removalist

My wife and I are in the process of selling one house, buying another and moving. While writing comments on Facebook, I noticed that its spell-checker was red-underlining removalist. (Pages for Mac and WordPress do, too.) Dictionary.com lists removalist as “Australian”, which surprised me. I asked my North American friends on Facebook, and they said they would only use mover but would understand removalist in the context of moving house. (By the way, moving house or just moving are both reasonably strange things to say. One student once told me that she’d spent the weekend “moving my house”.)

Some of my Facebook friends also mentioned packers. I have been doing most of the packing myself, and we won’t be paying specifically for packing (the removalists may do some incidental packing). Many years ago I attended a party for a friend whose company was relocating her to Melbourne. She said that the company was paying for the move, including the packing. Later in the evening, someone else commented on the lack of cardboard boxes around the apartment. I said “Kerry and Jamie are coming tomorrow morning”. She looked puzzled, and so were my North American friends when I told that story on Facebook. Anyone not from Australia is welcome to guess my meaning before I update with the answer.

One of my Australian friends mentioned a play (later a movie) by the Australian playwright David Williamson titled The Removalists. Given that there is only one actual removalist in the play/movie, it is possible that there is a double meaning in the title.

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furnitures

I am trying to sell some old furniture through a ‘Buy, Sell, Swap’ group on Facebook. Someone in the group has advertised “furnitures” for sale. In current-day standard English, this is a plain mistake, but it may gain some usage under the influence of second-language learners and speakers. It makes sense, and there’s no doubt what people mean when they say or write it.

The more I investigated, the murkier it got. There’s a group of uncountable nouns which represent a collection of items, or more accurately there’s two groups of uncountable nouns which represent a collection of items. A flock of sheep consists of sheep (rams, ewes and lambs, a limited list), but furniture consists of tables, chairs, couches etc (a potentially unlimited list). Google Ngrams shows that a furniture appears overwhelmingly as a noun modifier of store, factory, manufacturer etc (and that its usage skyrocketed before 1890 and 1910, so I don’t know what people called it before then) and that furnitures is used just often enough for it may not to be a plain mistake. Among other things, it is used with the verbs are and were. Two of the most common collocations are furnitures thereunto and furnitures whatsoever, which suggests that it has a legal usage. Continue reading

Ouch

I try. I really try. I really really try not to notice mistakes in other people’s writing, and really really try not to blog about it here. If the blog in question was just anyone’s language-related blog, I’d say ‘ouch, then bite my tongue (or the digital (in both senses) equivalent), but it’s the blog of a Major Language-Related Website, so I’ll say ‘ouch’, then blog about it here.

One post referred to the A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones character Thormund Giantsbane and the British writer Road Dahl. Ouch  and double ouch.

In real life, the spelling Thormund exists, but Tormund is much more common. (Thormund more closely reflects the original Old Norse Þórmundr.) The ASoIaF/GoT character is Tormund, although the spelling Thormund is occasionally used, more often on websites less related to the books or tv series.

In real life, Roald is still used in Nordic countries and among Nordic emigrants (but less so than in the days of Roald Amundsen and Roald Dahl). Road isn’t a name anywhere, though there are several occurrences of Road Dahl on the internet, including goodreads and IMDb. (I have a vague memory of first thinking that his name was Ronald.)

I’ll be generous and say that both spellings are the result of momentary inattention and muscle-memory influence from the much more common words Thor and road. But please proofread, especially if you’re a blogger on a Major Language-Related Website.

(Before anyone points out any mis-spellings in this post (I have re-read very carefully!), please note that this is not a Major Language-Related Website.)

ifle

I just watched a video in another language, subtitled in English by someone who isn’t a native English speaker. S/he spelled beautiful as beautifle several times. The word is beauty  + full, so I could cope with beautyfull (with beautifull and beautyful as other possibilities). The subtitler obvious has access to technology and the correct spelling is only ever a few clicks away.

No English word ends –tifle and only three – rifle, stifle and trifle – end in -ifle, and all have the long sound. If we wanted the short i pronunciation, we’d have to write beautiffle.

Can I spell any better in that other language? No, but if I had to put something in that other language on the internet, I’d get someone who can, to check it.

PS As spelling mistakes go, it’s at the less serious end of the scale. It’s perfectly clear what it means, it doesn’t change the meaning and it’s not accidentally funny or rude.

 

Write on queue

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 third  and 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

qg

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

acclimation v acclamation

I was reading a blog and noticed that the writer typed acclimation rather than the clearly intended acclamation. I’m not going to name the blog or writer, because I am not a ha-ha-you-made-a-mistake-on-the-internet type of person. Rather, I got thinking about the brain and finger(s) processes which lead to mistypings like this. There are pairs (or trios) of words which sound the same or very similar, and most often the more common word is typed instead of the less common one. (There are exceptions, but that’s the general rule.) According to Google Ngrams, acclimation is slightly more common than acclamation. But not for me. I would never use acclimate and acclimation, though I know they exist. I would use acclimatise and acclimatisation, even though they’re longer. So the chances of me accidentally typing acclimation are very small.

Acclamation is derived from acclaim (verb and noun) and Latin acclāmāre (verb). Acclimate is derived from climate (noun) and Latin clīma (noun). Acclimate seems wrong to me, but has the same form as accompany (ac+noun = verb). Acclimate is the slightly older form, but acclimati(z/s)e was more common until the 1970s.

So, people make mistakes. Just to prove it, I originally typed acclimitisation. Pages for Mac red-underlines my -ise/-isation spellings anyway, so I didn’t originally spot it. WordPress accepts acclimatise and acclimatisation, though. Acclimiti(z/s)ation is just wrong.