Sure

The conductor of one of the choirs I sing in likes to incorporate tongue-twisters into our warmups, for agility of tongues and brains. She invites choristers to submit examples (I have previously written about cumquat compote). Yesterday a chorister explained the she had intended to tell her friend that she had a sore shoulder, but instead said either shore solder or sure solder. (I first thought shore, because of the sh in shoulder, but for most people sure is equally possible (a small number of people pronounce shore and sure differently).)

In real life, shore solder and sure solder are basically non-existent. Lake Shore is a manufacturer of industrial equipment; one of their products is Lake Shore solder. SURE is a brand name of another manufacturer; one of their products is a SURE solder absorbing machine, whatever that does. 

Elsewhere, there are sentences like “Inspect the joint to make sure solder has adhered to the pad and castellation” and “Sure, solder stations may go up to 900ºF…”. 

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cumquat compote

Choral conductors often use tongue-twisters to warm up singers’ mouths and brain. Last week (in a Zoom session) the conductor of one choir I sing in presented one which a chorister had suggested. He had been visiting his mother who presented him with a jar of compote she had made from cumquats she had grown: cumquat compote. Even while I was trying to concentrate on singing that, I realised that compote is – literally – compost.

French uses the letter ô (o-circumflex) in a number of ways, one of which is to indicate that a letter has been dropped from the pronunciation and spelling of a word – most often s. Thus a hôtel is a hostel, a bête is a beast and a pâté is a paste. So cômpote is compost (it’s also related to composite). The use of circumflexes is inconsistent in English words derived from French. The more English a word has become, the less likely it is to use the diacritic: hotel and compote are now English words, pâté probably loses the circumflex in informal contexts but keeps the acute for the pronunciation (though examples exist on the internet of every possible combination), and bête is still entirely French. (Each word derives from Latin, which has the s in each.)

(Apparently, kumquat is the wider-used spelling, reflecting the Chinese original, but I spell in Australian English.)

A kind of affliction

Last Tuesday was an interesting day linguistically, even if it was a slow day work-wise. I noticed three separate issues twice each in different contexts. The first time each, I thought “Oh, that’s interesting” and the second time I thought “Hang on, I’ve seen that before”.

During a lull in my work, I was browsing through some of Geoffrey Pullum’s old Language Log posts. In one, titled ‘Another victim of oversimplified rules‘, he discusses a sentence which he found in a free newspaper on Edinburgh’s buses:

A record number of companies has been formed by Edinburgh University in the past 12 months.

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