The Greek letter omicron has been in the news recently, with the World Health Organization giving that letter to the latest variant of COVID-19 (skipping over nu and xi).
I had known for a very long time that Greek had two letter Os (omicron O o and omega Ω ω , corresponding approximately to the sounds in hop and hope), but it took me a long time to learn or figure out that they are literally little O (o + micron) and big O (o + mega) respectively. (Compare Korean ㅓ and ㅗ, the same idea and approximately the same sounds. (I don’t know if Koreans conceptualise ㅓ and ㅗ as being ‘closer’ than, say ㅏ and ㅜ.))
In other contexts, Little O is something mathematical, which I won’t attempt to explain, and Big O means something different to mathematicians, watchers of Japanese anime, writers and readers of erotica (no link, obvs) and fans of Roy Orbison. (Is there any overlap between those categories? Have two people ever had a seriously embarrassing conversation by assuming that the other meant something different?)
(See also the many uses of omicron and omega in the pages linked above.)
PS 10 Dec: Numberphile has a video about some mathematical usages of omicron, which I won’t pretend to understand. I noticed that he pronounced omicron with a short ‘o’ all the time, and omega with a long ‘o’ most of the time, but once or twice with a short ‘o’. I suspect that once Hindu/Arabic numerals came into use in Europe, omicron was less used because it could be mistake for zero. Notice that at 5.37 of the video, the paper they discuss is titled Big omicron and big omega and big theta. Big omicron is literally big little o, and big omega is big big o.
K- is an all-purpose abbreviation for (South) Korean popular culture. I had previously encountered K-pop, K-drama and the K-league (pop music, tv soap dramas and soccer respectively), but I had not previously encountered …
In the play and movieAmadeus, Antonio Salieri is insanely jealous of Mozart, actively thwarts his musical opportunities in Vienna and encourages him to work to nervous exhaustion on his Requiem.
In real life, in his last (surviving) letter, Mozart wrote:
… at 6 o’clock I fetched Salieri and Madame [Catarina] Cavalieri with a carriage and took them to my box [in the theatre where The Magic Flute was being performed] … Salieri listened and watched with great attention, and from the overture all the way through to the final chorus there was not a single number that did not elicit from him a “bravo” or “bello”. He and Cavalieri went on and on thanking me for doing them such a great favour. [Robert Spaethling (trans and ed), Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life, (2000)]
A few days ago I had to ring a government department. I hate ringing government departments, but I couldn’t find anything on their website about this particular issue. The call took an hour and 44 minutes in total, being about one minute talking to the first person, about one minute talking to the second person who the first person put me through to, about three minutes talking to the third person who the second person put me through to, and about an hour and 39 minutes listening to ‘on hold’ music, announcements about the information I could find on the website, and automated recordings telling me that I was now the [number]th caller in the queue, starting from 59th between the first person and the second person, and 68th between the second and the thirdand gradually counting down.
I mentioned this on Facebook, and one online friend who lives in another English-speaking country commented, using the spelling que three times in an otherwise perfectly written comment. I sent her a private message asking whether that was her usual spelling, or was widely used in her English-speaking country. Continue reading →
Yesterday I emailed someone whose company’s domain name contains the letters q and g consecutively. It arose because the company’s name is a respelling of an ordinary English word ending with c, for example spelling Topic as Topiq. This is followed by the word ‘Global’, so (for example) topiqglobal.com.au.
No ordinary English word has q without u following. Websites (for example, Wikipedia) list words, but it is questionable how many of these are “English”. Most are borrowings from French or Middle Eastern, Chinese or North America languages. Continue reading →