khaleesi virus

I recently encountered the name




which has been circulating for about 10 years, but


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.



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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One of the challenges of family history research is variations in the spellings of names, among and between family sources or official records (and some searchable databases are very badly transcribed). I couldn’t find my mother’s mother’s birth record, then thought to search for the equivalent of McArthur rather than Macarthur. Similarly, I was also able to find her grandparents’ marriage record in a province of Canada (her grandfather was serving in the British army at the time, and her father was born in Bermuda). 

For given names, there are Catherine/Katherine, Alexandr(i)a and Ann(i)(e)/Anna, Mary Ann(e)/Anna, Mary-Ann(e) and Marianne. One relative I didn’t know the existence of until very recently (a great-grandfather’s sister) is rendered as Matilda M A on her birth record, Matilda M on her marriage record and the birth records for three children, Matilda Marrianna on her death record and the Find a grave website, Matilda Mary A on one son’s death record and Marianne Matilda on the other’s. The name Marrianna exists, but is far less common than all those other variations.

I found her and three more siblings because my father’s family history notes refer to ‘the rest of the family’ (that is, not my great-grandfather or the brother we knew about, mainly because those two married sisters). My father had a lot of information about his mother’s mother’s side and a medium amount about his father’s father’s side. This family is his mother’s father’s side, and I’ve found his older sibling who died young, three younger siblings and 13 nieces and nephews. Any more research is limited by publicly searchable records being restricted to more than 100 years for births, 50 or 60 years for marriages and 30 years for deaths. I also had basically nothing about his father’s mother’s side, but was able to connect a few dots and find an extensive listing of her relatives in England and Canada. The compiler of that website didn’t know that she had come to Australia. There’s an intriguing story about her, which I’m still waiting for a reply from a historical organisation about, so won’t tell you now.

[PS 19 Sep: My searches of the Births, Deaths and Marriages records in Victoria and New South Wales failed to find a small number of distant relatives who I know exist(ed). I’ve started over on those ones, trying every combination of spelling that I can, and have found most of the missing ones. It is not uncommon for someone’s name to be spelled different on their birth, marriage and death record (which might be a transcription error).


Our church has been running Sunday and weekday services online for some time. Last week, one prayer leader introduced the prayers with a formula something like “For the world/particular people, we intercess”. I really shouldn’t be thinking about linguistics when I really should be praying, but obviously intercess piqued my interest. 

Without doubt, intercede is the ‘correct’ word here, but intercess is clear and makes perfect sense. It’s in Wiktionary, but not any other dictionary I searched. A general Google search takes me to intercede, intercession or intercessor, but using “intercess” in quotation marks finds a scattering of uses in the relevant sense. Also, Google Ngrams shows a flat line rather than ‘no results’, meaning some use, but close to zero compared with intercede. Pages for Mac changes intercess to internees and intercessing to interceding and red-underlines then when I change them back.  

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oo or u

A document referred to the “Pashtoon” people of Afghanistan, which is the spelling used in the applicant’s written submissions. The usual spelling is Pashtun, and quotations from other sources in the document used that spelling. 

The advantage of using <u> instead of <oo> is that it’s one less letter. The disadvantage is that the default pronunciation of <u> is /ʌ/, so Pashtun would possibly rhyme with Dunne, whereas the default pronunciation of <oo> is /u:/, so it would definitely rhyme with Doone

According to Google Ngrams, Pashtoon dates from 1945 and 1953, which is puzzling, given the British wars in Afghanistan from 1839 (maybe they were just Afghans or natives in those days, because there was no reason to distinguish any one group from any other). The two spellings were used about the same until Pashtun became the preferred spelling from the 1980s (the Soviet invasion) and especially 2005 (the US invasion).

Compare Hindoo and Hindu, where there is no ambiguity of pronunciation: <u> at the end of a word can only be /u:/. The two spellings were used about the same until Hindu became the preferred spelling from the 1940s (leading up to Indian independence). 

Two more words which spring to mind are igloo (Inuit) and kangaroo (Guugu Yimithirr). Igloo is now linguistically transcribed as iglu, while the first recorded spelling of kangaroo was kanguru (Joseph Banks) and the linguistically reconstructed spelling is gangurru. (Various other spellings were used along the way.) Needless to say, the standard and most common spellings in English are igloo and kangaroo (and Pashtun and Hindu). While the plural of iglu is igluit and the plural of gangurru is gangurru-ngay (Haviland 1979),  the plurals in English are igloos and kangaroos (though Linus van Pelt attempted to make igli out of eggshells). Note that in Inuit, iglu refers to any kind of house, while in Guugu Yimithirr, gungurru refers to one specific species of macropod. Also, the people of the Sydney region had no idea what the British were talking about when they used this North Queensland word.

There are also the Chinese names Hu and Hoo, Wu and Woo, which seem to be interchangeable, but for some reason Hoo Jintao looks less presidential than Hu Jintao. Korean 문 can be Mun (ambiguous) or Moon (unambiguous, but possibly causing confusion with the the identically-spelled English word). I once had a colleague with the first name Mun (rhyming with Dunne), who I think was of Malay or Singapore Chinese heritage.


A document referred to a circumstance stymying someone.

Stymying looks wrong, but so does stymieing. Stymie is by far the preferred spelling, but stymy is attested. Stymies and stymied look reasonable. Although it is more often used as a verb (1850s), it was first used as a noun (1830s). Its origin is uncertain, but, given its connection with golf, it is possibly a Scottish dialectal word. 


On the back window of a car was a sticker saying


Ummm … is she a physical bitch, a psychotic bitch or both? Sitting in a different car, I didn’t get the chance to ask.

It is very easy to get the phys– words and the psych– words mixed up, and to mis-spell them even when you’ve got the right one (especially if you’re writing in ALL CAPS). The phys– words come from Greek φυσική physike (nature) and Latin physica (study of nature) and the psych– words from Greek ψυχή psyche (breath, soul) (note that ph, ps and ch are all one letter in Greek).

In any not-completely-informal use, physcho is wrong, but some people use it, whether deliberately or accidentally (definitely accident with reference to Alfred Hitchcock (who is more associated with the word than Robert Bloch is)). Did the sticker company use it deliberately, thinking either that the people buying it wouldn’t notice, or would notice but wouldn’t care, or accidentally, realising later (in which case the two previous questions again) or not?

It’s midnight, cretins

A few posts ago I mentioned a Christmas song which starts in its original language:

Minuit, chrétiens, c’est l’heure solennelle.

Inevitably, I got thinking about cretins. There is a connection. Cretins are, quite literally, Christians.

Latin Christianus became old and middle French Chrestian, modern French Chrétien and English Christian. Along the way, children with congenital hypothyroidism were called Chrétiens, to emphasise their inherent worth despite their condition. In English, this became cretins, which word was then used to describe anyone of low intelligence or who you simply did not agree with. It is now not used medically, and hopefully less in its wider meaning.

I pronounce it as creh-tin, which is apparently the British pronunciation, compared with the American pronunciation of cree-tin, which sounds too much like Cretan to me. The original cretins weren’t Cretan; they were Christian.

I have a vague feeling that there’s an animated tv comedy (The Simpsons, The Family Guy?) in which two characters quibble about the pronunciation – one calls the other a creh-tin and is immediately taken to task for pronouncing cree-tin incorrectly – but I can’t immediately find it.

Not to be confused with the former prime minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, who was a Chrétien and presumably a Christian, but not a cretin. The modern French word for cretin, by the way, is crétine (f)/crétin (m).

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.