Two days ago the textbook had a reading about a course for “speedaholics”. I started simply by writing speedaholic on the board and asking them what they thought it meant. They quickly figured out that it was somehow analogous to alcoholic. One student guessed it referred to cars – a car provides speed in the same way that a drink provides alcohol.

The suffix -(a)holic means “a person who has an addiction to or obsession with some object or activity”. When you think about, it really should be –ic, because alcoholic is alcohol+ic, but no-one would understand speedic etc. Continue reading


What rhymes with axolotl?

Not a lotl, I would have thought.

A few days ago someone posted on Facebook The Axolotl Song (earworm warning), by a music/video/comedy group called Rathergood, which consists of Joel Veitch and unnamed others. They quickly rhyme axolotl with bottle and lotl, and also with mottled, which doesn’t quite rhyme.

There is a surprising number of English words ending with -tle. Morewords.com lists 104, but there are several derived forms; for example, bluebottle is listed alongside bottle. Eleven of these have a silent t in the cluster –stle, for example, castle. There are also a few with –ntle, for example, gentle, in which the n is part of the previous syllable, and one with –btle (subtle), in which the b is silent. The one which goes closest to rhyming with axolotl is apostle, but I can’t imagine anyone fitting both of those into the same song. Otherwise, there are bottle (and bluebottle), throttle, wattle and mottle among relatively common words and pottle (a former liquid measure equal to two quarts) (why not just say ‘two quarts’ or ‘half a gallon’?) and dottle (the plug of half-smoked tobacco in the bottom of a pipe after smoking) (does anyone really need a word for this?). Continue reading


Hot on the heels of posting about variations of the name Francis yesterday, I discovered that a player in the England cricket team currently touring Australia is named Dawid Malan. Wikipedia lists 160 variations from 91 languages – more languages but fewer variations than Francis.

Dawid (pronounced DAH-vid in Malan’s case) is listed as Afrikaans (he was born in England to South African parents; his father has the same name), Polish and Swedish, and as a transliteration of Biblical Hebrew, Korean (though I would transliterate it Dawit), Syriac and Yiddish.

When my first boss in Korea took me to the immigration agency, he unhesitatingly wrote 데이비드 (de-i-bi-deu), so I use that spelling when I have to write my name in Korean (which is not often). Korean translations of the bible use 다윗 (da-wit); many biblical names in Korean are closer to the Hebrew original than to the English version.


Yesterday I went to Yarramundi Reserve, a small and frankly not very interesting area at the junction of the Nepean, Grose and Hawkesbury Rivers, north-west of the Sydney metropolitan area. Yarramundi (or Yel-lo-mun-dy, or Yal-lah-mien-di, or Yèl-lo-mun-dee, or Yellomundee, or Yello_mundy, or Yellah_munde) was a leader and healer of the Buruberongal (or Boo-roo-bir-rong-gal, or Bu-ru-be-ron-gal, or Bu-ru-be-rong-al, or Boorooberongal, or Buribırȧŋál), a ‘wood tribe’ whose country extended inland from somewhere north-west of Parramatta towards and including the Nepean/Hawkesbury River.

A party of British explorers led by Governor Arthur Phillip met him and several others in April 1791, on an expedition to discover if and how the Hawkesbury (which they had previously explored upstream from its mouth) and the Nepean (which they had encountered after walking overland westward from Parramatta) met. As it turns out, the Nepean/Hawkesbury is essentially one river, but the two names have stuck, and this junction is the arbitrary point at which the names officially change. (The Grose River was named later; Major Francis Grose (later acting governor) did not arrive in the colony until 1792.)

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While I was researching the spelling ough for the previous batch of Grammarbites, I saw in the Wikipedia article on that spelling a list of four poems highlighting the inconsistencies. I easily found them on the internet and gather them here for your convenience. Two of them are written in the voice of an English language learner, the second one possibly the writer’s own experience.

Continue reading

argh, arrgh, aargh, aarrgh …

For reasons I might explain sometime, I needed to know the spelling of argh. Or arrgh. Or arrrgh. Or aargh. Or aarrgh, Or aarrrgh. Or aaargh. Or aaarrgh. Or aaarrrrgh. Or possibly multiple gs and/or multiple hs.

Dictionary.com gives ‘argh or aagh’. Google Ngrams shows argh, aargh, arrgh, aaargh and arrrgh, with no results for aarrgh, aarrrgh, aaarrgh or aaarrrrgh.Multiple as emphasises the length of the vowel, while multiple rs emphasises the throatiness of the rhotic. Multiple gs and/or multiple hs are also possible: Ngrams has arghh, and a general Google search has arghh (1,330,000), arggh (242,000) and argghh (148,000). aarrgghh is also possible (151,000), but the combinations grow exponentially, so I’ll stop there.

There are two meanings: the pirate sound, which is most commonly written as arrr, and the frustration sound, which is most commonly written argh or aargh.