Category Archives: Orthography

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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…

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Semi(-)colon

way station copyIn response to my previous post on dashes, one of Lingua Franca’s readers, Dan K, sent me an email noting that Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, spells semicolon without a hyphen. I had spelled it with a hyphen — because in my head, that word has a hyphen. And the editors clearly didn’t have strong enough feelings about the spelling to change it.

The fifth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language agrees with Merriam-Webster’s spelling, not with th…

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Let Us Edit Your Article

spam

You have to laugh at some of the spam you get, don’t you? Or maybe weep. Today I received a spam email from a proofreading and academic editing company. “We majorly specialize in proofreading academic documents,” it told me, with a majorly eyebrow-raising adverb (wouldn’t “mostly” have been better?). But before I had finished reading it I decided this one was a laugher, not a weeper.

Bafflingly, the company that sent the email (and I have decided it would be kinder not to name the company here)…

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Poetically Punctuating

stanleyquotepoetrypunctuationAt last, in the final four weeks of the semester, my “Introduction to Creative Writing” class has come to poetry. I both love and dread this section. I love it because I teach poetry taxonomically. That is, each student must delve deep into the well of poetry old and new until she finds a poetic form to embrace. She then reports to us all on the history and highlights of, say, the pantoum or the elegy; recites a poem in that form; and writes one in that form. The exercise reminds me of the fanta…

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Order and Chaos in English Spelling

CsccO47XPr-2“But here’s the thing,” wrote David Shariatmadari in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago. “English orthography makes no sense.” No sense? I know it is exaggeration for the sake of humor (no quibble there), but I’ve decided to use it as an excuse to come to the defense of English spelling. It’s a hard case to make, no doubt (note the wonderfully silent b), but here goes. …

The article was a response to Donald Trump’s misspelling of the word honor in this tweet from February 26:

Wow, every poll sai…

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OK, Happy 177th!

PhotoELF Edits: 2008:10:18 --- Batch JPG Compressed YUV444 EXIF 100 %

 
Just after the vernal equinox of 1839, and just a month before the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, OK was born. America’s and the world’s greatest word came to the light of day as a humble joke on Page 2 of the Boston Morning Post for March 23, 1839: “o. k. — all correct.”

It needed that gloss because the meaning of this new expression was far from obvious. The joke, of course, was that all does not begin with o, and correct does not begin with k, so the resulting combination is a paradox…

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Missing the Point

1200x630_323218_french-language-revolution-in-france The news from France is grim. Whether you adore France or have a love-hate relationship with all things French, one thing we’ve all been able to agree on is the spelling of  the words hôtel and août.

But l’Académie française, guardian of the French vocabulary, has agreed that la langue can do without  the pointy lid that sits atop certain words.

The plan to remove the circumflex has sparked outcry and bemused commentary. A New York Times op-ed beat me to the punch with its title, “Hats Off to…

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Plotting Punctuation

Huck Finn

Adam Calhoun’s heat map of punctuation in Huckleberry Finn.

Anyone who writes seriously pays attention to punctuation; we know that. That devilish comma in the Second Amendment has spawned countless 21st-century opinion columns despite its obvious roots in 18th-century conventions. But only this past week did I discover a tiny branch of study devoted only to punctuation patterns.

Adam Calhoun, an eclectic neuroscientist at Princeton, found himself drawn to the artist Nicholas Rougeux’s series of…

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The Awful Chinese Writing System

biang

Is the Chinese writing system a sufficient reason on its own to guarantee that Mandarin will not become a global language like English? That’s what someone asked me after I discussed the prima facie unsuitability of English to serve as a world communication medium. And while I make no claims at all to sinological expertise, I know enough to tell you that the answer is yes. The system is a millstone round the neck of the whole sinophone world, and should have been ditched decades ago.

Don’t hold…

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The Unsuitability of English

paushuize

Utrecht, Holland— My mission in this pleasant central Holland town: giving a keynote address at the 25th anniversary conference of Sense (originally the Society of English-Native-Speaking Editors, now a general professional organization of anglophone editors in the Netherlands) in the palatial surroundings of the beautifully restored 16th-century Paushuize (pictured). Knowing that the editors and translators who belong to Sense are much concerned with …