eak, nouce and beaurocratic

When I’m not working, I don’t set out to find typos in what I read, but sometimes I just can’t not. I’m re-reading some old books before deciding whether to keep them or sell, give, donate or throw away (I can’t stand throwing away books!). One of these is the story of the British comedy team The Goons. In one chapter, there were three instances of one mis-spelled word and one of another, and I found a third while I was skimming through to find them before drafting this post.

Spike’s time spent eaking out unperformed scripts on his old typewriter would not go to waste.

‘Now most of those tapes lie gathering dust at the BBC. You’d think they would have the nouce to broadcast [them].’ (quoting Spike Milligan)

‘I’m not surprised at the way the BBC eak out an occasional Goon Show recording rather than broadcast a whole series on radio.’ (Milligan)

’Now a Goon Show is being eaked out for a miserable once-a-year airing on cassette. Blind, misguided, beaurocratic BBC.’ (Milligan)

This is a quality production, edited by a woman who used to be Milligan’s personal assistant. It’s easy to say “Haha, you made a mistake in a printed book”, but it’s more interesting to explore the linguistic issues behind them, and I don’t want to name and shame the editor and publisher. Eke and nous are very rare words, bureaucratic is moderately rare, and all three have very unusual spellings.

Eke is the only standard English word with this spelling. One site also includes deke (v To deceive (an opponent) in ice hockey by a fake; n A fake, intended to deceive a member of the opposing team in ice hockey) (from decoy), Peke (a Pekingese dog) and leke (an archaic spelling of leek). -eak and -eek are by far more common spellings. Eke has two meanings: to make a scarce resource last longer by using sparingly or supplementing, and to earn a basic living with great effort. The first quotation is the most awkward for me. He may have eked out a living, or he might have produced unperformed scripts with great effort, but he didn’t eke out the scripts.

Nous shares its spelling only with sous (assistant chef) and yous (non-standard plural of you), which have  different origins and pronunciations. -ouce is even less common, being found only in douce (dialect Scot and Northern English quiet; sober; sedate, from Latin dolcis) (compared to my coupe, which is deuce). I would have been less surprised if this had been transcribed as nouse.

Bureaucrat suffers from interference from beauty and democrat, and the only other words I could find in which bur- is pronounced /bju:/ are buret/burette (a glass tube with fine volumetric graduations and a stopcock at the bottom, used especially in laboratory procedures for accurate fluid dispensing and measurement) and carburettor (for some people) (which is not a buret(te) for a car).

I’m not surprised that typos like these sneak into first or second drafts, but I am surprised that they were not spotted sometime after that.

The auto-spellchecker on Pages for Mac changed eak to eat and eaking to taking, leke to like and nouse to noise.


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