rabbit holes, dudes, weir-poles and emulosity

Oh the rabbit holes of language-related website and blogs, words and meanings!

I was reading Niall O’Donnell’s latest post and noticed at the side a picture of Jeff Bridges’ character in The big Lebowski (which I have never watched, but recognise most allusions to). Niall’s Instagram post says “Probably from the Scottish word for clothes ‘duddies,’ where we also get the word ‘duds.’”

On the other hand, dictionary.com says “An Americanism dating back to 1880–85; origin uncertain” (but being an Americanism doesn’t stop it being “from Scottish”). The first dudes were “excessively concerned with clothes, grooming, and manners”, which hardly describes Bridges’ character; partly because of this movie, one would now expect a dude to be rather scruffy and laid-back.

The five contemporary examples and three of the historical examples are unexceptional, thought we might have to think for a moment whether the writer means a ‘fastidious dude’, a man from an Eastern US city vacationing on a ranch, a ‘scruffy dude’ or just ‘any dude’’ll do.

The two others caught my eye, not for dude, but for something else in the sentence:

I allow you to—er—ornament my weir-pole, and ’tain’t every dude I’d let do that.
Cape Cod Stories [1907, short stories, scroll down to The mark on the door]
Joseph C. Lincoln

Having a dude puncher on our range kind of stirred up my emulosity.
Out of the Depths [1913, a western novel, scroll down to chapter XXI]
Robert Ames Bennet

Continue reading



A few weeks ago I posted about the following sentence which I spotted in the preface to Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage:

A number of common spelling problems are also discussed briefly. While the emphasis of this work is on usage in writing, a small number of articles is devoted to problems of pronunciation.

(note: “A number … are”, but “a small number … is”.) I emailed the esteemed Geoffrey Pullum about this, and he wrote about it on the Lingua Franca blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education

His most recent article for Lingua Franca is about the south-eastern Indian language Telugu being the fastest-growing language in the USA, mostly because of the high number of people from that area employed in the IT industry, including the chief executive of Microsoft, Satya Nadella. He cites an article in Quartz India, and quotes the following sentence:

A slew of Telugu workers in the US has been shot dead in various incidents, from hate crimes to robbery attempts.

Continue reading

O great mystery

One of the choirs I’m singing in is rehearsing the motet O magnum mysterium by Tomas Luis da Victoria.

The text is:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Iesum Christum.

One more-or-less standard English translation is:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Every time I’ve sung it, I’ve been struck by how many of the Latin words have engendered English words. English is officially classified as a Germanic language, but many of its advanced words are derived from Latin. In fact, two of the words are Greek and two are Hebrew through Greek. Some words came into English via French rather than directly from Latin. Continue reading


English is an international language, but each speaker, community and country stamps its own idiosyncrasies on it. Today’s front page of a well-known search engine had an image related to the 2018 Asian Games, about which I knew nothing, so I searched online using the well-known search engine, and the first result was a headline from the Times of India:

From sweeping a dhaba floor to playing for gold at Asiad

I infer that a dhaba is a building of some sort, rather low on the prestige scale. (Is sweeping a floor ever high-prestige?)

The story itself is about a kabbadi player named Kavita Thakur, who:

[f]or most of her life … lived in a cramped dhaba at her village [in northern India].

The 24-year-old … spent her childhood and teen years washing utensils and sweeping floors at the dhaba, which is run by her parents. Father Prithvi Singh and mother Krishna Devi still sell tea and snacks at the dhaba …

Utensils, tea, snacks — a small eatery or drinkery, maybe? Yes, a roadside restaurant or café. The Times uses the word in the headline and seven times in the article, fully expecting its readers to know what it is.

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

Legal editing bloopers

For some years I worked as a editor at a legal publishing company. Along the way I jotted down some instances of typos, incongruities and bizarrities. I knew I had this document somewhere, but found it accidentally yesterday. I originally italicised the relevant words and made snarky comments about many, but decided to present them “straight” here. I have added a small amount of explanation though.

Some of the usual suspects are here: typos, prepositional phrase attachment, dangling modifiers, and meanings or usage changing over time or between legal and general use (eg intercourse), as well as witnesses, lawyers and judges speaking on-the-spot. Some I edited before publishing; others I had to leave because of the limits of our publishing agreement with the court, or because they were in existing published sources. I hope I haven’t included things which aren’t on public record somewhere. I have edited a few names. 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.