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.
I got a general email from a colleague I don’t personally know, which talked about something going ‘skew if’. The most common spelling is skew-whiff, but given that Wikitionary marks the word as ‘Britain, Australia, New Zealand, colloquial’, I’d better explain it for everyone else.
It means askew, lopsided, not straight, not going to plan or not working properly, as in the computer systems which were the subject of the email. Wikipedia explains the origin: “The expression ‘skew weft’ dates at least from the 18th century as a term used by handloom weavers, typically in northern England. It was used originally to describe fabric which was out of alignment, and the term survives today in the manufacture of glass fiber cloth.”
I was originally sceptical of that explanation, but Google shows about 296 occurrences of ‘skew weft’ in the context of weaving. I am still moderately sceptical of that explanation.
Yesterday one of my colleagues said something close enough to ineffable, which led to me paraphrase Douglas Adam’s line: “Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.” (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency)
We got talking about this strange word, and soon after he quoted the hymn O worship the King, all glorious above, the last verse of which begins O measureless might! Ineffable love! Today he added Crown him with many crowns, which contains the lines Creator of the rolling spheres, Ineffably sublime.*
Last weekend I got a card for our new local library and borrowed a book about language and the DVDs for the tv science-fiction series Firefly, which I have read small amounts about over the years but never seen. The series mixes futuristic science fiction with wild west settings, as the outer planets and moons of a complex solar system (or an inter-related group of solar systems; it isn’t fully explained) were terraformed to a basic level but the settlers are otherwise expected to fend for themselves.
In one episode the lead character unexpectedly finds himself married by local custom to a young woman who may or may not be what she seems (semi-spoiler: she isn’t). At one point she refers to “my sistren” in “the maiden house”.
A few days ago, I mentioned that hadn’t seen the bathroom scales since before we moved house in early October. My wife replied that “it is in the kitchen cupboard”.
For me, scales are ‘uncountable plural’; that is, they always take are, were, these, those etc. Google Ngrams shows that the scale is/was is more common than the scales are/were. But this is complicated by the fact that there are three kinds of scales: snake/fish, weighing and music/map. Snake/fish and music/map scales are countable and therefore can be singular or plural, and Dictionary.com’s entry for weighing scales is “scale2 noun 1. Often scales”.