Tag Archives: speaking

Little Words and Zed

I’ve worked many years as a copy editor and have a fairly good memory for spelling. It’s amazing really that we ever standardized the English language, if you take into account that there’s British English (BE), American English (AE) and the bastard child of both, Canadian English (CE). AE and CE say “synchronize” instead of “synchronise”, but BE and CE say “neighbour” instead of “neighbor” and “travelled” instead of “traveled.” There are a few other odd words such as “jewellery” vs “jewelry.” But mostly we can understand each other even if Canadians say “zed” and Americans, “zee.” I’m an adamant proponent of continuing the “zed” pronunciation (being Canadian) and when some little tads corrected me with saying, “It’s zee.” I pretty much bit my lip and corrected them since they’re Canadian. Alas the invasion continues.

So, is it any wonder that there are so many misspelled words considering that Shakespear spelled his name so many different ways? Of course ,a lot of this had to to with relative illiteracy of the era. If you didn’t write regularly, even if you knew the rudiments, you weren’t very likely to spell words correctly.

As an editor, sometimes words are so often misspelled the same way that I start to doubt my own senses and then I have to look up words that I know are spelled incorrectly. Here are a few words of the modern age that are misspelled frequently:

  • burgundy (not burgandy for color or wine)
  • indefinitely (not indefinately, received three times last week) if it’s not finite then it’s indefinite like infinity .
  • no one (not no-one nor noone; this might be different in England)
  • its (the most misused word ever: if it is blue, then it’s blue. If the ball belongs to it (the dog), then it (the ball) is its (the dog). Its ball rolled into traffic.
  • twenty, thirty-something (twenty-two not twenty two)
  • would of, could of: People say this: I could’ve gone to the store. (which should really just be “could have”) But because of the way we hear it, I’ve seen it spelled could of. Wrong wrong wrong. Could have. I’ve seen this in books, which tells me either the copy editor was inexperienced or the publisher didn’t have a copy editor.
  • yeah is an informal form of agreement (yes) and yay, which is a cheer: Yay! We win.

And then there are the similarly pronounced words that have different spellings and meanings, called homonyms. Some commonly misused ones are:

  • consul (a consul general or Canadian consul) and console (to sympathize with someone, or a panel or case that holds an item like electronics)
  • aisle (what is between two rows of bookshelves) and isle (where we all want to go for a tropical vacation)
  • altar (where we put our objects to worship) and alter (how we change our appearance to escape the law)
  • brooch (what you wear as a decoration) and broach (what you do when you want  to raise a subject)
  • complement (how many you have–a complement of soldiers) and compliment (to praise–my you look great in your uniform)
  • council (a group of people) and counsel (the adviser/counsellor you get when your marriage is on the rocks)
  • gorilla (these guys use bananas) and guerrilla (these guys use guns)

There are many homonyms and a very extensive list can be found here, even ones that I’ve never considered or known. http://www.cooper.com/alan/homonym_list.html

I find it particularly bad when I read books that have many misspellings but it all depends on how good the publishers are at maintaining quality and if they care. Many small publishing houses do not even have copy editors and depend on (demand) the authors proofread their work. Of course everyone should always do that and hand in relatively clean copies. Still, when you’re looking at a story over and over again you are bound to miss some of your own typos. A second set of eyes is always best.

I sometimes think the internet will work at crumbling the English language (maybe others too) as people abbreviate words down to essential letters. We tend to get lazy at writing, leaving off capitalization and punctuation. Part of the advent of computers for everyone meant that many people have them but probably not everyone learned to type. And like our signatures that get messier the more we write them, our grammar goes to pot on the internet.
But English is a living and therefore evolving language so maybe the misspellings will take over the more people use them. In the meantime, misuses and typos will continue to drive the editors of the world crazy.
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Double-Speak: A Rose by Any Other Name?

I don’t know when we decided to reword the English language to actually obfuscate what is really being said. Perhaps it’s been done through history. Obviously speeches and what’s written descriptions have definitely given different shades of truth, and as we know, history is written by the winner. The truth of history wavers between downright propaganda and lies, to the cold, hard unembellished facts. That means no adjectives like “horrendous, spectacular, brutal, amazing.” Just reporting what happened.

In this current world propaganda is more likely to be found than cold, hard truth, and everything in between is where most “truth” lies.

Once upon a time there were housewives. Now they’re domestic engineers but the term is dissolving back into housewife or the more popular stay-at-home mom (or dad). There used to be stewardesses, but now they’re airline attendants, which is more appropriate because there are men and women, though stewards for all would work fine. There used to be mailmen but now there are letter carriers. Changing terms for gender equality in the workplace is one thing, but then there is the world of politics and sensationalism.

The one that always drove me crazy, and still does, is collateral damage. So, what, it makes it better if we say that people weren’t blown to smithereens in a bombing but there was collateral damage from the bombing? Puhleese, it’s still dead people. Who cares about the buildings. We care about people and it could easily be reported as people killed and a building destroyed. And while we’re mentioning bombs, it’s now an improvised explosive device. Did homemade bomb no longer cover the fact that some are made in the field? Perhaps we should call them field improvised explosive devises, or we could just say bomb. Oh and there is also the incendiary roadside device.

Who thought of these things? Is there a think tank being paid comfy salaries to come up with “better” words for roadside bomb and land mine? More words, more syllables, is somehow better. Someone out there must think these terms are more accurate, or maybe they’re just more all-encompassing, therefore watering down the image of what really is happening.

It seems the areas where words take on longer, more sophisticated versions of themselves, is especially in the world of violence. War, bombing, terrorism, murder, rape. Oh yeah, rape. A person no longer rapes someone. They now sexually abuse them. Sexual abuse covers a larger range of issues, from butt pinching and fondling to brutal rape. Wait a minute. Brutal rape? Is any rape not brutal? Nope, but the media might say brutal rape. Maybe that’s why they went to “sexual abuse” as the term; to cut down on the colorful adjectives. But sorry to say, rape is rape, no matter how you word it.

I can’t help but see this double speak as some sort of attempt to be a polite society or to cover up the facts and keep people dumbed down. I’ve always been interested in language and etymology. I’m sure there are many more examples out there and maybe this is part of the era of political correctness but I fail to see what makes a longer description as more accurate. Sometimes a spade is just a spade.

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