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

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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.

Strenuous laboratory

Two snippets from this week.

1) My class was practicing changing verbs into nouns into adjectives and vice versa. One word was strength, to be changed into an adjective. Most students wrote strong, but one wrote strenuous. To the extent that I have ever actually thought about it, I have never thought that strenuous is related to strong, so I had to check it quickly. No – it’s not. Online dictionaries didn’t give quite enough information, but Etymology Online shows the derivation of each, slightly confusingly, but convincingly.

Strong is from Proto-Germanic *strangaz and Proto-Indo-European *strenk-. (An asterisk with an etymology means that word has not been directly attested, but has been reconstructed by comparing forms in related languages.) Strenuous is from Latin strenuus and is possibly related to stern.

The student happily accepted his classmates’ answer of strong, but I told him that if he’d written strenuous in a test, I would have given him a mark. Continue reading

libfixes

Yesterday I posted about the suffix -(a)holic. This is an example of what the US linguist Arnold Zwicky has termed a libfix – that is, a portion of an existing word which is “liberated” and used as an affix (usually a suffix) to create a new word, retaining some of the meaning of the existing word. This is not a new phenomenon, but has certainly become more common in the last 50 years; -(a)holic as a libfix dates from 1965. Some of these words have established themselves, but many remain marginal. Because of this, there are no consolidated lists of them. One of the best I found was an article by the US linguist/blogger Neal Whitman in The Week. He lists and briefly explains:

-ana, -burger, -cation, -dar, -erati, -fu, -gate, -gasm, -inator, -jitsu, -kini, -licious, -mageddon, -nomics, -omics, -preneur, -que, -rama/-orama, -stock, -tacular, -tainment, -tastic, -tini, -tard, -verse, -wich and -zilla. (If you don’t recognise any of those, click through to the article.)

There are more – he doesn’t list -(a)holic and I can also think of –splaining (which can even be used as a word in its own right; there is a difference between explaining and splaining. You see, splaining is when someone … oh, right). Some of these are imaginative, and some will last; others are awkward and/or lazy – every slight political scandal is now a –gate.

PS two examples from real life. This morning at a supermarket I spotted perinaise (peri peri + mayonnaise). This afternoon while driving I was behind a car belonging to someone offering mobile spray tans (?why). The first word of the small print was ‘Glamourlicious’. Just in case ‘glamourous’ isn’t … glamourous enough. (My preference is for ‘our’ spellings, but ‘glamourous’ looks kind of wrong, but I can’t quite bring myself to use ‘glamorous’ (as opposed to mentioning it, which I just did).

holic

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

Grammarbites part 8 – Building words, prefixes and suffixes

Part 1 – introduction

Part 8 – Building words, prefixes and suffixes

Part 6 – sentence types

Part 5 – nouns

Part 2 – auxiliary and modal verbs

Part 3 – regular and irregular main verbs

Part 7 – pronunciation – the basic sounds of English

Part 4 – pronunciation – consonant clusters

This batch took me forever! Prefixes and suffixes are a major and sometimes overlooked aspect of English. The websites and books I consulted either had too little information with a random selection of prefixes and suffixes, or too much information (Wikitionary has 1,443 prefixes and 703 suffixes). Among other things, the same letter or group of letters can function in different ways: sometimes as a prefix or suffix with one meaning (or one of a small group of different meanings), sometimes as an integral part of a word which had that meaning originally, but which now doesn’t, and sometimes as a completely unrelated word. I had to find the right number of best examples Continue reading