transliterated it as a different letter set.

#81 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 05:05 AM:

ctate@79, Wikipedia comments that instead of phi being a voiceless labiodental fricative, like it is in modern Greek, classically it really was an aspirated voiceless bilabial plosive, i.e. a P with some rough breathing after it, so "ph".

Also, Greek has an obsolete-by-classical-times letter digamma, also called wau, shaped like one gamma stacked on top of another (i.e. like a F), which did the job of a V or W depending on whether it was voiced or evolving into a semivowel. It was mostly gone even by Homer's time, but shows up structurally if invisibly in places like the beginning of οἶνος (wine, vine, and related words in Latin and other nearby languages). Alphabetically it was after epsilon, just where you'd expect an F, instead of shoved at the end with the letters the Greeks made up themselves instead of getting from the Phoenicians. Phi also looks like the Phoenician letter Qof, which mainly turned into qoppa (mostly gone by classical times), but might have some relationship with phi.

#82 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 06:49 AM:

I was amused yesterday to read this Guardian article about the international love-matches generated by the Erasmus European university exchange programme. Obviously I knew that English is often going to be the only common tongue of two randomly-selected Europeans, but it never struck me that it would therefore be used by newly-formed romantic couples who aren't native speakers. Not French or Italian, but English, as the Continental langugage of luuurrrve! Who would have thought it?

#83 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 07:30 AM:

Looking through the word list again, I think that the average speller would be able to make a reasonable stab at most of them, in the sense that he or she would manage to write something immediately recognisable as an attempt at the intended word. There is sufficient Hamming distance around each word for the error-correcting reader's brain to correctly identify a near-miss spelling. (Bazaar/bizarre, but that's a different part of speech so the reader should be able to puzzle it out; guerrilla/gorilla? Perhaps.) The tricky minimal pairs are perhaps mainly in systematic chemical names. Propane, propene, propyne.

alsafi@52, David Goldfarb@80: character amnesia among youngsters (who universally use Pinyin input methods) is allegedly rampant in China; 'everyone' supposedly can recognize characters but 'no-one' can write them without computer assistance. The shift from pens and brushes to computers is clearly having some effect, but are intelligent people really (as alleged) unable to even write the first few strokes of common characters? If so, this is something of a different order of magnitude from English spelling issues.

I used to pronounce 'gauge' as 'gorge'. That's the flipside of spelling problems; pronunciation issues. If you read a lot as a kid and don't have anyone to talk with about it, your pronunciation is all over the place.

My handwriting is full of spelling errors which aren't really spelling errors, they're terrible handwriting. I tried to switch to an Italic hand about 15 years ago and it left me with a half-Italic script that is worse than the handwriting I started with.

#84 ::: NickB ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 11:11 AM:

Sorry, but how can you assert copyright over a list of words to be used in a spelling test? OK if someone lifted you accompanying text but I don't think copyright works for a list from a dictionary.

#85 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 11:32 AM:

All these years I've been misspelling "restaurateur" with an n, but in fairness, I've never seen it without the n.

Who'da thunk it?

#86 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 11:44 AM:

NickB, assuming you're not a driveby (it's your only comment under that email), a piece of advice: don't start comments with "I'm sorry, but." It's a troll marker, and turns people against your comment before they even read it.

#87 ::: Lulu ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 11:58 AM:

Great list, but where's the test?

#88 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:14 PM:

What's with the drivebys on this post? Lulu, can you really not figure out how to make this a test? Is reading aloud a forgotten skill?

#89 ::: Mike Lynd ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:21 PM:

This English dictation is supposed to have created at Belvoir Castle before the First World War, alternative spellings indicated. (Thanks to John Julius Norwich: 'A Christmas Cracker', 1982, for this)

"The most skilful gauger was a malignant cobbler, possessing a poignant disposition, who drove a pedlar's wagon (waggon), using a goad as an instrument of coercion to tyrannise (-ize) over his pony. He was a Galilean and Sadducee, and suffered from phthisical diphtheria and a bilious intermittent erysipelas. A certain sibyl with the sobriquet (soubriquet) of a gipsy (gypsy) went into ecstasy at seeing him measure some peeled potatoes and saccharine tomatoes with dyeing and singeing ignitable (-ible) materials. On becoming paralysed with haemorrhage, lifting her eyes to the ceiling of the cupola to conceal her unparalleled embarrassment, she made a rough curtsey (curtsy), and not harassing him with mystifying, rarefying innuendoes, she gave him for a couch a bouquet of lilies, mignonette, fuchsias, chrysanthemums, dahlias, a treatise on pneumonia, a copy of the Apocrypha in hieroglyphics, a daguerreotype of Mendelssohn, a kaleidoscope, a drachm (dram) of ipecacuanha, a teaspoonful of naphtha for delible purposes, a clarinet, some liquorice, a cornelian of symmetrical proportions, a chronometer with movable (moveable) balance, a box of loose dominoes and a catechism. The gauger was a trafficking parishioner who preferred the Pentateuch. His choice was reparable, vacillating, and with occasionally recurring idiosyncrasies. He woefully uttered an apothegm (apophthegm): 'Life is chequered, but schism, apostasy, heresy and villainy must be punished.' The sibyl, apologising (-izing), answered: 'There is ratably (rateably) an eligible choice between an ellipsis and a trisyllable.'"

#90 ::: Derryl Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:35 PM:

Good to read about that "feeling" of something going past. My wife is at the Canadian Library Association conference in Ottawa right now, where she presented a poster session. She hauled out the poster for me to see and promptly told me she'd kill me if I pointed out any spelling errors. Within 30 seconds she couldn't take it any more and asked me to show her, and was relieved to know it wasn't spelling, but a simple punctuation (apostrophe) that could be filled in with a Sharpie. And then she admitted that yeah, it might have been a good idea for me to give it a going over. Going through life seeing tyops everywhere can apparently be tiresome to one's spouse, apparently.

#91 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:38 PM:

It's not just the list of words, it's the specific organization thereof. That turns it from a dictionary list into a piece of writing, and there are certainly enough words to lift it out of the "too short to copyright" exemption.

#92 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:41 PM:

Missing: 'checkered' as an alternative to 'chequered'.

#93 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:43 PM:

I have trouble remembering how to spell hypocrisy. Am I the only one?

In a better world, it would be 'hypocracy', or at least that's how I want to spell it, even though both version look wrong.

#94 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:51 PM:

And isn't 'peddler' an accepted spelling for 'pedlar'?

#95 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:51 PM:

Lee @ 56: Would you believe the pun on "aspirant" wasn't intended? I saw what I did there too, but only after I'd posted it! :)

An imp-sniffing get-together sounds wonderful, though! And I was looking at the imp sets yesterday (after you mentioned BPAL, I had to go drool over it again); maybe I'll put aside the money to make a completely frivolous, self-indulgent, lovely-smelling purchase.

Teresa @ 57: I still remember learning "onomatopoeia," and what a sense of power it gave me. I also have a moment of secret glee when I get to use words of that kind.

I learned "syzygy" because it was the name of a local restaurant. My hometown has restaurants named Syzygy, Serendipity, and Irregardless. I think naming restaurants after wonderful words (or joke words, in the case of Irregardless) is an excellent way to do it. I would name a restaurant Fuchsia, but nobody would ever manage to type the URL properly… (I had to check -- is currently unoccupied, but being domain-squatted.)

#96 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:59 PM:

My two favorite words aren't really suitable as restaurant names. Who would go to a restaurant called "Pathognomonic" (another good spelling word btw)? And 'Callipygian' would have to be a strip club or something.

#97 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 01:02 PM:

This post was linked to by BoingBoing and by Brad DeLong (among others).

Welcome to all our new visitors!

#98 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 01:08 PM:

Ahhh, that explains both. NickB is an overenthusiastic copyleftist (Cory Doctorow isn't entirely against the existence of copyright), and Lulu was expecting some kind of online test that you could take and that would give you a rating.

#99 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 01:25 PM:

I'm interested in that synesthesia¹ TNH describes -- among other issues, it's a good hint that we really are looking at a neurological quirk.

¹ Which word Firefox didn't recognize.

#100 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 01:28 PM:

Xopher, Callipygian is one of my favorite words. Not sure why, maybe what it means, maybe how it rolls off the tongue.

Just saying.

#101 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 01:50 PM:

Speaking of old spellings, is there a rule for when it is proper to use a long s and when to use a short one? Does it derive somehow from what is harder or easier in penmanship?

#102 ::: mordicai ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 01:57 PM:

NOPE. No way am I taking that for a spin; my spelling is atrocious even without seeking out ways to make it worse!

#103 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 02:02 PM:

Near as I can figure you use the short s for terminal letters and the long s everywhere else.

#104 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 02:09 PM:

Xopher, Callipygian is one of my favorite words. Not sure why, maybe what it means, maybe how it rolls off the tongue.

It's the rolling, either way.

#105 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 03:11 PM:

David Harmon @99: How does Firefox's spellchecker do on "synaesthesia"? (Or even "synæsthesia"? Though that latter would surprise me.)

#106 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 03:31 PM:

Licence/license: In the UK, they're both correct but with different meanings: licence is the noun, license the verb.

Haemorrhage is the correct spelling in the UK, as is e.g. oesophagus.

JM @75: It does in British English!

"Occurrence" is a pain for me, and I have to use it a lot. Ditto "accommodation" (I only want to write one "m").

I'm pretty good at spotting typos, extra spaces etc. in other people's work - my eye is drawn to the errors sufficiently to distract me from the content of the writing - but I have real problems with spelling words when the pronounciation of the vowels doesn't make it clear whether it's "a" or "e".

I clearly learned to read by the "whole word" approach, thus I'm useless at e.g. Scrabble and anagrams: words, to me, are parts of sentences, not collections of letters...

#107 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 03:39 PM:

I've been putting Civil War-era letters online. Typing them is an exercise in leaving in all the misspellings (there's a word to miss on: the double 's' will do it every time). They spelled by ear, as far as I can tell, so reading them aloud works pretty well, and would even get some of the dialect.

#108 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 03:47 PM:

dcb (106): But neither of them starts with 'lis'!

I knew that British English used both spellings but not what the distinction was, so thanks.

#109 ::: Andy Cunningham ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 03:59 PM:

One of my challenges is the difference between US and UK spellings. I once wrote a documents in UK English describing how to control display colour using various X...Color() functions in the codes which took a lot of attention?


#110 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 04:11 PM:

P J Evans @107 -- I recommend trying the same on a revolutionary war diary. The spelling was even less regular then. One of my favorites: sodomme. ("Saw a Lt. Col Malkum's regiment drummed out of the Army never to return for committing sodomme", IIRC -- it's been over 20 years since I saw the note in Obediah Wetherell's diary, now in the Huntington collection.)

#111 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 05:06 PM:

Phonetic spelling. Reading it aloud helps a lot. (I'd bet that the writer had never seen the word, only heard it.)

#112 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 05:18 PM:

Back when I was in high-school, I participated in a local TV station's spelling-bee show. Our team did pretty well. I still have my prize - two Western novels written by a French anarchist.

#113 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 05:24 PM:

Erik Nelson@101: is there a rule for when it is proper to use a long s and when to use a short one?

The last time I looked into this seriously (about 20 years ago) I couldn't find any period in which English had a completely consistent rule, but Jim Macdonald's "terminal 's', medial and initial 'ſ'" was the closest thing there was. I did at one point hack a mix of TeX macros and ligature tables to do this automatically for the quotes in a friend's thesis, which was complete overkill but fun.

Tom Whitmore@110: sodomme

Except for the double "m" the pronunciation of that final "e" makes it seem like a carried-over Greek name. A lesser-known muse, maybe?

#114 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 05:26 PM:

David Goldfarb #105: "synaesthesia"? (Or even "synæsthesia"? Though that latter would surprise me.)

Nope, no variations either. (And it does correct naivete to naiveté.)

#115 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 05:36 PM:

David Wald, I love the idea of a muse Sodome. And I'm reminded of my intial reading of the name of occasional commenter Throwmearope, who really ought to be named after the Muse of Emergency/Rescue. Throw-may-ah-row-pay.

#116 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 05:45 PM:

103: Jim -- Long s:

Errr... I think that should be "short s initally or finally, long elsewhere". (I've been thinking about transcribing & posting at least parts of Parkinson's "Paradisi in Sole", and am looking for software that will cope with both the long s form he used and a modern format.)

#117 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 05:49 PM:

On long and short 's' - when it's a double 's', the first one is long and the second is short. (I can't remember if my beginning German text had short or long 's' in the initial position - it's been a long time, and I don't have anything at hand that's in fraktur.)

#118 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 05:59 PM:

Flicking through my copy of Hebrew in Three Months (Glenda Abramson, 1993, Hugo's Language Books Limited) the other day, I saw this snippet of dialogue for translation in Exercise 82: He hasn't arrived yet. I gave him a very nice present. A ticket to travel in a bus to Sodom, to the desert. I had never before considered that Sodom was a place you could catch a bus to, and whiled away an hour on travel sites and Google Maps trying to find out exactly what bus would get me there, should I ever need to make the journey.

#119 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 06:02 PM:

And of course in German sz was ſ and a z that looked more like a 3 (ſ3), which is why the resulting letter ß is given by ß in HTML.

#120 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 06:08 PM:

Xopher@119: I've promised myself that I'll learn German when they've stopped mucking around with the spelling rules for using ß and ss. Learning a language is difficult enough when it isn't a moving target!

#121 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 06:12 PM:

Bill Stewart at 81: Wow, so the Georgians are closer with their ფოტო (their other p being პ) than we are with our "photo." Neat!

#122 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 06:13 PM:

Restaurant name that ought to be: Physiognomy

Specialité de la maison: Sushi with smiley faces

#123 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 06:16 PM:

Steve @ 120: I'm of two minds about the German spelling reform. One, I've already learned the language once, and that was quite enough. Two, to spell deliberately archaically, e.g. Churfürst for Kurfürst.

#124 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 06:19 PM:

I learned to use ß finally or after a long vowel. They changed the rule?

#125 ::: Nicholas ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 06:22 PM:

Perseverance is one of the words whose spelling I can remember because I saw it in print well before hearing it in speech, and guessed at the pronunciation all wrong. Inside my youthful head, it was per + severance for years.

#126 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 06:57 PM:

Don Fitch@116: I think that should be "short s initally...

That's not the more uſual rule I've ſeen, but ſee my earlier comment about not finding any really conſiſtently-obſerved ſets of rules. (Does Parkinſon uſe word-initial ſhort "s"? The plates I found in a quick Google ſearch ſhow word-initial long "ſ".)

P J Evans@117: Yes, I'd forgotten the double s "ſs" pattern.

I alſo remember a German rule about components of compound words ending with ſhort "s", but I found very little evidence of it in Engliſh typeſetting.

As I ſaid earlier, though, my memory of all this is baſed on caſual reſearch 20 years ago, ſo I'd love to ſee anything more authoritative (or even more confidently ſtated).

(Also, if the long "s"s in the above are illegible in anyone's browser, I apologize. Please tell me.)

#127 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 07:13 PM:

Re: Callipygian (and on my first attempt, I swapped the y and initial i...sigh), also one of my favorite words. I think I first encountered it in an article in Conde Nast Traveler about the Seychelles, wherein was mentioned the callipygian fruit of the coco de mer palm. So of course I had to go look up the word, and was treated to numerous versions of the Aphrodite Kallipygos.

And the next time I saw my dentist, I gave it to him as a vocabulary word (something he asked me to do when he noticed I used lots of words he'd either never heard before or only rarely). He chuckled.

#128 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 07:15 PM:

I saw it used in writing in a document from the 1880s (Civil War pension papers). I hadn't thought it was in use that recently.

#129 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 07:35 PM:

Don Fitch #116: Errr... I think that should be "short s initally or finally, long elsewhere".

Yet the National Register, quoted in the next post down, (Find the Hand of Franklin) uses long-s for non-capitalized initial letters throughout. (It was the example I'd worked with most recently.)

#130 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 07:51 PM:

Nancy, #93: No, you're not. "Hypocracy", "hypocrasy", and "hipocrasy" are all very common. You'd think no one knew how to use an online dictionary.

Caroline, #95: My partner has always said that if he owned a restaurant, he'd name it "I Don't Know, Where Do You Want To Eat?"

P J Evans, #107: I once had a cow-orker who was an absolutely terrible speller, and if you listen to her talking it was obvious why; she was also a very sloppy speaker, and she spelled things the way she pronounced them. The only one I remember at this point was "skeleton", which she pronounced (and therefore spelled) like Red Skelton's last name. What was really bad was that she wrote text that the clients were going to see; by the time it got onto the statements it had gone by me and been proofread, but her initial client letters... oy.

#131 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 08:02 PM:

Lee, I have a cow-orker who can spell - most of the time - but who, AFAICT, doesn't run documents through either the grammar-chucker or spillchucker. (The grammar-chucker would probably miss the more egregious errors, anyway, because they're not the kind of errors it sees: 'hand's on training'.) And this is the person who handles the training and documentation....

#132 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 08:30 PM:

Lee, I loved having coworkers (and especially bosses) who couldn't spell. Eventually they would go to me for things; several people in my old department would come to me for rewrites on their most important memos. I loved doing that.

#133 ::: Linda ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 09:51 PM:

Some miscellaneous comments:
1. My trick for remembering "separate" is to remember that "I use a paring knife to separate pieces of fruit."

2. During college, I had a summer job proofreading for a weekly paper and picked up the trick of scanning backward through the text, which I still use. I pick up quite a few typos that way that I miss following the text the way it's meant to be read. Scanning frontwards, I start actually reading - especially if it's an interesting topic - and my brain sees the word that's supposed to be there instead of the one that is.

3. I'm convinced that typos go into hiding, too. When I worked for a magazine publisher, we typically had at least 3 people proofing each story, sometimes 5 or 6. Every so often, usually when more people were proofing, there'd be one error that every single one of us would miss - and of course it would be glaringly obvious in the published version.

4. I've always relied on whether a word "looks right," but the more time I spend on some of the, shall we say, less literate areas of the internet, the less confident I am that the word I'm looking at is spelled correctly. Apparently there's a frequency component - the more often I see a particular misspelling, the more "right" it looks. Arrrrgh!

#134 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 11:06 PM:

I recall a place in Harvard Yard advertising in mock-18C spelling that it had "beerf and alef" (beers and ales) for fale. My husband and I have been saying beerf and alef ever since. It makes one sound wonderfully drunk.

#135 ::: Marc Mielke ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 11:16 PM:

The "word looks wrong" effect helps me spell immensely. I do okay in print, but absolutely cannot visualize the words enough to spell out loud. I don't know why that is, though.

#136 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 11:26 PM:

Steve with a book @118: I had never before considered that Sodom was a place you could catch a bus to, and whiled away an hour on travel sites and Google Maps trying to find out exactly what bus would get me there, should I ever need to make the journey. Oh, very cool. And now I have to go check Google Maps for Gomorrah.

P.S. Going to Sodom on a bus is now cross-pollinating with the phrase "Go to Putney on a pig!" which an old friend used to use. I think this means it's bedtime chez Lioness.

#137 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 11:30 PM:

Linda @133: re: point 3.

I had a friend who worked at a print shop with a design department. They did an annual report for a company that didn't want to spend a lot on photography or design — the cover was the company name on a plain field.

You can see where this is going. That design worked its way through the department, through various levels of approval, including client approval, on to printing.

Only then did anyone notice that the company's name on the cover was misspelled.

#138 ::: Marc Mielke ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 11:30 PM:

Oh! I thought I'd follow up with one misspelling I kind of loved when my friend made it: idiosyncracy.

I told him that it sounded like a wonderful form of government, but would it be rule by those with the most little quirks or the strangest?

#139 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 11:45 PM:


#140 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 11:59 PM:

Xopher, #132: If it had worked that way, I wouldn't have minded it either, but this particular person had a well-developed case of DKS. She also thought she was a programmer, and would try to "correct" my code; and I think she had a touch of the abiveld as well, because routines would mysteriously break when she tried to run them. Then she'd come and ask me what I had changed about Routine X, and I'd go over to her terminal and run it again, and it would work just fine.

Linda, #133: My friend B calls that effect the "Internet Brain Virus" (IBV). One of the ways we learn to spell is by reading things which (presumably!) have been properly edited and have the words spelled right. Reading text with horrendous spelling errors puts the same process into reverse.

#141 ::: Doug Burbidge ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 12:52 AM:

Marc Mielke @138: Damnit, I was going to comment that Nancy Lebovitz @93's 'hypocracy' sounded to me like a system of government, but you have beaten me to the same punchline by a different path.

#142 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 02:04 AM:

Lenora Rose @49: Would it help to spell 'yogurt' as 'yoghurt' and make a mental reservation that the 'g' is silent (which it is -it's a transliteration of a Turkish 'ğ', or perhaps of its predecessor in Arabic-based Ottoman script - which just lengthens the sound of the preceding vowel)?

#143 ::: Thoams Horgan ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 02:57 AM:


#144 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 05:47 AM:

Doug @ 141:

Hypocracy - A suboptimal level of government. Not to be confused with its antonym, Hypercracy.

Hippocracy - [Classical] Rule by Houyhnhnms. [Modern] Rule by the Big Boss, quite possibly in a tutu.

Hippocrasy - Rule by rich boozers.

Hypercrassy - The rule of the crudest! Duh!

Ipecacocracy - Rule by persons of whom the public is heartily sick. Thought by some to be the ground state of human social organization. Subsumes all the categories above.

#145 ::: etv13 ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 06:15 AM:

A couple of people on Language Log kindly explained to me the technical rules about long and short s, but alas, I can't find that thread now. I do remember there were fairly systematic rules, though.

#146 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 08:13 AM:

etv13@145: Here's your query and the responses.

#147 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 08:40 AM:

"He forgot."
"Yeah. Well, that's human beings for you."
"Once a man signs an IOU, everything goes black."
"Yeah, the doctors call it magnesia. We cure it."
- a mobster's legbreakers in "Kiss Me Kate"

#148 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 10:23 AM:

Gary Woodland #44: There was once a band called the Disposable Heroes of Hip-hopracy.

#149 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 11:14 AM:

And the obituary page reminded me: "disparate" and "desperate."

Slightly OT: Does anyone else remember those weird crossword-like puzzles that supplied words with one or two letters missing, ambiguous clues involving the choice of two possible substitutions for the missing letter, and the tortuous logic that led to the correct solution?

#150 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 01:38 PM:

We're living in a cacocracy even now. And that's not a joke.

#151 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 05:10 PM:

Rob Rusick #137:

It appears that the local university's School of Public Affairs actually printed up the worst missing-letter tyop they possibly could for the programs for their recent graduation convocation. I'm not totally sure whether those programs got handed out to the attendees, but if they did ...

#152 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 05:27 PM:

Steve with a book @28:
When the "Supersedes:" header was introduced, it took three tries to get right; initially it was spelled "Superseeds:", then was "corrected" to "Supercedes:".

Lenora Rose @49:
"Yogurt" hasn't given me problems for a while, thanks to a historical progression: "yogurt" from older spelling "yoghurt" apparently from Turkish (!) "yoğurt" (the yumuşak g acts as a vowel lengthener).

David Goldfarb @80:
Aha! I had wondered if anyone distinguished between /f/ and aspirated /p/.

Re proofreading and similar things, I've probably mentioned this before, but one of my odder abilities is being able to have system logs scrolling by impossibly fast (as far as reading) in a small window and yet be able to spot anomalies in it, especially but not only while focused on something else (e.g. an editor window)

And I've always had this annoying tendency to pick words that are wrong — sometimes very wrong — but close in some conceptual space. Occasionally I wonder if I should record them when they happen and try to deduce my brain wiring therefrom.

(bet I get diverted by the gnomes again for the reference links...)

#153 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 05:39 PM:

I once heard someone say "mediocrisy" when they meant "mediocrity", so I wonder whether mediocracy is government by the media or government by the mediocre.

#154 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 05:47 PM:

One complication with trying to find "Gomorrah" is that it may well be spelled "Amora" or similar; the initial "g" was a Greek approximation of a voiced glottal stop, which these days is usually simply omitted. (And the "a" vs. "o" is another shift in pronunciation. Both, by the way, shifted differently in different populations.)

#155 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 06:37 PM:

Erik Nelson #148:

Couldn't help but be reminded of The Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros.

#156 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2012, 08:36 PM:

Thoams Horgan @143: Yes. There's a reason it's on the list.

NickB @84:

Sorry, but how can you assert copyright over a list of words to be used in a spelling test? OK if someone lifted you accompanying text but I don't think copyright works for a list from a dictionary.
Is there a hope in hell that NickB will come back to see the response he got? Probably not, but someone else might be confused about it. So:

1. NickB has demonstrated what any longterm netizen already knows: you don't have to know or care about a subject in order to have opinions about it.

2. All copyrighted texts consist of strings of words. Most of those words are in the dictionary.

3. I'm not claiming a copyright on the spellings themselves; but then, neither do dictionaries. Originality is not a prized characteristic in spelling compilations.

4. The list is not from the dictionary. It is an original creation. Quite a lot of time and thought has gone into it, and into all the preceding versions I've produced over the years.

5. Read comment #47, which is by Pamela Dean. If you think there's no special virtue in my spelling test, randomly select an equivalent number of words from a good dictionary, arrange them in random order, and see what effect (if any) your list has on spellers like Pamela.

#158 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 02:27 AM:

Since people have brought up callipygian, would "spathic" (*) have a place on Teresa's list, or is it too uncommon?

And, since _nobody_ else seems to have responded to this so far: Carrie S. @3, it was "indivudual". :)

For me they're like tiny mental speedbumps, in a way. I'm also at the stage now where my fingers will produce typos on their own that weren't there when the brain was signaling to them, and I don't always catch all of those. But it makes me happy that I'm not using an actual typewriter for lo these many years; Internet backspace keys WORK!


(*) "possessing great cleavage"

#159 ::: etv13 ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 06:24 AM:

David Wald@146: You are a genius. Thank you.

#160 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 08:08 AM:

Lenny, I wasn't going to say anything.

#161 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 12:05 PM:

The one that gets me is manouevre.

#162 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 01:19 PM:

I think it would be fun to get a bunch of folks together to do this in a Google+ Hangout. Any interest?

#163 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 02:46 PM:

Geekosaur @ 152:

I've posted this link before (back on Open Thread 154), but here is a fine disquisition on the nature, origins and spelling of the word yoghurt, prefaced by a proverb related to the consumption of dairy products.

#164 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 05:06 PM:

The ever-querulous Queen's English Society is to fold, or perhaps it isn't, as the chairman and the president seem to disagree on the matter. ("The trouble is, these days no one wants to join a committee.") I had never heard of their Academy of Contemporary English, which hasn't exactly shifted the world on its axis (different than and hopefully get trotted out for public humiliation for the usual weak reasons, and Ms gets the treatment you'd expect—I can see why no-one would bother joining a committee for the sake of this sort of stuff).

#165 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 05:27 PM:

(The problem is, I'm actually very much willing to defend (say) keeping the distinction between disinterested and uninterested, but not if it means partaking of the clubbable cosy fug of organizations like the QES.)

#166 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 06:41 PM:

Steve wab: I feel the same about mandatory/compulsory and continuous/continual. Nobody in my D&D group in college understood why I thought Continual Light was a really stupid spell!

#167 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 07:16 PM:

Skwid, #162: I might be interested, provided that (1) I can get a webcam set up so that I can do the Hangout thing at all, and (2) it's at a time when I'm not going to be somewhere else.

Hmmm, related question: does the iPad have a camera function which can be set up for something like this, and if so, how?

#168 ::: Lee has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 07:17 PM:

I'm guessing I used a Word of Power. Hello, O Gnomish Ones!

[It was. "Webcam." -- Terou Alivan, Duty Gnome]

#169 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 08:47 PM:

They'll gradually sense the presence of a typo in their peripheral vision — for example, in the small print on a poster located eight feet up on the opposite wall, when they're concentrating on reading something right in front of them.

I don't get this with typos, but I do get it some kinds of typesetting problems. The first time I noticed one of these malformed subway door decals, I had to get up and move to another seat where my view of the decals was blocked before I could get back to reading my book. The sideways os made it totally unignorable.

#170 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 10:24 PM:

P J Evans @117:
On long and short 's' - when it's a double 's', the first one is long and the second is short.

Sometimes, but apparently not as a general rule. For instance, a quick Google search reveals far more OCRed cases of "In Congrefs Affembled" than of "In Congrefs Afsembled".

#171 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 10:29 PM:

Avram, #169: I don't see a problem with the Os specifically, but the word "lean" just jumps out at me. Horribly kerned, letters misaligned, and the weights of the characters don't match the rest of the sticker! ObXKCD.

#172 ::: Laura Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 11:44 PM:

I've got the spelling gene and the proofreader's curse but strangely enough, when finding typos, it's a distinct thump or thud I hear and feel, and not anything I SEE.

#173 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 07:00 AM:

Xopher HalfTongue@166: not quite the same thing, but that 'inflammable' is not the opposite of 'flammable' fascinated me when I was a little kid.

#174 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 10:20 AM:

Steve with a book @ 173: That reminds me of the word I learned recently: "pyrogenic."

I learned it because I saw a package of pipettes labeled "non-pyrogenic" and thought "Well, that's a novel way to solve the flammable/inflammable debate."

Then I looked it up and learned that "pyrogenic" means "fever-producing," not "fire-producing." Ah well.

#175 ::: JCarson ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 10:24 AM:

I also have the proofreader's curse - for me, it feels something like when your toe catches on the carpet and you trip - my eye gets caught in a similar way.

I was thinking about this while weeding yesterday, because in the same way that a typo right next to another one can slip past, weeds can become invisible if they're near each other - I always have to do at least two sweeps of the flowerbed to get them all, because weeds that were invisible the first time across become obvious the second time.

#176 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 10:56 AM:

JCarson @ 175: This is the QA tester's sorrow. You test something thoroughly, log all the bugs, they get fixed and you look at it again -- and see the things you missed the first time.

If I've put in a long day of weeding, I see little weed seedlings against a background of dirt when I close my eyes.

#177 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 11:20 AM:

Steve w/book, #173: That issue downright offended me when I was a kid, and still bugs me. At age 6, I'd grasped the principle that the "in-" prefix reversed the meaning of a word (such as flexible/inflexible), and when someone told me that "flammable" and "inflammable" were synonyms it felt like an outright betrayal of common sense and logic. That's just WRONG.

#178 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 11:39 AM:

janetl@176: This is the QA tester's sorrow. You test something thoroughly, log all the bugs, they get fixed and you look at it again -- and see the things you missed the first time.

There's at least one respect in which the software QA situation is worse (or better, depending on whether you're trying to get the task done or apportioning blame): while a typo may distract you from a neighboring typo, and a weed may cover a neighboring weed, a software bug can prevent an adjacent bug from manifesting at all. From the coder's point of view the problems are analogous, but a (black-box) tester may have no chance of getting everything in one pass.

#179 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 11:47 AM:

A thought just after hitting "post" on that last note: stepping slightly away from reality (I hope), I'm pondering a fantastical typo so egregious that a neighboring typo literally couldn't be seen.

(In my case, that in turn pulls my thoughts back to my TeX hacking days and the fun way that the execution of TeX code could, and often had to, change the code around itself on the fly. It wasn't my first exposure to self-modifying code, but it was the first time that the code in question was intermixed with—and modifying—English-language text.)

#180 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 01:36 PM:

Lee, does it help you to realize that the 'in-' in 'inflammable' isn't a negative prefix at all? It's part of the verb 'inflame'. 'Flammable' is "capable of supporting flame" or something, but 'inflammable' is "capable of being inflamed."

It's just homographic with the negative 'in'.

#181 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 06:31 PM:

I pointed Jon Singer at this post. He was miffed that it wasn't an actual, like, you know, test.

#182 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 06:38 PM:

Good grief, what does it take to have someone read it aloud?

#183 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 07:24 PM:

Avram at 169, Lee at 171:

After years of making newspaper pages and stuff, I find myself slowing down as I walk down the street because I feel compelled to identify the fonts in every sign I see.

#184 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 07:27 PM:

"Proofreader's curse" would be a good D&D spell, perhaps. Maybe a sort of superpower like the one in The Letter Bandits.

#185 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 07:30 PM:

Xopher, if you've seen the test ahead of time, that's cheating*. And I do not think I am the only person who spends a lot of internet time alone.

*I know it's not logical, given how common some of these words are, but it's supposed to be a test.

#186 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 07:57 PM:

Avram @169: That sign would cause me to recoil from it and the door in horror, which would discourage leaning.

#187 ::: ctate ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2012, 09:12 PM:

Avram @169:

Have you seen Google's search results for kerning?

#188 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2012, 09:04 AM:

Serge @ #12:

I (after over a decade immersed in English) have a problem with "address" as contrasted to the Swedish 'adress'. Thankfully, there's sufficient data to pronounce the words in my head and they sound different, so it seldom slips through.

Fox @ #30:

In an annoying fashion, the Swedish for "parallel" is 'parallell', a much more parallel word. I wish I could change the English to always have conformed.

Lenora Rose @ #49:

"Yogurt"? I thought it was spelled 'yoghurt' (or occasionally 'jogurt', but we hates now-swedish, yes we does).

Jim Macdonald @ #103:

You shouldn't (or so I was taught) use double-long-s, as long-s short-s makes for (usually) more pleasing texture. But if double long is more eye-pleasing, that's OK. And if using a short single s is more pleasing than a single long, go for the short.

#189 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2012, 11:32 AM:

Ingvar, #188: In the US, all the major commercial brands (as well as the frozen-treat shops) spell it "yogurt". I would be completely unaware of any other spelling if I didn't hang out here.

#190 ::: Kate Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 09:35 AM:

I see I have been misspelling 'adviser' my entire life. And I work in a college where I have to refer people to advisers quite often. I will now use the word adviser a third time so I will remember how to spell it correctly.

I often get the 'something is wrong here' feeling when I'm reading, or even just flipping through a book looking for something. Usually the feeling is caused by a typo, but sometimes it's due to an awkward phrase or a word I don't know.

#191 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 09:36 AM:

Yogurt has been spelled that way for decades now in Britain. Its a long time since I've seen the "gh".

Impossible to prove but I suspect its because we now get the spelling direct from modern Turkish rather than mediated through French. The same might be true of "kebab" (which I believe is spelled in all sorts of perverted ways in North America ;-) and other Turkish food words.

A lot of food shops in inner London are run by Turks, many of them in precisely the kind of areas that people who are going to grow up to be journalists or designers of plastic pots hang out. And kebab shops selling Anglicised Turkish takeaway food are almost ubiquitous in Britain. Anyone who has ever got drunk in England since the 1970s has probably had a doner kebab while staggering home. We're used to Turkish spellings of these things.

#192 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 09:52 AM:

Kate Shaw #190 - how mis-spell "adviser"? "Advisor" is more common I think, but both are quite acceptable.

Steve with a book # 83 "I used to pronounce 'gauge' as 'gorge'. "

Dunno where you live bot lots of English English speakers still do. Its probably quite normal here. I think at least some people will say it differently as a verb and as a noun - in fact I think I might but its impossible to be sure because next time I say the word (which isn't often!) I might be thinking about how to say it instead of just saying it.

dcb # 106 "Licence/license: In the UK, they're both correct but with different meanings: licence is the noun, license the verb."

There are loads of words like that in English. Dozens probably. When I get confused I try to remember that "device" is a noun and "devise" the verb - same rule. We also have practise/practice, defense/defence, offense/offence, pretense/pretence

#193 ::: Kate Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 09:56 AM:

Ken Brown @192: I've always spelled it 'advisor.' If that's an acceptable alt spelling, I'll keep it. Whew!

#194 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 10:43 AM:

According to my most conveniently available dictionary:

The spellings adviser and advisor are both correct. Adviser is more common, but advisor is also widely used, especially in North America. Adviser may be seen as less formal, while advisor often suggests an official position.

#195 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 02:43 PM:

Chris @ 194: The distinction I learned, long ago, is that an "adviser" is one who performs the act of advising, in an active form, whereas "advisor" is a more passive term. This would also help explain why the "-or" version seems to turn up more often in titles -- it's more closely associated with the formal capacity, than with the underlying action.

#196 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 02:55 PM:

Ken Brown@192: as a Northerner who has moved around a bit, I have very erratic pronunciation anyway. When I was a lad I tried to teach myself Pitman shorthand—I wanted to be able to record my thoughts faster than I could handwrite and didn't have a word processor—and hit a grave obstacle in Pitman's reliance on Received Pronunciation as a standard. I spent a lot of time staring at representations of common words, specifically at the positions of the light/heavy dots/dashes that mark pure vowels, and thinking: yes, I can see that posh people would pronounce it like that, but I don't, and so Pitman is unlikely ever to become second nature to me.

#197 ::: Fox ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 03:10 PM:

Ken @191 - in US English there are indeed kebabs and kabobs, but crucially they all involve chunks of food threaded on skewers and grilled, which seldom seemed to be true of kebabs when I was in the UK, all of which seemed to involve spit-roasted meat and some arrangement of other fillings in a pita, which I know as a gyro. This difference caused considerable confusion when I arrived in England. (See also "flapjack".)

#198 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 08:25 PM:

Fox @197: All kebabs in the US are shish, or derivatives thereof.

As for the others, don't forget that no two people in the US can ever agree on how the word "gyro" should be pronounced, even if you leave out the issue of whether there should be an 's' at the end.

#199 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 12:29 AM:

"no two people in the US can ever agree on how the word "gyro" should be pronounced"

There was a food chain that had a commercial that riffed on that, in fact. IIRC, the "correct" pronunciation is somewhere near "year-oh." And the "s" ends up on the end because I want more than one, thank you.

"There are loads of words like that in English. Dozens probably. When I get confused I try to remember that "device" is a noun and "devise" the verb - same rule. We also have practise/practice, defense/defence, offense/offence, pretense/pretence"

Had you noticed that the sound of the vowel tells you whether it's a noun or a verb? "Lead" with long e is a verb; "lead" with short e is a noun. (There are more examples but of course I cannot remember them when I need them.) Similar sort of thing with the inflections, usually subtle. It's the little details that nobody ever tells you about.

#200 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 07:17 PM:

"Gyro" never worked as a food name in Britain because to my age group it meant a welfare cheque.

#201 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 11:01 PM:

Ken Brown @ 200: Interesting. In my childhood, "gyro" (short for "gyroscope") was a toy that balanced on an axle.

I haven't seen one in years.

#202 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 11:53 PM:

D. Potter, #201: I had one of those when I was a kid. It was called a "gyroscope" -- nobody ever shortened the name. It was a science toy for geeky kids, because once you had set it spinning you could pick it up and feel the resistance when you tried to change its angle of orientation.

#203 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 02:20 PM:

Kebaps in Turkey come in two varieties: şiş (skewer) and döner (rotating/it turns). Gyros is the literal equivalent of döner in Greek - it's the same root as in gyroscope. As with many foods from the lands of former Ottoman empire, there's controversy over who thought of it first. (cf kibbeh)

The Turkish for meat is 'et', which can be confusing for someone who speaks French, but gives rise to the often misquoted tag: 'Timeo Danaos et döner ferentes' (Beware of Greeks bearing gyros).

#204 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 02:36 PM:

While I'm at it, I'm going to mention that that I suspect that kebap is in fact a word of Persian origin, since a) its vowels are in all the wrong places and b) this would explain why kebabs/kabobs are to be found both in Turkey an Northern India. (Something similar is probably true for the Turkish words for vegetables and cheese. Hmmm.)

#205 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 11:03 AM:

From Adamnan's The Life of St. Columba:

Of the Vowel I.

ONE day Baithene came to the saint and said, "I want some one of the brethren to look over with me and correct the psalter which I have written." Hearing this, the saint said, "Why give us this trouble without any cause? In that psalter of thine, of which thou speakest, there is not one superfluous letter to be found, nor is any wanting except the one vowel I." And accordingly, when the whole psalter was read over, what the saint had said was found to be true.

#206 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 01:49 PM:

Adamnan may have taken it for a miracle, but Columba was a copy editor. As I imagine that scene, Columba speaks in a calm, detached voice, and never looks up from what he's reading.

He never remembers to slow down when another monk asks him how to spell a word.

It's like a very specialized and limited case of being Sherlock Holmes.

#207 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 04:01 PM:

is ambience supposed to have a link?

#208 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 04:02 PM:

Ok, that's weird. It's now a functioning mouseover, but it, (And typolocation) are greyed out, as if they were borked links.


#209 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 02:00 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue @182: Good grief, what does it take to have someone read it aloud?

Self-actualization? /snark

#210 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 11:28 PM:

Another evil suggestion comes to mind: insert "foreword" right after "camouflage" which should, I think, invite the poor victim into thinking it might be spelled either "forward" or perhaps, worse, "foreward."

#211 ::: Tia Sawyers ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 06:51 AM:

omggggggg is onomatopoeia spelt like this my babes????

#212 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 09:46 AM:

Hi, Tia. Welcome to Making Light.

Do you, by chance, write poetry?

#213 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 10:26 AM:

I know that "do you write poetry" has become something of a standard greeting here, but I worry that without context (which a new visitor wouldn't have) it can be confusing, and for those of us who do not write at all (much less poetry), a bit threatening and hostile, as if writing poetry is somehow necessary for admission.

If this greeting had been in place when I first visited ML, I probably would not have come back, or posted much.

Obviously this is a very personal response, but I might not be the only person to have it, so I thought I'd mention it.

#214 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 11:16 AM:

Oh, for heaven's sake. There are two possible answers, "yes" and "no," both equally valid, neither judgement-weighted.

#215 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 12:20 PM:

I never really thought about it, being inside, but yes, someone still outside might be taken aback.

#216 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 12:46 PM:

Well, there's another possible answer, which I recall giving: to respond with verse, thereby demonstrating that the proper answer is "no".

#217 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 12:58 PM:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
My face bled
I fell down the flue.

#218 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 01:42 PM:

Sure. Other answers include "I don't know," and "I've never tried."

But they still boil down to either "yes," or "no." Either that or a paradox. A most amusing paradox. We've quips and quibbles heard in flocks, but none to beat this paradox.

#219 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 02:17 PM:

The problem is that any question -- any question at all! -- has the potential to make someone uncomfortable. So does simple acknowledgement.

One of the wonderful things about life: sometimes we get over being made uncomfortable, and grow a little bit.

Asking if someone writes poetry might drive them away, or it might bring them in closer. By experience, it's brought in some wonderful people. The best we can do is watch and correct on individual posts/people.

There is no such thing as absolutely safe space outside of the grave.

#220 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 03:20 PM:

I agree with Melissa Singer; there are many subtle things people do to establish ingroup, and greeting an outsider with an injoke can keep them an outsider. When someone mentions this effect, I also think the proper response is not scornful dismissal of the concern. The point of a welcome is not to filter people by boldness.

For context, I have realized that when I talk about one science fiction convention, I often convince the people I'm talking to that they're not interested because I have made such a strong ingroup, and there are some people who cannot recommend books to me because not only will I not read those books, I will stop reading anything by those authors. In neither case has anything but praise been said, but the praise excludes people.

#221 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 03:46 PM:

Jim Macdonald #218: It was a small harbour with but a pair o' docks.

#222 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 04:57 PM:

So, then, what would be a proper greeting that invites conversation?

What's your favorite color?

No, that would exclude the colorblind, the blind from birth, and people who were held prisoner in the Red Mill (and thus have a horror of any mention of "color").

Do you like grapes?

That excludes the folks who are allergic to grapes, those who grew up with an alcoholic (grapes reminds them of wine), and those who hate small round objects.

Maybe no greeting at all. No, that would seem cold. They posted and everyone ignored it. Not welcome in this group. They turn away, invisible, rejected again.

So, what's your solution? Give me one; I'll use it from now on.

But until you come up with a greeting that's universally welcoming, I think "Do you, by any chance, write poetry?" is a fine one.

#223 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 05:20 PM:

What's wrong with just "Welcome to Making Light."--which seemed to be the default until fairly recently?

You could add "we hope you'll stick around" or something generic like that if you felt like it. (that's generally what we do on the forums where I'm one of the moderators)

This is the second topic where people have raised questions and basically been responded to with some variant of "if you don't see this the way I do, there's something wrong with you," which is not what I expect to run into here. Is everyone feeling okay?

#224 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 05:26 PM:

But "do you write poetry?" is only in-group if you are already part of the in-group—if you know that we have a history of sonnetry, villanelle and pastiche. In which case, you know that it's a compliment, meaning, "Hey, you look interesting! Do you mesh with us in yet another way?"

And you might know that "no" is a perfectly acceptable answer. If you don't, well, now you do.

If you're out-group, then you don't know that it's an in-group question. It's a perfectly comprehensible query using entirely ordinary words. If I ask acquaintances in other venues if they write poetry, they don't act as though I've told an in-joke. They think I've expressed an interest in their creative endeavors.

I understand Melissa and Diatryma's concerns, and I sympathize with the way that Making Light can make people feel insecure and even inadequate. It does that to me (on average) once a fortnight.

But I'm afraid I don't agree with this particular point. It's a concern that requires the addressee to both be familiar with Making Light (to know that the question has resonances in the community) and unfamiliar with it as well (not to know that it's a compliment to what the person has already posted, and that all answers are acceptable). That just doesn't happen.

And in this case, the matter is even less relevant; I strongly doubt that Tia is more than a drive-by, and that Jim's comment was a throwaway.

#225 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 05:41 PM:

Melissa @223:

I see we cross-posted.

My feeling is that this is less a second similar incident than an echo or hold-over from the previous one. Which, as I mentioned, was partly because people were not feeling OK, on both sides of the conversation. And they were feeling even less OK by the end of the conversation, which is why I think this is echoing.

I also doubt that this conversation is going to be at all productive the way it's going. I don't see either group of people persuading the other of its views. It feels stuck, which is one reason I think this is an echo of the previous, unresolved (and irresolvable) one.

I'm willing to take your objections and walk around with them, but I'd also ask you to do the same with Jim and Tom's points.

#226 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 06:08 PM:

Not welcome? On Making Light?


I'm feeling rather crushed to discover that Melissa and Diatryma have both been feeling less than welcome here for years, and I'm only now realizing it.

#227 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 07:28 PM:

It isn't an in-joke because it isn't a joke.

Diatryma -- Filtering isn't a bad thing. But I don't think it's a filter by boldness, but a filter by plausible fit. Somebody who can say "yes" or "no" or "what kind" or "why" or "There was a young post-doc called Sue" is the kind of person who will probably enjoy sticking around at Making Light.

It's also a welcome notice that says not just "welcome" but "this isn't the usual kind of forum". This isn't particularly important on this thread and in this case, but it can be really *really* important in political threads where somebody comes in with a disagreement and different cultural expectations about how that's going to be met. "Welcome. Do you write poetry?" says to that person that they're somewhere where that's a reasonable question to ask and they should maybe pause a moment.

I've seen people disconcerted by the question, but only in a good way. Have you seen any actual examples of people having problems with it?

#228 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 07:55 PM:

You know, I've been looking at this list for days now, and for the life of me I can't find any misspellings.

#229 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 08:17 PM:

Jo Walton @227, First, sincere congratulations on the well-deserved Hugo. (I voted for you and I made my husband vote for you, too; he didn't have time to read the novels and gave me his proxy.)

I've seen people disconcerted by the question, but only in a good way. Have you seen any actual examples of people having problems with it?

Frankly, I'm only disconcerted because nobody asked me {sniffle sniffle}

#230 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 08:28 PM:

jnh @ 228... I am now an HTML instruction? Cool.

#231 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 08:49 PM:

At Slacktivist, the traditional line is 'Welcome, and don't kill us with sheep'.

#232 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 09:11 PM:

Hello, Cassy B. Do you write poetry?

#233 ::: elise has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 09:13 PM:

I don't know why they got me.
Those gnomes seem quite capricious.
Cold quiche is all I've got, see,
but have some. It's delicious.

#234 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 09:17 PM:

Well, Cassy B? DO you write poetry?

#235 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 09:21 PM:


I'm more a poetaster than a poet.
A clumsy wordsmith, but at least I know it.

#236 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 09:27 PM:

Tom Whitmore @219: One of the wonderful things about life: sometimes we get over being made uncomfortable, and grow a little bit.

From your lips to God's ears -- at least as far as it applies to me and you and anybody else who wants. I like it when that particular wonderful thing happens. Some of the best things in my life have come to me that way -- some of the people I most love are people who I was terrified to talk to, once upon a time. (They looked Too Cool To Ever Bother With Me. Turned out that they actually weren't, but I had to hang in there and stick around despite being scared, to find that out.)

Also, I miss Mike, because I keep wondering what he'd say.

Jo Walton @227: It isn't an in-joke because it isn't a joke.

Exactly. It's an invitation wrapped in a polite inquiry.

David Wald @216: I love your answer and it made me giggle.

#237 ::: Mea ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 09:33 PM:

#234- lovely!

I like all sides of the poetry greeting discussion, because all sides are showing the same tendency that makes discussions on ML enjoyable: Although we don't always agree on the method, people are trying to building bridges of understanding and community rather than hurt feelings.

I read the poetry of others.

#238 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 09:39 PM:

Elise @232,

I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said, "two vast and purple juicy plums
Sat in the cold-box. Near them, as if planned,
Half gone, some noodles were, whose brown
and sticky sauce, and fragrance, never canned
Tell that the diner well on Thai food fed;
Which yet survive, leftovers from the feast.
The hand that stored them has since gone to bed.
And on the note I scribe, these words of power:
"My name is Cassy, hungry, I'm a beast;
I ate your plums, Pod Thai, and cauliflower!"
Nothing beside remains; round the decay
of that indulgence in the midnight hour...
the dirty dishes greet the light of day.

#239 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 09:40 PM:

The poetry question is also a subtle way to signal that I consider someone interesting enough to want to interact with them. ML is not everyone's cup of tea; this is a feature, not a bug.

#240 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 09:43 PM:

Jo @227, would you be able to reliably detect "quietly left because they felt like their next post had to be a Shakespearean sonnet?"

I found my first post here somewhat intimidating, and I don't think anyone asked for a poem at the time. On the other hand, there are few places I've been on the internet that have meaningful standards, and I appreciate this one.

#241 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 09:51 PM:

I know what you're thinking. "Does the next line need an iamb or an anapaest?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a villanelle, the most difficult poetic form in the world, and can blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?

Well, do ya, punk?

#242 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 10:01 PM:

Baaaaarrrrrddddddddssss! Come out to plaayyyyaaaay!

#243 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 10:14 PM:

I don't feel unwelcome here, but it is a thing I pay attention to. The way I promoted a convention to a friend made her less likely to go, the way some people adore books makes it much, much harder for me to read them, and so I am aware that sometimes, it is possible for one's enthusiasm to exclude those one means to attract. It's all right to disagree with this instance of it, but I would rather not have dismissal.

#244 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 10:58 PM:

Either last year or the year before, Brooks Moses and one of his partners came to Farthing Party. (And I know his partner's LJ handle, but her name is escaping me. Dammit.) Anyway, among many other things we talked about why she doesn't read Making Light, and I got the definite impression that she found "do you write poetry?" to be a bit weird and off-putting. So there's another data point in that direction.

#245 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 01:53 AM:

abi, #224: In this particular context (addressing a first-time, one-sentence poster who may or may not turn out to be a troll), it comes across to me as uncomfortably close to a challenge. There is, after all, more than one way to ask a question, and tone of voice doesn't transfer in a text-only medium.

Diatryma, #243: I had that happen to me once. Someone (not here, and not you) was describing an event that she really loved, and everything she said just made it sound more and more not my cup of tea at all. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but that she and I clearly had very different ideas about what makes an event fun or not-fun, and this one was pinging most of my "not-fun" buttons. I don't think there's much to be done about that, because it's almost entirely a function of Varying Mileage.

(And now I wonder whether I've ever scared anyone off a contradance weekend by my enthusiastic descriptions of why I like them...)

#246 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 01:53 AM:

Jim @#241:

Few understand this appetite:
We hoot like hungry owls
For poetry on Making Light.

Sometimes our rhymes are kind of shite
And puns elicit howls.
Few understand this appetite.

Spammers, socks, and fly-by-nights
Are greeted not with growls
but poetry on Making Light.

The mods may snarl but seldom bite;
Just offer them your vowels.
Few understand their appetite.

Our hostesse ys a cliver wight
Who knoweth faire from fuhel
in poetrie on Making Light.

Some may go on like this all night
While others throw in towels.
Perhaps you share our appetite
For poetry on Making Light?

#247 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 01:54 AM:

abi, #224: In this particular context (addressing a first-time, one-sentence poster who may or may not turn out to be a troll), it comes across to me as uncomfortably close to a challenge. There is, after all, more than one way to ask a question, and tone of voice doesn't transfer in a text-only medium.

Diatryma, #243: I had that happen to me once. Someone (not here, and not you) was describing an event that she really loved, and everything she said just made it sound more and more not my cup of tea at all. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but that she and I clearly had very different ideas about what makes an event fun or not-fun, and this one was pinging most of my "not-fun" buttons. I don't think there's much to be done about that, because it's almost entirely a function of Varying Mileage.

(And now I wonder whether I've ever scared anyone off a contradance weekend by my enthusiastic descriptions of why I like them...)

#248 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 01:55 AM:

Ack, sorry for the double post. I got a weird error message the first time, and didn't check before trying again.

#249 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 02:10 AM:

Lee @246±1 (and others):

It might be useful to know that that particular comment was gnomed and fished out some time later by Jim. Not because it was worthwhile content, or because the person looks like they're a keeper (or even a returner), but because it's the right thing to do for a comment that isn't spam.

So he made a lighthearted joke at a driveby. I've seen people say a lot worse to drivebys in other threads, with a lot higher probability of the person coming back and reading it.

It was a harmless way to lighten up what is, in fact, an enormous, tiresome, time-sucking task that he does for us as a community: picking through the hundreds of possible spam comments that come in every day, teasing out the ham. Like the gnome names, this was a way of blowing off steam.

I've had a night's sleep, and come back to this thread, and I know who looks unwelcome on a fresh read of it.

The conversation about whether we're too intimidating when we ask people if they write poetry is one thing. But I'd like to request that the conversation about how we have conducted it end now.

#250 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 02:16 AM:

Perhaps the lurkers support poetry in email?

#251 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 02:27 AM:

Mary Dell @246: Woo, villanelle! I love a nice villanelle in the wee hours of the morning.

#252 ::: Doug Burbidge ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 02:58 AM:

Cassy B.:

Your poem at 238 belies your claim to be more poetaster than poet.

(I liked the closing line about the dirty dishes, as if to say: "WCW -- Christ, what an asshole!")

#253 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 03:09 AM:

On Verse

There’s hardly a soul now that bothers, and nobody looks at it twice
To see if the rhyming is perfect, (for assonance does not suffice),
And as for the scansion, who’s counting? Who cares if the rhythm is bent?
Why sweat over trifles? Why bother? What counts is the honest intent!

Those features are merely mnemonic. Old Homer, he sang to a lyre.
He had to remember his verses, as heroes caroused by the fire.
What reason have I? Nothing better than because I consider it fun.
It’s sheer self-indulgence. It must be. I’m told that by everyone.

Oh, look, there’s a limp in that last line. I don’t care, it isn’t important –
See, I did it again. And to prove it, I’ll say something portentious and mordant
Like: “Rhyme is the sepulchre, whitened, that encloses but death and decay.”
(Yet people read poetry long since, but they stopped. Why, I simply can’t say.)

So let us have Basho-and-water, with images très au contraire,
Like “buttercups, acne of nature”. I’ll use that one someday, I swear.
(Oh, sorry, I just did.) And phrases in languages foreign, as well.
(Oh, merde, for I already did that. I just did it again. Bloody hell.)

(Oh, sorry) But cussing’s permitted, for the language must cut like a blade.
Free verse is the method permitted. (Been a long time since poets were paid.)
Damn. “Cut like a blade” is a cliché. Can it cut like a mirror instead,
That someone has carelessly broken? Reflecting will still cut you dead.

And it’s poison! That’s elegant, ain’t it? The imagery’s perfectly plain.
And all that you need is the footnotes (by somebody else) to explain.
But footnoted poems annoy me, and alternatives seem to be worse.
I give up. I can’t break the habit. I’ll have to go on writing verse.

#254 ::: Dave Luckett has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 03:10 AM:

Aar there, gnomes, me hearties, have a rum and butter.

[Yarr. We might need to tweak the filter that got ye, matey, but right now we're reeling with delight at yer poem. And yer rum, too.— Pinnosa Quilisma Neumes, Duty Gnome]

#255 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 03:15 AM:

Lee #245: In this particular context (addressing a first-time, one-sentence poster who may or may not turn out to be a troll), it comes across to me as uncomfortably close to a challenge.

You're right. I should have said, Prove you aren't a spambot, "Tia."

I note that not one person who's been complaining so hard about me has bothered to offer a single word of greeting to Tia.

Did you scare her away? Think about that, folks. I'm looking at you, Melissa. And you, Diatryma. What have you done to make Tia feel welcome and wanted? What have you said to encourage her to keep reading and maybe post again? You, Lee? What did you do to make Tia more comfortable?

No, scoring points against me by concern trolling was far more important to the lot of you.

Okay, you win. Here's your prize. I won't ask anyone else, ever again, if they write poetry. And I won't post any of my own, either. Ever. Because the very idea that Making Light is the kind of place where people post poetry might possibly make some hypothetical person, somewhere, uncomfortable, and we wouldn't want that, now, would we?

Want to know who feels excluded at Making Light? Me.

But you're winners! Go, you! Hurray! You got your wish!


#256 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 03:17 AM:

*dances with delight at Cassy's poem in 238*

*cheers lustily, and throws hat in the air*

#257 ::: elise has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 03:21 AM:

Apparently I have been shushed by the gnomes for unseemly exuberance or something. Have some spicy lamb, if you like, gnomish underlords.

[Om nom lamb! We do regret that your genuine exuberance is not automatically distinguishable from the Extruded Exuberance Product™ that pervades the internet. Can we offer you some soft, tasty bread in recompense? —Pinnosa Quilisma Neumes, Duty Gnome]

#258 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 05:02 AM:

Anyone want to guess who ungnomed Dave Lucket @253 and elise @256? Wasn't me—I was cycling to work*. And while I strongly suspect that Patrick, Teresa and Avram were asleep, I know Jim wasn't. Think about that for a minute, in the context of his own most recent comment, while considering what to say next in this conversation.

Because I'm going to be blunt here. This community doesn't just happen by the magic of unicorns and the scattering of fairy dust. The continued space for it on the internet is the product of the hard work of a very small number of people who spend a lot of time with virtual machetes keeping the virtual kudzu out of the garden. And we're human, and thus we do things in quirky, human ways rather than with the clear, abstract perfection of angels.

And that, by the way, is part of what makes the place interesting. The ways that our quirks and oddities interact with the quirks and oddities of the commentariat creates the site culture—what Teresa calls the sitegeist. Unfortunately, though, every defining choice that a community makes is also an exclusionary one. No community can hold everyone: we at Making Light are unwelcoming to knee-jerk conservatives, Randian libertarians, people who hate puns, and those who write in sentence fragments.

But it's a big internet, you know? If there are people who are put off by being asked if they write poetry during the conversation that welcomes them to the site, then they may be happier at the Whatever, the Slack, Crooked Timber, or at some other site of which I know not.

We can push and poke at the boundaries of our culture, but I don't think this particular iteration of it was at all well done. Jim wasn't welcoming a promising newcomer; he was being sarcastic at part of the random noise of the internet. So it wasn't a very good example for starting the discussion. A better choice might have been the opening conversation with a genuine, engaged visitor who might have been put off—but I suspect you'll find, reading those examples, that the question is couched in a lot more context and welcome.

Or, alternatively, it might have worked to save the matter for a week and bring it up on the Open Thread as an "apropos of nothing" comment.

But as a reply to a joke made at someone who had dropped her random turd and moved on? A joke made while cleaning up the clogged mess of the moderation queue? While we're talking about things that come across more badly than the posters may have intended, I'd suggest that this particular approach to the question of poetry on Making Light is as good an example as any.

* Though I do confess to the ungnoming notes.

#259 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 05:17 AM:

Abi @ 258... we at Making Light are unwelcoming to knee-jerk conservatives, Randian libertarians, people who hate puns

Janice Rand Libertarians? That hairdo of hers *was* scary.

Speaking of puns... I saw a cartoon on Facebook yesterday where two stallions in their respective pens are complaining that someone left the stable's doors open so now there's a draft coming in. Sure enough, there's a big draft horse at the entrance.

#260 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 06:03 AM:

By the way, I love it when Mary Dell reminds us that her name is a metrical and rhyming match for villanelle. (One day we're going to have a member named Jim Rick, and I'm going to regret making that link.)

And Cassy B! Wonderful riff! I second (third? more?) the proposal that you've proven yourself more poet than poetaster.

As for Dave Luckett—I've noticed your continued development as a poet. It's been a pleasure to watch. That kind of joking around in unforced verse is a sign of real mastery.

My Muse has been on vacation for a while, but I feel less guilty about not holding my versifying end up with such works as yours around. Well done, all.

Jim, please don't stop posting poetry.

#261 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 06:36 AM:

I have oft been accused of a filk,
And other bad verse of that ilk.
Yet as long as it rhymes
And fits in with the times,
Why should it be writ smooth as silk?

#262 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 07:35 AM:

255 Jim - of course do as you see fit regards to how you interact on making light. However Im one of those who doesn't post that much or often but I always enjoy your poetry and almost always the discussions that come from the do you like poetry question. Your posts as well as others and I would be sad if ML changes enough to make that not happen as often.

As for myself? Poetry? The occasional limerick but not for a long time. I've even done one in Icelandic:

Eitt haust var ég hestbaki á
þá kom hundur og hestinum brá
ekkert mátti né gat
ein í móanum sat
og hestinn var hvergi að sjá!

Added in Icelandic style structured alliteration because why not? :)

#263 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 07:54 AM:

Doug Burbage, elise, abi: {blush} Thanks. In my angst-ridden teenage years I was rather over-smitten by Shelley. Does it show?

Jim, PLEASE don't stop writing poetry.

#264 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 08:23 AM:

Abi, I hate puns and have never felt unwelcome because of it. There's no requirement to pun, or even not to roll your eyes when other people do. And there's no requirement to write poetry, or to like poetry, just to accept that it is part of acceptable dialogue here.

If it isn't, and if the very idea of it makes people uncomfortable, then I'm out of here. Because to me, the interaction where Jim's lovely "do you feel lucky" produces Mary Dell's amazing villanelle is what Making Light is *about*.

There are lots of places. This is the one where Mike's entropy sonnet was the first comment in a thread.

I'd much rather have a safe space for that than somewhere where nobody ever feels intimidated by the awesomeness. Toning down the awesomeness is not the proper reaction! Indeed, it's a little Harrison Bergenon.

#265 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 08:55 AM:

I'm not a mod here, and therefore don't actually track who is new here and who isn't.

In any case, I'm done. The YA/new to conventions thread got my hackles up as a parent and as someone who in her own youth would have had troubles similar to those experienced/expressed by younger/newer fans. I was more than a little startled by the negativity expressed toward many of the posters in that thread. And I'm similarly more than a little startled by it here.

I'm sorry to have gotten under so many people's collars. That was not my intent.

I'm sorry that I seem to have made an instant enemy of Jim, who I like and whose work I enjoy.

That's it for me.

Enjoy the poetry.

#266 ::: Howard Bannister ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 09:08 AM:


....and those who write in sentence fragments.

And thank God. I went through my Frank Miller phase in my mid-twenties. That's enough sentence fragments for one lifetime, thankyewveddymuch.

#267 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 09:09 AM:

For general reference: to find out if someone is new to Making Light or not, click on the "(view all by)" next to their name. You'll get a list of all comments posted under that email address.

It's true that this won't help find comments by people who have posted under a different email address. But we do try to help people link up the profiles when they change email addresses.

#268 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 10:51 AM:

Melissa Singer @ 265... I hope you will reconsider. I know what it's like to want to walk away from a place because we're not sure we're welcome anymore. I've always enjoyed your comments and hope there'll be more to come.

#269 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 11:03 AM:

I'm reading this with growing horror. If we've really lost Melissa, that's a tragedy. Melissa, if you're still reading, I've enjoyed your comments in the main, especially the ones about your daughter, who seems like a delightful and inspiring person. I hope you'll reconsider in (not very much) time.

And Jim, I deeply hope you'll also reconsider your decision not to post poetry, or to ask real newcomers if they write poetry, or to be sarcastic with drivebys. I value all those things.

As for the main issue under discussion: I would hypothesize that most first-time commenters have lurked here for some time before their first post. If they have, they'll have encountered the poetry (and the poetry question) before. Also, the people who have lurked for a while are, I would speculate, more likely to make a valuable contribution to the ongoing community, because they come in already knowing the sitegeist.

#270 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 11:16 AM:

Melissa is always welcome on Making Light, though I certainly do understand the need to be not present for a while until some water's flowed under the bridge.

#271 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 11:17 AM:

For what it's worth, I'll second all of Serge and Xopher's comments at 268 and 269. I'm anxiously hoping that Melissa Singer's "That's it for me" doesn't apply to the rest of Making Light.

#272 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 01:11 PM:

“Come in”, I say,”I’m friendly,
And I hope you like to dance,
And rhyme, and pun, and sparkle,
And write lovely prose that scans.”

I love to listen carefully,
I love these rhymes askance,
But sadly, I have two left feet,
And my words, they will not prance,
They plod along, quite stolidly
Explaining what they meant.
But the puns are accidental,
And the fear will not relent,
That rhymes like dance and prance
And dove and love and blue and you
Are really such clichés,
That, although I’d like to chip in,
I might just be in the way.
Unless I only listen,
And that’s another fear--
For so, SO long my life has been,
“You’re welcome—-over here.”

#273 ::: SamChevre has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 01:14 PM:

My intentions were amusing.

I have a delicious apple--a Yellow Delicious--an early-season Appalachian-grown Yellow Delicious--which is among the proofs that God loves us and wants us to be happy when served with peanut butter. I'd be delighted to share.

#274 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 01:30 PM:

SamChevre (272): I like that one.

#275 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 02:06 PM:

God wants us to be served with peanut butter?

I guess he likes his Soylent Green.

#276 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 02:14 PM:

Tom @275:

Only if we're supposed to be served to God. Maybe not. Maybe we get to pick to whom we're served with peanut butter.

(The apple sounds delicious.)

#277 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 02:19 PM:

Tom@275: God wants us to be served with peanut butter?

Wouldn't we bounce off the racquet better without it?

#278 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 02:57 PM:

abi @258, actually, that was me that ungnomed those two posts. (My sleep-wake schedule is way fucked up.)

Unless it was both Jim and me. I assume that if Moderator A publishes an unpubbed comment, and Moderator B comes along and does the same thing a few seconds later, Moveable Type just silently ignores the second command.

#279 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 03:02 PM:

SamChevre @272: I like that one too. And it's also how I feel before I post any verse (or anything, for that matter); I always struggle to push past my (mis)apprehensions. The thought of being read by people I like, admire and respect always gives me stage fright.

#280 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 03:33 PM:

Avram @278:

Noted. On the other hand, did you analyze and clean up all the comments in moderation? Because I see that the mod queue is clean, and I know who usually does that job.

#281 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 03:45 PM:

abi @ 280... I know who usually does that job

The Mod Squad?

#282 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 04:15 PM:

abi @#260: By the way, I love it when Mary Dell reminds us that her name is a metrical and rhyming match for villanelle.

Hm, I had never noticed that, perhaps because in my brain "bloody hell" is the perfect rhyme for my name. Maybe we have a Christina here who can write a Sestina?

My Muse has been on vacation for a while, but I feel less guilty about not holding my versifying end up with such works as yours around.

The rule that there's nothing wrong with NOT writing poetry also applies to mods, yes? Your Muse is probably gathering ideas in her notebook and will have plenty of cool stuff for you when she gets back from her vacation. In the meantime, no need to feel guilty, in my view, anyway. Of course, my muse and I only get together occasionally anyway - I married my job a long time ago, and the Muse doesn't like being blown off like that, so we came to a bit of an understanding rather than fight about it.

#283 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 04:33 PM:

My muse doesn't visit me when I'm depressed. So I haven't seen here in a couple of years now.

#284 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 04:36 PM:

Xopher @ 283... No Muse is not good news.

#285 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 04:42 PM:

Xopher @#283: Mine used to visit me a lot when I was depressed, but that just meant my depression had more creative ways of preying on me. So I told her to fuck the hell off, if she was going to be like that, and she did, and we took a long break. Now that my brain is in a better place, I'm cautiously getting to know a more cheerful aspect of my muse, but I ain't planning to move in with her any time soon.

I'm sorry yours isn't there for you right now, though. Hopefully you'll get into a better place (muse or no muse) soonish...

#286 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 05:32 PM:

Jim, I apologize for not choosing my words carefully enough to be clear that I was not attacking you. Making people feel unwelcome when trying to make them feel welcome is something I pay attention to for reasons I've already explained-- the con thing isn't that I made it clear my friend would hate it, but that in convincing her it was her kind of place and she should attend, I also convinced her that she would be absolutely unwelcome.
I will try to do better to express this in the future.

#287 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 06:09 PM:

I'm not sure I was asked "Do you write poetry?" when I first signed on here. I find poetry-writing a bit intimidating, though I've at least dared a bit of humorous verse here on occasion.

I don't know if I would have found the *question* intimidating or off-putting when I first arrived. But I'm pretty sure that even if I did, having more than one person greet me would have almost certainly made me feel welcome, however odd I might have found one of the greetings.

Reinforcement like that also helps on the greeter's side of things. Sometimes (usually when I'm in a more introverted or low-energy mood) I've walked away from someone I've just met thinking "Gosh, why did I say *that*? Did I just make an ass of myself?" Having multiple people in the conversation helps. If I've really been fine, having multiple people in the conversation can help implicitly reassure me of that. If I haven't, someone else who's more conversationally savvy can both smooth things out and give me some ideas of how to handle the situation better. And I remind myself that I don't have to have the right words all the time, and I don't have to assume one bit of wrong-footedness Ruins Things For Evar.

#288 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom now worries he's offended the gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 06:12 PM:

Maybe they'd like some plums. (I'll restock the icebox before next morning, really...)

#289 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 06:18 PM:

Oh, dear. I also hope Melissa Singer is only gone for the mo' and not for the duration, as I enjoyed her posts very much. And I also also hope that Jim continues to share poetry with us, and the question with new posters. I admit that I lurked for a while before posting the first time, because all y'all are pretty impressive in your wealth of knowledge and ability to express yourselves and yes, in poetry, and in many other things--but once I did, I felt like I'd found a new home.

Can't tell you how much I appreciate it.

Xopher, I know what you mean about the muse not visiting during depression. I don't know if anything like this is available to you, nor whether it would help if it is--and by all means, ignore if hlepy!!--but part of what's getting me unblocked--just back to writing in general--is the writing group I attend through the women's "day refuge". She offers us a selection of free-writing prompts, reads interesting bits from how-to-write books and memoirs and poetry and fiction, etc., offers feedback...

So, if anything like that (preferably free or very nominally fee'd) is hanging aboot in your neighborhood, and this not a hlepy idea in your eyes, and/or you haven't already tried it and found it unhelpful...well, there ya go.

And the only reason I suggest it is because I've tried doing similar things on my own, and I find it too easy to simply put it aside "until I feel like it", and when I'm depressed, I rarely do.

On the other hand, am sending along the good mojo that that which needs to occur to release you from depression's grip and bring your muse back happens as soon as possible in the way that is best for all concerned. If you'd like it; if not, feel free to let it go. :)

#290 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 06:23 PM:

The "she" referred to in my #288 comment re: the writing group is the facilitator of said group. And I proofread the bloody thing before I posted, I promise I did!

#291 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 09:42 PM:

Syd, thanks. It's not hlepy. But I feel guilty when I write because I should be doing job-hunty matter how much or little I've done that day.

#292 ::: Finny ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 11:54 PM:

This poem does not really match any of what this thread has been about, and humorous (or humerus, as the word first appeared) words have never really been my style (thus why this is anything but), but it's one I've had percolating for some time, and it's finally decided to make an appearance in a form that feels right. I do apologize if this is not the right place for it.

Regret to Inform

Watch their faces pale
through the gingham-curtained window
as you get out
of the car.
Shut the door softly.
Straighten your uniform.
Remove your hat as you knock briskly
on the door.

Notice the peeling paint whitewashing your knuckles
as they strike the age-warped wood.

Wait as hands fumble to open the door;
hear the jangle as the chain moves aside.
See tears welling in eyes
that already know
even as they beg that you
tell them different.

Be gentle.

may I come in?”

Stand, cap in hand, shifting your weight
from foot to foot,
in the front hall.
Admire the hand-woven rug decorating the hardwood
The bright marigolds in their ceramic bowl
on the small side-table.
The lopsided coat-rack with the cracked mirror.
The civilian “class A’s”
--their Sunday best--
heavy on the maplewood stand.
Cinnamon, apples, country spices lingering thick
in the warm air.

Wonder if things
have changed any
since he left.
Know you will never know.

Know, also, that whatever was
is gone now,
Changed by your presence
--his absence--
by your shadow,
lying dark across the patterned rug.

“Would…would you like
some tea?
a cookie?
I just baked a fresh batch.
Still warm.”

Watch them grope haltingly for something,
To hold the moment
--the news--
at bay.
Regret you must
deny them that
Your duty, after all,
comes first.

Reach into your jacket pocket.
Remove the letter.
Run a callused finger around the sharp edge.
Think how sad it is, that
a thin, government-issue envelope
--everything government-issue is thin--
is the only protection
between them and
the news.
Dashing parents’ forlorn hopes
with stale typewritten apology.


Hand the letter to whichever
pair of
unaccepting hands
--swollen knuckles bending painfully
as thick fingers tremble--
meets it first.
Look to the floor, your
boots freshly shined
this morning
--to make a good impression?--
as ripping paper
and held-in
reach your unwilling ears.
Close your eyes
a moment
against the pain.
Share the sorrow
because it is all you
can do.
All they will allow.

can I...would you like...”

He shakes his head slowly,
face etched with
where only wrinkles hung,
She stares ahead
--eyes blanked in fondly painful memory--
the letter crumpled to
her breast
as if in lieu
of him.

Harsh white paper
--a folded flag draped over
a sand-filled coffin--
in trade for a living, breathing boy.

A poor exchange.


They nod.

“Yes. You do that.
And here, take
a cookie
with you.”

She hurries into the kitchen,
returns with an entire
Oatmeal. Raisin. Gingerbread.
Presses them into
your hands.


She insists.
You accept
--the bag bleeding warmth against
your sweating palms--
turn away.
Leaving them to each

All they have,

You can
show yourself

Get in the car.
Shut the door again,
just as softly.
Throw your hat in the backseat.
Stare at your rank
in the rearview mirror.
Know, even if you make general,
that the letter,
the visit,
never get easier.
Just more tired, more pensive
--wrinkles will line your face as
deep as they now seam his;
your dreams will be just as haunted--
with each passing year.

Taps will still sound in ears that have never seen battle;
young men will still die
for old men’s meaningless wars;
petty arguments over pointless power.

Feel oddly

That some things never change.

Drive down the street;
park around the

Let your own
drip slowly
--as blood from his body?--
down your cheeks.
For you, too, have lost
a son,
though you never knew the
But he was yours as much
as theirs.

Else, how would
you have all
shared a grief
--together in your aloneness--
only parents can know?
Shared sorrow.
And cookies.
Shared cookies,
forgotten and crumbled
in their clear ZipLoc© body bag
on the broken sidewalk
as you drove

#293 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 12:06 AM:

I found the discussion on Conventions extremely offputting*. This, instead, I find distressing. We shouldn't be losing people like Melissa Singer or things like Jim's poetry (OR even the question-as-greeting) to this kind of discussion. And I submit that it is extremely true that this probably wouldn't be happening if THAT hadn't. Please, don' let those feelings carry over to this. It's not in the same realm.

I think Diatryma might have a point. However, I think it's also true that most lurkers coming out and first-time posting will have read for a while. The exception, political threads, it is instead a sufficiently odd non-sequitur as to demand further investigation.

I don't write poetry very often at all, and I don't trust mine much. (And I think there's no hope of my ever managing pastiche; that to me is an even harder and more impressive form.) But I have a great appreciation for it, for its place in making Making Light what it is.

* though I had the sense to delete my rant and walk away rather than think ill of people who were, among other things, already carrying burdens enough.

#294 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 12:19 AM:

Xopher @ 291, do I EVER know what you mean about job search vs. anything else! All I can offer on that one is the well-intentioned reminder that sometimes promising ourselves the opportunity to do fun stuff (like writing for pleasure) as a reward for fulfilling a required action (like job-searching for, say, two hours) can make the required action easier to get through. Sometimes. YMMV and all usual caveats apply, of course.

If I knew anyone in your neck of the woods to whom I could point you for likely employment or assistance in obtaining same, I would do so in a heartbeat. Holding you, and all who need/wish it, in the light.

#295 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 12:34 AM:

Finny, there is not, there never will be a place inappropriate for such a thing as that, not until we are no longer human. It is what poetry is; it does what poetry should do.

#296 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 02:10 AM:

Lenora @ 293

"And I think there's no hope of my ever managing pastiche; that to me is an even harder and more impressive form."

That is a really interesting comment, to me. I usually approach pastiche as a word-substitution problem; it's way easier for me than picking a form and then coming up with entirely original content.* The way I see it, it's a particularly rigid form; but even though the structure is extremely present and can only be satisfied by a narrow range of content, that just means that I only have to consider a narrow range of options. Now I'm curious about whether there are other ways to approach it.

What I find exciting about poems is that they respond to audacity better than any other type of writing. As long as I have fun writing it, a poem has an infinite ability to adapt to my needs at a given moment. I don't know if that's about trust or exchange; sometimes, I think it's about the relationship drama between me and the poem, as we figure each other out and work on defining mutually-acceptable boundaries. Rough work reflects hard negotiations, but sometimes those poems are valuable... My prettiest poems are often the ones that are the silliest and most shallow, because I don't care as much about the negotiations, so I can defer to the poem's insufferably uncompromising demands without struggle.

And I've gone way off topic, I know. I'm going to be self-indulgent and post it anyway.

*Mostly, free-form poetry eludes me. My thoughts just dribble out the open edges of it and end up in a big messy puddle.

#297 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 02:15 AM:

Amazing poem, Finny. I look forward to hearing more from you (in the way of conversation, too!) I think I'm one of the people who said they prefer LoC to Dewey....

#298 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 09:02 AM:

Finny @292: I'm crying now.

Thank you.


That was beautiful.

#299 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 09:27 AM:

Here, Cassy, you can have some of my Kleenex.

Finny, that was powerful stuff. Please write and share more of it.

#300 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 10:34 AM:

(Please pass the facial tissues over here..)

Finny @ 292: that was beautiful.

#301 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 10:55 AM:

@292 Hey, Finny, it's good to see you. Helluva poem.

it's one I've had percolating for some time, and it's finally decided to make an appearance in a form that feels right.

Feels so good when that happens, doesn't it? The rightness thing. There's a kind of... relief, maybe, that is darned near indescribable.

Also, now I understand in a new way how the hard-edged dragon and unicorn post-stroke poems" were OK with you as a gift; you don't shy away from the hard stuff, do you?
*grins fiercely and gladly at you*

KayTei @296: What I find exciting about poems is that they respond to audacity better than any other type of writing. Ooh.
*picks up the interesting glittery sentence and carries it to the nest for more pondering*

#302 ::: Mea ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 11:29 AM:

1. Thank you to the hardworking mods like Abi and Jim and Avram.
2. what Xopher said on keeping the people and the poetry.
3. I clearly haven't been following the threads that are causing frayed nerves.
4.I say we all have a nice cuppa tea. Strong. Preferably in a western saloon with a gunslinger lurking outside.

Much as I enjoy the poetry, what I really enjoy is people who write poetry AND are ok that I do not AND know what I am referencing in point 4 AND will both gladly explain to those who don't get it, but also use code to prevent spoilers. This is the bar at the far end, lwer depthe of the space station that anyone can stumble into, but the repeat customers -- and folks running the place with a shotgun of spam filters under the counter -- make it special. Xopher, Syd - the folks in the bar looking for work were always the ones who got the great adventure. Im rooting for you as i sit quiet in the corner. Now I'm taking my cup of tea, sliding off the bar stool, and shuffling off to my job.

#303 ::: Mea has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 11:30 AM:

Probably for bad punctuation.

Possibly for offering tea without crumpets for the Gnomes.

#304 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 02:11 PM:

Mea @302: AND will both gladly explain to those who don't get it, but also use code to prevent spoilers.

Neato! Please to explain, yes, because I am one of the ones who does not yet get it. (I am one of today's lucky 10,000! Excellent.)

#305 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 02:36 PM:

Finny @ 292: That wasn't up when I posted. Wholly appropriate, and powerful.

KayTei@296: I never thought of pastiche as a simple game of word substitution. Rather, I guess I did for single sentence or similar pithy bits, but not for vast paragraphs and chunks of text. I felt it was a matter of knowing the source material so well that, in crafting an entirely new sentence, you'd be able to pick out the words that the narrator you were imitating would choose to form it, the way that, once I'm through a few drafts of a work, I can start to correct the dialogue based on "Character X would never say that with those words" instead of just "Ooops, that's a clunky sentence". Which I guess isn't that different, but it does necessitate knowing the original work as well as I know my characters after five or so drafts. Which is, um, daunting.

Elise @ 304: I think it's the yngrfg rcvfbqr bs Qbpgbe Jub. Jurer gur Qbpgbe jnyxf vagb n Fnybba naq fnlf (cnencuenfrq) "Grn. Gur uneq fghss. Yrnir va gur ont." If it isn't, it's an eerie coincidence.

Though I also thought of Neverwhere, and the test Richard has to go through that starts with the 'nice cup of tea'.

#306 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 02:59 PM:

Mary Dell @282:

You have a point. But I do miss the feeling of having the muse take over my mind and stretch me to things I'd not have thought I was capable of.

She'll come back when she wants to, I guess. She's not a tame personification of a slice of my brain.

Finny @292

*applause* We'd love to hear more from you. Do you bind books?

KayTei @296 & Lenora Rose @305:
Pastiche as a word-substitution problem versus a matter of knowing the source material so well that, in crafting an entirely new sentence, you'd be able to pick out the words that the narrator you were imitating would choose to form it?

My answer is "yes". In the sense that if I'm doing a pastiche of a specific work, I tend to do word- and phrase-substitutions while trying to leave enough of the original intact to bind the thing together. Whereas if I'm doing one of a particular writer's style, then it's more a case of simulating an entire vocabulary and syntax transplant.

#307 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 03:20 PM:

Leonora Rose @305: Thank you for encoded explanation! I did sort of wonder if that might be it, but another part of me was hoping there was yet another cool fiction that I hadn't met yet. (Though my to-be-read list is probably longer than I dare contemplate. But still.) And yeah, the having of a cup of tea has all sorts of interesting fictional resonances. Have you read Raphael Carter's THE FORTUNATE FALL?

#308 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 04:39 PM:

Abi@306: We'd love to hear more from you. Do you bind books?

I'm now pondering what creative activity to query a newcomer about if they turned up with a self-bound collection of poetry. I think it's the wrong time of day for that, unfortunately, because I'm feeling excessively uncreative.

#309 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 04:42 PM:

David Wald @308:

I think we should ask them if they comment on blogs.

#310 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 04:48 PM:

Possibly interesting question: What fascinates you?

Or would that have too much risk of getting unduly long monologues?

#311 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 09:10 PM:

David Wald @#308: "Emacs or vi?"

#312 ::: Finny ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 11:10 PM:

Abi @ 306:

Yes, actually. Not professionally, or anything, but back in grade school I was taught how to make my own books (paper, cardboard/wood/whatever the cover was to be made of, tape), and I still do so on occasion, for enjoyment. Usually of my poetry (of which I've got lots), as I have no hope of getting it published anywhere--it's not that good, and I don't have any idea how to get poetry published anyway. Someday I'd like to learn proper bookbinding, though!

And I do thank everyone for the comments on my poem; I'd comment individually, but I need to get to bed, as 5:00am comes far too early around here!

#313 ::: Mea ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2012, 01:24 AM:

#304 elise - I love that XKCD comic.
#305 Lenora Rose, yes got it right. Lovely!

Of course, it being early in the morning, I then went on with muddled and mushy thoughts about pubs and saloons in lots of stories, like Diving into the Wreck by Kristin Rusch (read it quickly a while ago, but I think i recall a pub in the depths of a space station being a place to go for the protagonist gathering her crew and I just wish it was as easy as showing up in the right bar to get a job for the job hunters amongst us) and Callahan's Crosstime Saloon. this blog is as close as I expect to get to a seat at Callahan's (especially since this is the type of place where someone more in the know than I will explain that they wrote a story for it, or knows a good one about Spider Robinson or someone else associated with the endeavor).

#307 Elise - haven't read THE FORTUNATE FALL, but now I'm  checking it out on Amazon.  What made you ask about it? although I associate Russia with lots of sweet tea, I'm not sure that is a widely shared thought.

#292 Finny - wow. I hadn't had time to read your poem this morning (i cant appreciate poems read in a rush), but I had time this evening and it was worth it. although a lot to chew over. Spot on that as a society we are in perverse ways comforted by the endlessless of wars - one emotion I felt after reading it is sharp anger at that reality. Good poem, bad reality.

#314 ::: Mea gnomes again ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2012, 01:26 AM:

I blame the iPad.

Sweet young walnuts in tea for the gnomes?

#315 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2012, 01:37 PM:

Finny @312

Srsly? Win!

#316 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2012, 03:02 PM:

Mea @307: (especially since this is the type of place where someone more in the know than I will explain that they wrote a story for it, or knows a good one about Spider Robinson or someone else associated with the endeavor)

Somewhere in the boxes of Stuff there is a note from Spider and an OOTNOid Affirmation that Spider and Jeanne sent me long ago, when I did a little fundraising for NovaDance Theatre. Hadn't thought about that for years. (An OOTNOid Affirmation is a certificate they made up, declaring that the recipient was One Of The Nice Ones. It was very sweet.)

And having a cup of tea figures a little bit in THE FORTUNATE FALL, but I daren't say more about it because it would be all kinds of spoilery. (Well, that, and because it's hard to explain it without quoting vast chunks of the book.)

#317 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2012, 03:54 PM:

Finny @ 312

Hey, Finny! Do you write... nevermind.

Nicely done @ 292. That's some strikingly forthright stuff you've written. The cookie narrative is phenomenal.

#318 ::: Finny ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2012, 09:50 PM:

Abi @ 315:

Yep, seriously. One of the few good thing about school.

#319 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2012, 03:18 PM:

Just got pwned by the spelling of 'irresistible' and came here to check if it was already on the list. Yup.

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