A sneaky word

A few months ago I randomly encountered an online article which used


as the past tense of 


A few weeks ago I randomly encountered the same article again. I didn’t save the article and I can’t find it now. It was about some people who “snook into a stadium” or “into a football match”. I asked my Facebook friends, and those who responded said “mistake”, “… unless the author is using similar linguistic devices throughout” (which I don’t remember was the case) “an Americanism, like snuck” (possibly; there was no particular indication that the writer was American) and “mistake”.

Snuck (use it or not (I don’t), like it or not (I don’t)) is here to stay (and is already used more than sneaked in US English, and almost as much in British English). Snook is either a mistake or a very rare alternative. Searching for snook by itself finds mostly irrelevant results for people with that surname, fish or a town in Texas. But then

“No, you got all sneaky and snuck around and snook that vote away from me. And I know this because earlier I sneaked and snooked around and Jammy was supposed to vote for me. The snooker has become the snort.” Leslie Knope to Ron Swanson

I recognise the names as characters from Parks and Recreation (which I have never seen). So writers of tv comedies can use it. (Writers of tv comedies can do a lot of things.) Note snooked. I assume that snooker is pronounced similarly and not like the table-balls-and-cue sport.

Searching for “snook into” found a few uses, for example “someone snook into my [hotel] room” on Tripadviser and “this guy snook into [a sports stadium when it was closed]” on reddit.

Searching for “snook into a stadium” found nothing, but “snook into the stadium” found this tweet:

the streaker at the Granada vs Manchester United game, snook into the stadium at around 7am”, But that is an auto-translation from German: der Flitzer beim Spiel Granada gegen Manchester United gegen 7 Uhr morgens ins Stadion geschlichen ist 

With snuck and sneaked to choose from, I can’t see why any auto-translator would be programmed to use snook

But I still need a genuine use of snook. I don’t know how I found it, but luckily I saved the URL. From the BBC, no less: 

Zoe snook into rehearsals to catch up with Patrick and Anya and Fiona and Anton. 

I assume that the BBC has a style guide and that snook isn’t in it. In fact, I assume that snuck isn’t in it, either. I’ll venture that no style guide so much as mentions snook in this sense, whatever it might say about snuck and sneaked. I’ll get proscriptive and say “Don’t use snook. People will question your intelligence and/or ability in English” (unless you are a writer of a tv comedy). In fact, I’ll say “Don’t use snuck“, but most people will ignore me.

The rise of snuck is relatively recent. Most discussions date it to the late 19th century, but Google Ngrams shows its rise from the late 1990s. Sneaked has risen at the same time, in part because people are using it to compare and contrast with snuck. Have we spent more time sneaking in the last 25 years?


Duffins, cronuts and olive jars

A trip to a local shopping centre yielded two linguistic snippets. One shop was selling duffins, which it helpfully explained as “not a donut, not a muffin”. Cronuts (doughnuts made from croissant dough) have been a thing for a while now (Wikipedia says 2013). Duffins appear to be new. Wikipedia does not have a page for them and several news stories online from earlier this month talk about the product’s launch, but the company’s own website says that “The duffin is back”. Pages for Mac auto-changes duffin to muffin and red-underlines it when I change it back. 

Hang on, though. If a doughnut made from croissant dough is a cronut, then shouldn’t one made from muffin dough be a muffnut? Maybe not …

(spelling: Google Ngrams shows that doughnut is used more in BrEng, and about equally with donut in AmEng. I don’t often write about them, so I don’t know what my natural usage is. (PS My diary for my first stay in Korea 2006-9 has three instances of donut(s) and none of doughnuts, but that’s hardly convincing.)) 

(pronunciation: I had always pronounced croissant with kw-. Various dictionaries give kr-, krw- and kw-, so there’s obviously no unanimity (Wiktionary gives the most options). The other issue is -ant, which can be -ant, -ont, -ənt or ɒ̃. A lot depends on how French you try to be.)   

My wife bought a jar of olives. Around the top is a message/are messages in four languages. 


I won’t discuss these at length, but clearly, different languages say equivalent things in different ways, and use a different number of words to do so.

PS 25 Jul: at a work meeting today my manager digressed and spontaneously mentioned lamingscones (which I have now discovered is styled as Laming-Scones). Non-Australians may need to look up lamingtons and scones.  

PPS 1 Aug: today I watching a Youtube video by someone walking around Seoul. I saw a bakery advertising croiffles. 1 Sep: Another video shows croffles.

PPPS 2Aug: I mentioned this on Facebook and a friend said her local supermarket sells muffnuts.

Shellharbour and Victor Harbor

My wife and I spent a night in the coastal town of Shellharbour. Similar couples spent a similar night in a similar coastal town, Victor Harbor

Australian English overwhelmingly prefers –our spellings to –or (most style guides specify –our and Pages for Mac’s Australian English autocorrect changed Victor Harbor to Harbour), but usage has swung back and forth over the years. Around the time Victor Harbor was officially named, –or spellings were in favour, so that official spelling was given and has been retained; likewise with the Australian Labor Party. (For more about these spellings, see Wikipedia in general, about the Labor Party. Basically, the –or spellings reflect the Latin original and the –our spellings reflect French –eur.)

Note also that Shellharbour is now one word, while Victor Harbor remains two. I guess running four syllables together is just too clunky.

Maths v math

In bookshop I saw two books:

Help your kids with maths – An Australian step-by-step guide


Help your kids with math – Revised edition

There is no particular reason why British, Australian and New Zealand English speakers say and write maths and USA and Canadian English speakers say and write math. We just do. 

Or maybe it’s not that simple. Google Ngrams shows that since 2010 math is more common that maths in BrEng, though it doesn’t show how much of that is mentions rather than uses (that is, talking about the word rather than actually using it). Conversely, maths is very rare in AmEng.

Surprisingly, the two abbreviations have been widely used only since the 1950s. Further, in AmEng, math has now overtaken mathematics.  

(Compare mathematics and the almost non-existent mathematic (either as a noun or adjective).)


Yesterday, a colleague advised us that it was International Chocolate Cake Day. Another colleague shared an image of a chocolate cake with the text: 

I had this delicious omlette this morning. I seasoned the eggs with sugar, oil and chocolate, and threw in a little flour for texture. 

Ha ha.

A third colleague pointed out that there should be an e after the m

Inquiring linguistic minds want to know why omelette is right and omlette is wrong. 

Courtesy of the Online Etymology Dictionary, the story begins with Latin lamina (plate, layer) (with a variety of modern meanings) and lamella (small plate, layer) (also with a variety of modern meanings) and progresses through French la lemelle > l’alemelle > alemele > alemette (which is a double diminutive) > omelette to arrive in English. American English prefers omelet. Omlette and omlet exist but are rare, and at this stage are probably still mistakes rather than genuine alternatives. Pages for Mac autocorrects omlette and omlet to omelette and omelet. So omelette has the first e because Latin lamella had/has one.

For me, omelette is solidly two syllables, but Dictionary.com gives the two- and three- syllable pronunciations.

Sparkly turquoise teeth

Last night my wife and I hosted a number of her friends with their husbands and children. Today I’ve been finding various things that the children left in various parts of the house. On one piece of paper, one child wrote “My teeth came out”. Another child crossed out teeth and wrote tooth underneath, then Incorrect and (in very big letters) Grammar. But there is nothing grammatically wrong with “My teeth came out”. The only difference between “My teeth came out” and “My tooth came out” is the number of teeth, one or more than one. Past tense came takes the same form for singular and plural. (Indeed, every English verb except be > was, were does.)

On another piece of paper are the words (all in upper case, which I won’t reproduce):

Name: [English from Hebrew girl’s name]
Age: 5
Last name: [Korean surname]
Favourite colour: Sparkly tourqouise

Judging from the quality of the handwriting, an older child asked a younger child and recorded her answers. Note the –our spellings, as are most common in Australia and some other parts of the English-speaking world. But she has wrongly assumed that turquoise follows the same pattern. It doesn’t: –or and –our are interchangeable in a small set of words (from Latin –or and French –eur), but as far as I know,  –ur and –our never are. Note also –qouise, obviously influenced by all those other –ou spellings. But qu and oi appear together far more often than qo (basically impossible in English; compare the Iranian city of Qom)) and ui (guide, guilt, juice etc) (note that ui has different pronunciations in those three words).

It’s actually a very sophisticated answer for a five-year-old. I wouldn’t have said that at that age, but then I wasn’t/still aren’t a girl. But it’s obviously easier for her to say than the other to write.

As far as I can remember, this is the first time I’ve ever written or typed turquoise, and had to think very carefully. I got it right both times. 

Every cloud possesses a silver lining

Writing about David Essex yesterday reminded me that I’ve been wanting to write about another song of his, “Hold me close“.

Twice, he sings:

Every cloud’s got a silver lining

But the final time, he sings:

Every cloud has a silver lining

I was going to write at length about ‘ve/’s got v have/has (note that very few people say/write have/has got in full), but I got very confused very quickly and don’t want to confuse you. I thought more about I’ve got and I have because we talk more about I than we do about every cloud. As well as I’ve got and I have, there’s also I got and I’ve gotten, as well as have as a main verb and have as the auxiliary of the perfect. I’ve got a is slightly more associated with British English, but even there I have a is by far the most common.

But I got thinking: do people say or write Every cloud’s got a silver lining or Every cloud has a silver lining? Google Ngrams shows absolutely no results for Every cloud’s got a silver lining, which means that its dataset does not include 1970s English pop songs. A general Google search shows about 1,050,000 results for “every cloud has a silver lining” (in quotation marks, for an exact match) and about 1,040 for “every cloud’s got a silver lining”, most of which are references to this song. Worryingly, Google suggests every clouds got a silver lining, for which there are 935 results, most of which are references to this song. I’m not surprised that people who create websites of song lyrics don’t how to use apostrophes, but I’m worried that Google doesn’t. 

Many proverbs circulate in slightly different forms, but this one is remarkably stable (and also Every dog has its day, which sprang to mind).

(I thought I’d written a previous post about I’ve got and I have in pop songs, but I can’t find it.)

take a look v look

Today I consciously realised something that I have unconsciously known since primary school at the very latest, and that is that while ‘take a look’ basically means ‘look’, ‘take a seat’ doesn’t mean ‘seat’ – it means ‘sit’. This is because look is both a noun and verb, while seat is a noun (usually) and sit is a verb. The longer form with ‘take a’ has to be followed by a noun (I’m kicking myself now how obvious that is), while the short form by itself has to be a verb.  

There are subtle differences in usage. Saying ‘After work this afternoon, I walked’ sounds strange, while ‘After work this afternoon, I took a walk’ sounds usual/natural. (Following it with ‘the dog/to the station/(for) one hour/(for) five kilometres’ all add to the possibilities.) Being asked to ‘Sit’ would sound far too abrupt (‘Sit, please’ is just possible), while being asked to ‘Take a seat’ sounds usual/natural. The only other noun/verb pair I can think of which we would use here is bath/bathe. Saying ‘Have a bath’ sounds usual/natural, but saying ‘Bathe’ by itself sounds really strange, and it’s not helped by adding ‘please’. 

Google Ngrams shows that the things we most often take are a look, a step, a seat, a walk, a chance, a turn, a position, a part, a view and a recess. Not all of those are interchangeable with the relevant imperative verb. There’s also ‘have a’, which is most often followed by lot, chance, look, right, place, tendency, number, mind, copy and bearing, which list raises even more questions. The only word on both lists is look. Historically, ‘have a look’ was more common in British English, but this has now been overtaken by ‘take a look’, which was previously often seen as an Americanism.

Slightly related: when I was at primary school I noticed that teachers often said ‘Sit up (straight)’, ‘Sit down’ and ‘Stand up’, and commented on this to a teacher, who explained it is possible to ‘stand down’ from an important position (which I hadn’t encountered at that point of my schooling). But this phrasal verb doesn’t necessarily involve standing at all. One can stand down while staying seated. 


I got a general email from a colleague I don’t personally know, which talked about something going ‘skew if’. The most common spelling is skew-whiff, but given that Wikitionary marks the word as ‘Britain, Australia, New Zealand, colloquial’, I’d better explain it for everyone else. 

It means askew, lopsided, not straight, not going to plan or not working properly, as in the computer systems which were the subject of the email. Wikipedia explains the origin: “The expression ‘skew weft’ dates at least from the 18th century as a term used by handloom weavers, typically in northern England. It was used originally to describe fabric which was out of alignment, and the term survives today in the manufacture of glass fiber cloth.”

I was originally sceptical of that explanation, but Google shows about 296 occurrences of ‘skew weft’ in the context of weaving. I am still moderately sceptical of that explanation.

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chew/eat the carpet

A discussion on Language Log considered the expression chew/eat the carpet. One definition is, in the words of Oxford Reference, “to lose emotional control, to suffer a temper tantrum”. 

I got thinking about temper tantrum. I would say, simply, tantrum. Temper tantrum has always sounded redundant to me. What other kinds of tantra are there? It also sounds vaguely American. 

Google Ngrams shows that a tantrum is used about 2 to 6 times as often as a temper tantrum in British English, and about 2 to 3 times as often in American English. In other words, a tantrum is the number one choice, but a temper tantrum is a strong alternative, especially in American English. 

It also shows that temper tantrum sprang into being in 1916, and then increased in use in 1923. I can’t find any reason for this. A discussion on English Language and Usage Stack Exchange cites a psychiatric case at Johns Hopkins University in 1918, where it is rendered in scare quotes, which suggests it was new and unusual then. (That discussion is more about the word tantrum (origin unknown) than it is about the expression temper tantrum.)

The other kinds of noun tantra are toddler, morning and childhood ones, all of which have a minuscule usage compared with temper tantrum. (I’m being silly in using tantra as the plural of tantrum. Whatever its origin, it’s not Latin, so the plural is tantrums.)