Let’s look at commonly misspelled words.

April 29, 2007

I’ve analyzed the search terms that have been sending people my way over the past few weeks. Most of them fall under these three umbrellas:

  • Avoid grammar errors
  • Check your paper for plagiarism
  • Good writing

Apparently, you people just want me to help you cheat on your homework. That’s fine. This post should help anyone who is ever asked to write something without the use of Microsoft’s spellcheck.

A professor of mine gave us a spelling test the other day. I haven’t been asked to take a spelling test since 5th grade–when I was sent to regionals for the spelling bee, not to toot my own horn or anything. Out of 50 commonly misspelled words, I got eight wrong and had to seriously think about another handful. Perhaps going over a few of these words will help me, and others, learn how to finally spell them correctly. Some of these words I personally spelled wrong, some are ones I see misspelled when I tutor writing, and some are just interesting words. No, I won’t tell you which are which.

(Warning: This is about as dorky as one can get with words. So sue me, I think words are fun!)

Supersede – Commonly seen as “supercede” because of the prevalence of other words ending in or otherwise using the suffix -cede, such as antecedent, concede, precede. “Cede,” to yield, give way to, confuses the matter further, and to make matters worse, the spelling of “supersede” has fluctuated between “s” and “c” over the years.
“Supersede” means “to supplant, to take the place of” but literally means “to sit above.” If I remember that the “-sede” comes from the same root as “sedentary” it may be easier to spell.

Separate – This is just cake, really. The word comes from “to make ready, prepare” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but why this would be so is beyond me. Luckily, you can just memorize the saying passed down from my father, who is even more of a nerd than I am: “There is a rat in separate.”

It works. Don’t knock it.

(Bonus points for looking up my dad’s other dorky phrase, which he did not coin but uses a lot nonetheless: “Nothing propinks like propinquity.”)

Desiccate – Commonly misspelled “dessicate” because, heck, it just sounds better. This is probably because no other common English words draw on the Latin root, “siccus,”  meaning “dry.” “Exsiccation” refers to the action of drying what is moist, like desiccate, or can mean “absolute dryness,” but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this word used. However, “hortus siccus” (dry garden) seems to be a somewhat common phrase in modern use.

Receive – “I before E except after C.” (See also: conceive, deceive.) The Latin for this word is “re” plus “capere,” “to take,” so I’m going to blame the French for changing the vowels. (When in doubt, blame the French.)

Liquefy – This is a fun one. “Liquid” has a second “i” in it, so why not “liquify”?
God I wish I knew. This word, meaning “to make liquid,” has always been spelled with an “e,” according to the OED. It’s just one of those words that must be memorized.

I think five is enough for now. What do you guys think about this type of post? I’ve got plenty more words I could post about, believe me.


Thomas Lux’s Virgule

April 25, 2007

In a complete departure from my last post, and in honor of the Sarah Lawrence College Poetry Festival this weekend, a poem. It’s technically about punctuation rather than words, but I love it nonetheless.

Thomas Lux

What I love about this little leaning mark
is how it divides
without divisiveness. The left
or bottom side prying that choice up or out,
the right or top side pressing down upon
its choice: either/or,
his/her. Sometimes called a slash (too harsh), a slant
(a little dizzy, but the Dickinson association
nice: “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant–“), solidus (sounding
too much like a Roman legionnaire
of many campaigns),
or a separatrix (reminding one of a sexual
variant). No, I like virgule. I like the word
and I like the function: “Whichever is appropriate
may be chosen to complete the sense.”
There is something democratic
about that, grown-up; a long
and slender walking stick set against the house.
Virgule: it feels good in your mouth.
Virgule: its foot on backwards, trochaic, that’s OK, American.
Virgule: you could name your son that,
or your daughter Virgula. I’m sorry now
I didn’t think to give my daughter such a name
though I doubt that she and/or
her mother would share that thought.

Ethnic and racial labels

April 24, 2007

Having just finished writing a major project about a predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Brooklyn, I figured that now was the time to finally figure out the proper label for immigrants from Central and South America.*

 I remembered learning something about how “Hispanic” was a term created not so long ago, not a term preferred by the people to whom we assign this label. What I was not prepared for was these paragraphs in the Wikipedia article about the word:

The confusion that arises is from the similarity between the words Latino and Latin, and between the concept of Hispanic and Latino. Latino is a shortened version of the noun Latinoamericano (Latin American). In the Spanish language “Latín” (Latin) is the name of the language of the Romans. This means that “Latín” is not confined solely to Hispanics, Latin Americans, or Latinos, but has always included such European peoples as the Italians, French, Romanians, Portuguese, etc.

Thus, of a group consisting of a Brazilian, a Colombian, a Mexican, a Spaniard, and a Romanian; the Brazilian, Colombian, and Mexican would all be Latinos, but not the Spaniard or the Romanian, since neither Spain nor Romania is geographically situated in Latin America. Conversely, the Colombian, Mexican and Spaniard would all be Hispanics, but not the Romanian and the Brazilian; Brazilians speak Portuguese as Brazil has evolved from the former Portuguese colony in South America. Finally, all of the above nationalities would be Latin, including the Romanian. To further clarify, a Latino is a US citizen or resident of Latin American descent or birth…

The term is oftern rejected by some Hispanics, because they consider Hispanic to be too general as a label, while others consider it offensive, often preferring to use the term Latino, which is viewed as a self-chosen label…

The majority of Hispanic Americans do not identify as Hispanic or Latino, but instead with their national origin, e.g. Mexican-American.

 What I’m getting from this is twofold. One: “Latino” is the proper term, though in a perfect world I would identify each person in Sunset Park by their national origin (which I believe is predominantly Dominican, judging by the turnout on Dominican Independence Day last summer). Two: Labels are damn confusing.

Next I’m going to blog about my journalism teacher who insisted that a writer who capitalized the word “Black” had made a typo in her query letter “because in the AP style manual, it isn’t capitalized.” See you then.

*Not really; I’ve been worrying vaguely about the problem all semester. Also, I don’t even think that “immigrants from Central and South America” is completely correct.

“People have been texting long before we have.”

April 18, 2007

A search for information tonight about stenography/closed captioning machines led me to a passing interest in shorthand. I never knew there were so many systems of shorthand. Eric Lee’s page, here, has an overview of some of the available systems. I’m kind of intrigued by Teeline, and there are quite a few books available on Amazon teaching the Teeline system, but what a Herculean effort it would be to wrap my mind around these squiggles!

What I would like to draw your attention to, however, is about halfway down the page: “Alphabetic Shorthand Systems.”

My friend was looking over my shoulder and saw the shorthand sentence for “The book is new and I can get it for you,” namely, “. bk s nu & i k gt i f u.” She exclaimed, “Look, that says ‘u’! People have been texting long before we have!”

She’s right. Our generation is not the first to contribute to the decline of language, hooray!

Goodbye, Mr. Imus

April 15, 2007

52-posts-13-dc_wp.jpg 52-posts-13-wsj.jpg 52-posts-13-nyt.jpg

The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times front pages for April 13, 13, and 11, respectively. From Newseum and the NY Times.

Can we please lay Don Imus: The Scandal to rest? The media are jumping on this like he’s the next Anna Nicole Smith. And yet I have yet to hear anyone speak out on the fact that the man and his idiotic comments are overhyped, just like Anna was. What’s the deal? Is it because the man is, technically, a member of the media, and we love pointing out the mistakes of our own kind? (Probably.) Is it because the media gets a righteous satisfaction from pointing out examples of racism? “Look, we’re not nearly as bad as this guy!” (Probably.)

Imus was, still is, probably, a jackass. But that does not warrant the front-page treatment he’s gotten from major newspapers. On the 11th, Imus and the Rutgers girls made the front page of the New York Times, no joke. On the 13th, when Imus’s firing was announced, his mug graced the front pages of papers ranging from the New York Post and Daily News to the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. Most of these ran the story above the fold. Slow news day? In Washington, DC? I doubt it.

The SF Chronicle teased the story on the front page but wasted no more space on it. Google News provides 4000+ hits for the man’s name.

Blogs are not exempt from jumping on the Imus-ragging bandwagon. On Technorati on the 13th, “Imus” was the top search and top tag for the day. Since the beginning of April, over 50,000 blogs have felt the need to weigh in on the “controversy.”

The problem is there is no controversy. Don Imus was a racist talk show host. He probably should have been fired a long time ago. Now he has been fired. Hooray! End of story. Rehashing tired “scandals” is not what citizen journalism is supposed to be for. The mainstream media isn’t supposed to leap on these stories either, but I think it’s pretty accepted now that they will, no matter how wrong it is.

It wasn’t so long ago, though, that we dreamed that blogs would fill in where the mainstream media left off. Bloggers would call attention to stories and issues neglected by the big newspapers and TV stations. Beautiful dream, eh? Instead, everyone with a keyboard feels the need to give their opinions about the exact level of jerkitude possessed by Imus. Enough! Where’s the outrage that important issues are being neglected for this circus? (The New York Observer’s Media Mob has started an Imus tally, a tongue-in-cheek count of the number of Imus pieces in each major New York City paper.) Here on Long Island, Imus’s firing topped the news hour on CBS, relegating the governor of New Jersey’s car crash to much later. Governor Corzine remains in critical condition.

On the blogosphere, I have no way of knowing which stories have been pushed to the side in favor of rehashing the “racist talk show host” debate. It’s up to you guys to tell me! There are so many things going on in the world at any given moment. Pick one. Inform me.

(For three takes on Imus that are more than just bashing or rehashing the news, try these: Chicago Tribune | Washington Post | Newsday)