Between 1934 and 1975, the Chicago Tribune, then Chicago‘s biggest newspaper, used a number of reformed spellings. Over a two-month spell in 1934, it introduced 80 respelled words, including tho, thru, thoro, agast, burocrat, frate, harth, herse, iland, rime, staf and telegraf. A March 1934 editorial reported that two-thirds of readers preferred the reformed spellings. Another claimed that “prejudice and competition” was preventing dictionary makers from listing such spellings. Over the next 40 years, however, the newspaper gradually phased out the respelled words.
I know. It’s supposed to sound like fuel. But that’s not what I see whenever I come across someone with one of these dumb backpacks.
Instead, my brain reads it as fool. Then full. Only on the third mental correction does it land on the right way to say it. Nobody asked me for my opinion, though, so instead of calling these backpacks something that makes sense, they went ahead with Fūl.
I don’t usually indulge in peevery, but I’m making an exception here.
Just a small fraction came up at work the other day, and I removed the word small, which created strife between me and the writer. A discussion ensued in which he said he wanted small reinserted because nine-tenths is technically a fraction and he was emphasizing the smallness. Without small, how would the reader know what he meant?
Yes, it’s true that nine-tenths is a fraction. And yes, one could truthfully say that a Bugatti Veyron, at $3.5 million, is a fraction of the cost of the $4 million Lamborghini Veneno. But you wouldn’t. You would never say that.
It would be a dumb thing to say because the idiom just a fraction means a very small amount. See how small is built in there? This is what I’m talking about. There’s your technical, mathematical fraction (three-fifths, etc.) and then there’s your idiom, in which the word fraction means a very small amount.
a small part, amount, degree, etc.; portion
Anyway, I don’t care about who/whom or begs the question, and I’m learning to live with due to/because of. But a small fraction still gets to me a little.
“I like to write things the right way,” said Pierre Gervais, the longtime equipment manager in charge of putting name bars on the Canadiens’ uniforms.
General Manager Marc Bergevin signed off on the idea, and voilà, linguistic sports history was made. Montreal is the first N.H.L. club to have a policy of rendering players’ names accurately on their uniforms.
Seems like a no-brainer: “rendering players’ names accurately.” Gervais says that the reason they never did it before was because the cloth that the names are sewn onto was too narrow, as though cloth comes in only one size and can never be made differently. But now, with technology, cloth comes in many sizes! Lame excuse, Pierre.
Gervais said the accents were made possible by technology. Until recently, the strip of cloth for name bars was too shallow.
At any rate, I’m glad that Montreal is the first team to do it.
Most sports fans have a favorite team and a backup. Sometimes the backup team’s from a favorite city. Or maybe if your favorite team is in the Eastern Conference, for example, you’ll have a backup in the Western Conference.
For many years, the Toronto Maple Leafs were my backup hockey team, No. 2 behind the Montreal Canadiens. Why Toronto? Good question. Thanks for asking. To be honest, I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it. I liked that they were in Canada, because that seemed right for hockey. I liked, too, that they were part of the Original Six NHL teams, so they had a great deal of history. Also, and probably most important, I liked their colors: blue and white. Classic.
It occurred to me more than once that Leafs didn’t sound quite right, and I wondered why they weren’t the Toronto Maple Leaves (which also doesn’t sound quite right). Turns out there is an answer. Maple Leafs is a class of word similar to still life, leadfoot, low-life, and Walkman. What Steven Pinker calls headlessness in his outstanding book The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language.
A headless word is an exceptional item that, for one reason or another, differs in some property from its rightmost element, the one it would be based on if it were like ordinary words. A simple example of a headless word is a low-life—not a kind of life at all but a kind of person, namely one who leads a low life. …
As for the Maple Leafs, the noun being pluralized is not leaf, the unit of foliage, but a noun based on the name Maple Leaf, Canada’s national symbol. A name is not the same thing as a noun. … Therefore the noun a Maple Leaf (referring to, say, the goalie) must be headless, because it is a noun based on a word that is not a noun. And a noun that goes not get its nounhood from one of its components cannot get an irregular plural from that component either; hence it defaults to the regular form Maple Leafs. … Indeed, the explanation apples to all nouns based on names:
I’m sick of dealing with all the Mickey Mouses in this administration [not Mickey Mice]
Hollywood has been relying on movies based on comic book heroes and their sequels, like the three Supermans and the two Batmans [not Supermen and Batmen]
We’re having Julia Child and her husband over for dinner tonight. You know, the Childs are great cooks. [not the Children]
This all makes sense to me, and I approve. At any rate, now that I live in Chicago, I’ve moved Toronto down to No. 3 and promoted the Blackhawks to the backup spot. Sorry, Leafs. Don’t take it personally.
I know you’re surprised that I would ever be angry about anything, but whatever. She wrote something awesome, so I’m sharing it even though I resent her.
Let’s say that you feel, despite the evidence I may put in front of you, that “decimate” should not be used to refer to utterly destroying something. That’s fine, assuming you’ve gone through Steps 1-5 above. But before you move in to correct the next guy who uses “decimate” to mean “to utterly destroy,” consider: is this the hill you want to die on? Do you want your legacy in life to be “That One Person Who Bitched Endlessly About ‘Decimate’”? Are you happy with a life that will be beset by smart-asses like me asking why, if you are so interested in so-called etymological purity, you aren’t also tackling “nice” and “frankfurter” and holy hell half the month names of the Gregorian calendar?
I’ve encountered my share of know-it-alls and fussbudgets in the editing (and writing) world, many of whom probably really believe they are doing God’s work and making the world a better place by pointing out every single misspelling, misplaced comma, or unconventional usage.
I wrote about the topic earlier this year when people corrected President Obama’s grammar on Reddit, but this blogger’s series of posts are far more graceful and informative. If you work with words, either writing or editing, or are interested in language at all, her posts should be required reading.
I have taken (and given) many, many editing tests in my life, and one thing has become very clear to me: I will never be able to spell poinsettia.
It looks wrong to me no matter how I spell it. First, it seems like it ought to have another T in there somewhere. Pointsettia? Then I realize that, no, that’s absurd. Oh, wait, I know: The -ia at the end is all wrong. Needs to just be an -a because that’s how it’s pronounced. I think. Look, I’m not a florist.
Poinsetta. No, still looks wrong.
Luckily, most programs have dynamic spellcheck by now, and lucky, too, that there is just not that much content that contains this cursed plant.