Category Archives: Orthography

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Spelling, Agin

a863d50f236278b5_trump_poster_1024x1024Farhad Manjoo is of the mind that mockery of Donald Trump’s spelling mistakes exhibits elitism. It’s a vexed question that I’ve addressed once before in this forum. There’s no doubt that making fun of people for frequent spelling mistakes, not to mention numerous typos, can prove to be an unkind jab at a dyslexic person, or a crass implication that poor spelling equates to stupidity. It is also true that an exceptionally bright, well-read person can be a lousy speller, often because of one of …

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What’s He to Hecuba?

hecuba-statue-baseThe unveiling of the University of Southern California’s new expansion has given the Los Angeles campus an opportunity to add a new statue. She is Hecuba, Queen of the Trojans, deliberately selected as a subject to counterbalance USC’s testosterone-fueled Tommy Trojan (officially “the Trojan Shrine”), the bronze campus mascot erected in 1930.

The new statue is the work of Christopher Slatoff. “Queen Hecuba will serve as the new symbol of Troy,” said President C.L. Max Nikias, who emphasized that…

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Rapider Times

SWA Rapider[1]

On a quick trip to Minneapolis over the weekend, I noticed Southwest Airlines’ slogan, “Is ‘rapider’ a word?” Well, no, I thought. It’s not. That is, you do not find suffixes appended to the adjective rapid to form comparative and superlative forms. Fortunately, in English, you have other choices. You could say faster or quicker, for instance. But those words wouldn’t draw the busy traveler’s attention as easily, and of course they would have no resonance with Southwest’s Rapid Rewards fr…

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The Risky Business of Deadpan Humor

ChinoDino

Sometimes on the first day of April, someone at Language Log will inject a trace of levity into what can be a fairly nerdy blog by posting a joke news item about language or linguistics. This year there was no such effort, so (since I occasionally contribute to Language Log and felt the urge to provoke mirth creeping up on me) I created a new genre: the retrospective metahoax. But I must be honest: It failed catastrophically with at least one reader. The case is really quite instructive. In thi…

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My New Crush on the Dictionary

Trump_Bigly (1)I’m hooked. Merriam-Webster is the coolest thing on social media. In these dark times, where clickbait generally leads down a long tunnel into dystopia, the Twitter resurgence of a venerable dictionary is something to, well, tweet about.

First, there’s M-W’s political savvy. As NPR and other media organizations have observed, the nerdy group in Springfield, Mass., has been having a field day with the malapropisms of the current administration. Just last week, after the president spent part of hi…

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How Not to Teach Chinese

Chinese_characters_logoVictor Mair wrote on Language Log last month about a test in what appears to have been a third-year class in Chinese at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, in New York. What made it news in China (see in particular this story in the South China Morning Post) was that the test involved giving synonyms for a number of words written with Chinese characters so rare and archaic that many Chinese people were prepared to admit on social-media sites that they would not have been able to pass the …

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Is ‘Mens’ Becoming a Word?

IMG_3630

In deciding whether or not to use, and where to place, an apostrophe after a genitive (or possessive) word, I have always relied on men. That’s men, the word. Here’s what I mean. If I wanted to refer to the school I attended as a youth, there are basically three choices: “a boy’s private school,” “a boys private school,” and “a boys’ private school.”  (“Boy private school” doesn’t sound right.) I’d be able to eliminate the first option quickly, as it implies that the school was designed for or …

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Tpyos vs. Mispelings: a Presidential Matter

TR-Spelling-BookMy New Year’s resolution is to write less about politics. But Orwell has hardly been the only one to note how deeply entwined are politics and language. Today I’m obsessed with the difference between typos and misspellings.

Why? Because the storm of tweets sent out by our president-elect reveals an unusual number of orthographic oddities. Let’s put aside, for the moment, the claim that these are “grammar errors,” grammar being another province from orthography. I’m interested in the subtle…

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Thanksgiving Victuals

Thanksgiving ClipartThis week many of us are thinking about or shopping for Thanksgiving victuals. If, that is, we are people who use the word victuals. Otherwise, we’re thinking about or shopping for food.

The word victual(s) is on my mind not because it is Thanksgiving week but instead because a Lingua Franca reader mentioned the word in response to my column about spelling reform and supercede/supersede. The anonymous commenter noted that the spelling supercede probably wasn’t going to be the end of civilizati…

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Can ‘Supercede’ Supersede?

Last March, I posted a spelling challenge here on Lingua Franca: Which irregular spellings are you willing to part with? Earlier this term, the graduate-student instructor for my introductory English linguistics course gave this challenge to students, and we got one suggestion that had not occurred to me. And I’m sold.

If one thing replaces another thing, it supersedes it

Is that how you spell supersede? Or do you want the word to have a c and be supercede?

The spellchecker on my computer just b…