Adaption and adoptation

A few days ago I hurriedly typed adaption rather than adaptation. Adaption isn’t wrong – it’s in multiple dictionaries and Pages for Mac accepts it – it’s just far less common than adaptation

Starting with adapt and adopt, there’s no particular reason why adaptation and adoption are standard, adaption is rare and adoptation is either very rare or wrong (Pages for Mac auto-corrects it to adaptation, then red-underlines it when I change it back.) Perhaps it’s related to the fact that opt by itself is a verb, whereas apt is an adjective. But that shouldn’t matter as long as adapt and adopt are both verbs.

Humans tend to want to say things as economically as possible. Adaptation and adoption are standard, so English speakers are more likely to shorten adaptation to adaption than to lengthen adoption to adoptation.

This got me thinking about the whole process of derivational suffixes in English. Humans will say longer word if there’s a change in meaning or word class. Adapt and adopt aren’t good examples, whereas act gives far more examples:

act (verb, noun) > active (adj) > activate (verb) > activation (noun)
act (verb, noun) > activity (noun) > do an activity (verb phrase) 
act (verb, noun) > action (noun) >  %action, %actionis/ze (verb) > %actionis/zation (noun) 
(among others)

Some people complain about or reject either or both of zero derivation (action as a verb) and overuse of –is/ze (actionis/ze) (partly because these are associated with business-speak), but these words fill a useful gap. Actioning or actionising a request or order isn’t the same as activating it, or even acting on it. The client makes or submits a request or order and the service worker ____s it. Google Ngrams suggests only receives, grants or refuses, which is not what we’re looking for. Fulfil is possible, but that means completing the action. Is the service worker the actioner? (Not auctioneer, which Pages for Mac just changed it to.)

See acclimate v acclimatise and direct for similar thoughts.

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khaleesi virus

I recently encountered the name

Kaleesi.

Not

Khaleesi,

which has been circulating for about 10 years, but

Kaleesi.

In terms of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels and the Game of Thrones tv series, the only correct spelling is khaleesi. I suspect that the name has now been adopted by people who have only ever heard it in passing. Not everyone has read all the novels so far (twice!) and/or watched the entire series. There’s nothing unusual about different spellings of a name existing side by side. What’s more unusual is that a name has a definite origin and an official spelling. 

I also suspect that the drift is/will be from kh to k and maybe we’ll even see Caleesi in the near future. Using k instead of c and kh instead of k is a deliberate choice, which I am middle-aged-ish and grumpy-ish enough to thoroughly dislike. 

After season 8 of Game of Thrones, the parents of all the Khaleesis and Daeneryses might be regretting their choice, or maybe they’ll pretend that season 8 just didn’t happen. 

I also suspect that Daenerys is going to get alternative spellings. I spelled it wrongly the first time. Most people on discussion forums refer to her as Dany, to avoid the problem. Arya might end up as Aria, which existed already anyway.

For what it’s worth, there are about 1.2 million search results for “kaleesi” (in quotation marks), with the question ‘Did you mean “khaleesi”’ and about 8.4 million for “khaleesi”. But then again, khaleesi virus comes up as one of the suggestions.

Note that female names tend to be adopted more than male names: there are probably no Khals or Drogos out there.

“Where is Canada?”

A few days ago I messaged my sisters about some information I’d just found about the family of one of our great-great-grandmothers. We’d previously had information about her husband, but not her, except that they married in Canada in 1863 and she was born about 1843. One of my sisters replied:

Where is Canada?

This is a perfectly formed question and I can imagine a child or parent/teacher asking it in the context of learning/teaching about countries of the world, but it didn’t make immediate sense in this context. I’m sure she knows where Canada is, and meant “Where in Canada?”, so I answered that question, specifically Saint John, New Brunswick. But I’m puzzled about the typo of is for in, given that s and n are so far apart on the keyboard. (Maybe she’d typed something else and autocorrect changed it to the full question Where is Canada? rather than the elided question Where in Canada? (By itself in is more common.))

Some time ago, another sister commented on Facebook that she was looking forward to seeing one of her children (who lives some distance away) “in Thursday”. That is more easily explained: i and o are next to each other on the keyboard.

Ceiling wax

One song I remember from my childhood is Puff, the magic dragon, sung by Peter, Paul and Mary and written by Peter Yarrow and Leonard Lipton. For some time I wondered what

ceiling wax

is. I don’t know how I found out that it is, in fact

sealing wax.

I obviously knew about ceilings before I knew about sealings.

Ceiling is a strange word. It ends with -ing, but it’s not related to a verb; we don’t usually ceil ceilings like we build buildings. (Someone has flippantly suggested that we should call them builts.) In fact we do, or buildingers do, whether they call it that or not. Dictionary.com records the verb ceil, meaning

1. to overlay (the ceiling of a building or room) with wood, plaster, etc.
2. to provide with a ceiling 

dating from 1400–50, from late Middle English celen to cover, to panel, followed by a rather vague < ? 

Seal is ultimately from Latin signum and is related to sign. The animal seal is from Old English with cognates in Old Norse and Old High German. There is a story that one holder of the British government office of Lord Privy Seal objected to being addressed as such because he wasn’t a lord, a privy or a seal.  

While I was researching for this post, I found a blog called of ceiling wax, which is about “reading YA, graphic novels and the spaces in between”. Its not-immediately-named author quotes Lewis Carroll’s The walrus and the carpenter (text, Wikipedia), which I’m not as familiar with and didn’t think of. She/he also originally mistook this for ceiling wax.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.” 

Some of Carroll’s poems are direct parodies of the poems Alice Liddell would have been familiar with, but this seems to be totally original. 

PS 3 Oct: information about the poems Carroll parodied.

“thwart with danger”

Some years ago, a distant cousin wrote and self-published a book detailing the history of our mutual family. A great-great-great-grandfather and -mother, a great-great-grandfather and four other children arrived in Sydney in 1855 and settled on the mid-north coast of NSW, with four more children born in Australia. Eight of those survived to adulthood and six produced large families, so this is the biggest branch of my family tree. (I might call it a limb or a bough but I don’t know which is meant to be larger.) I have just re-read parts of it while conducting family history research. Among other things, she writes that life on farms and in small towns was difficult, and childbirth in particular was

thwart with danger

I can understand why someone would mix up fraught and thwart – they are relatively uncommon words, they rhyme (at least for people with non-rhotic pronunciation) and the differences are very small (fr and thw), and both collocate with danger: fraught with danger and thwart danger. Fraught here is an adjective and thwart is a verb. 

An online search found about 3,430 instances of “thwart with danger”, 5,150 for “thwart danger” and 2,580,000 for “fraught with danger”.

Fraught is from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German and is related to freight, both most basically meaning full of, fraught in a negative way (and now only as an adjective) and freight in a positive way (as a noun and verb). Common collections are fraught relationship, fraught situation and fraught heart, process is fraught, life is fraught, situation is fraught and system is fraught, and relationships are fraught, studies are fraught and lives are fraught. Thwart is from Old Norse and basically means across; as a verb, to lie across, oppose, frustrate or prevent. Common collocations are thwart God, thwart efforts, thwart attempts, thwart justice and thwart competition, thwart a person/man/child and thwart a takeover, thwart the will, thwart the plans and thwart the efforts.

A prescriptivist’s playlist

I’ve been listening to a lot of pop song compilations recently. With my tongue planted firmly in my cheek:

All shaken up
Another somebody did somebody wrong song
Bobby McGee and I
Doesn’t it make my brown eyes blue?
I can’t get any satisfaction or I can get no satisfaction
I have you, babe or I’ve got you, babe 
Lie, lady, lie
Lo que será, será
Love me tenderly
Mrs Jones and I
There isn’t any mountain high enough or There’s no mountain high enough
Two fewer lonely people in the world
You haven’t seen anything yet or You’ve seen nothing yet

1) One of these definitely doesn’t belong here, because the original is unquestionably correct (or at least is questionable in another way). A free lifetime subscription to this blog to anyone who can point out which.

2) I stuck with titles, being easier to search for. I’m sure there are many more titles and many, many more lyrics. You can search for ‘pop music grammar errors’ to find more examples of ‘errors’, including within song lyrics. Some of these ‘errors’ actually are, but most of the lists fail to take into account that …

3) Informal spoken (or sung) English exists. I can (in some cases only just) accept each of the originals here as common informal spoken (or sung) English. That doesn’t mean that I say or write them, or would accept them without question in an ESL class. I said many times “Many people say X, but ‘correct, exam English’ is Y”.

[PS It’s possible that Two less lonely people in the world is prescriptively correct, too, if it is interpreted as Two + less lonely + people. But it’s hardly romantic to say “Before I met you, I was lonely. Now I am … less lonely.”]

Chairs!

In a comment to a recent post, I mixed up the Korean words 색 (saek, colour) and 책 (chaek, book). Two words which I often mix up are 의사 (ui-sa, doctor) and 의자 (chair). Of course I can tell the difference between colours and books, and doctors and chairs in real life (but maybe a doctor is chairing a meeting!), but the words kind of look the same. In fact, the consonant letters of the Korean alphabet were designed to illustrate the connections between the sounds they represent. They are (with their most common transliterations):

ㅁ m ㅂ b ㅍ p

ㄴ n ㄷ d ㅌ t 

ㅇ ng ㄱ g ㅋ k

ㅅ s ㅈ j ㅊ ch ㅎ h 

(Annoyingly, Korean typewriter/computer keyboards don’t advantage of these patterns. My Korean typing is very slow.) (Compare the IPA chart.)

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Either way, don’t beg the question

Some prescriptivists insist that beg the question means, and can only mean, assume the conclusion of a philosophical argument, and doesn’t mean, and cannot mean, raise the question. The esteemed Mark Liberman of Language Log traces the whole history from Greek to Latin to English in probably more detail than you will ever need or want (brief summary: almost everyone now uses it to mean raise the question) and concludes: 

If you use the phrase to mean “raise the question”, some pedants will silently dismiss you as a dunce, while others will complain loudly, thus distracting everyone else from whatever you wanted to say. If you complain about others’ “misuse”, you come across as an annoying pedant. And if you use the phrase to mean “assume the conclusion”, almost no one will understand you.

My recommendation: Never use the phrase yourself — use “assume the conclusion” or “raise the question”, depending on what you mean — and cultivate an attitude of serene detachment in the face of its use by others.

The reason I am mentioning this is that a few days ago I was watching a TED-X Talk in which the (native US English) speaker said:

Which begs me to ask another question …

No it doesn’t.

PS 26 Aug: A commenter on a Language Log post seems to have used the phrase in its original sense, judging by his punctuation: “”Is this the best way to approach the problem of the lack of scientific terminology in African languages ?”. I think that this begs the question. Is there any evidence that the lack of scientific terminology in African languages is a problem ?”

get hitched or get ditched

Sydney has a COVID-19 outbreak which is very small by world standards but of increasing concern in a country which has had very few cases and no deaths this year, and very low vaccination rates. My wife and I watched the tv news over dinner. One report was about couples getting married today before the ban on weddings starts at midnight. The reporter said:

racing to get hitched

The autosubtitles said

racing to get ditched

Who said what?

Following on from my last post about quotations, it seems to me that quotations by famous authors fall into three categories. The first is things they say or write as themselves. The second is things they write as the authorial voice of a literary work. The third is things they put into the mouths of their characters. We presume that what they say or write as themselves is their true opinion. For example, Jane Austen said or wrote “I am going to take a heroine [Emma] whom no one but myself will much like”. What they write as the authorial voice may or may not be their own opinion. Austen wrote “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”. Did she believe that, or was she satirising people like Mrs Bennett? Austen then has Mr Collins say “The death of your daughter [Lydia] would have been a blessing in comparison of this [her eloping with Wickham and now living with him unmarried]”. Did she believe that, or was she satirising people like Mr Collins?

For some authors, the line is blurred. George Orwell and Ayn Rand are famous for putting their opinions into their authorial voice and the mouths of their characters. Comedians often have a comic persona called “I” who may or may not believe the same things the comedian does – Rodney Dangerfield and Stephen Colbert spring to mind. For others, attributing the words of the character to the author is or could be seriously misleading. Charles Schulz is often quoted as saying “I’ve developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time!” But that was actually said by Charlie Brown. He is also quoted as saying “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia”. Schulz may or may not have believed that, but the actual exchange in the strip is:

Charlie Brown: I heard him [“that speaker”] say the world is coming to an end …
Peppermint Pattie: Marcie said the world can’t end today because it’s already tomorrow in Australia.

Schulz may have recycled the idea in the more familiar form later.

There are times when an author puts into the mouth of a character something she or he doesn’t believe. Oscar Wilde has the Duchess of Berwick in Lady Windermere’s Fan say “Australia … must be so pretty with all the dear little kangaroos flying about.” I am certain that Wilde did not believe that.