Thursday, November 18, 2004

My latest Tribune language column:
On the fascinating history of the alphabet.
temp link/perm.preview

This was cut:

As a result, C has multiple personalities, changing sounds in the words “critic,” “dance,” “ocean,” “chain,” and “indict”). The letters M, B, and D are the easiest to say, so they're the first sounds out of the mouths of babies ("ma," "ba," and "da"). The sounds "er" and "sh" take them longer to learn.

Also see this chart on various world alphabets.

From the Plain English Campaign, 10/7

Last week we set you the puzzle of trying to work out the abbreviations in the following passage.

"The CoLP COG and the MPS wish to work together to create a DCPCU. The EIDU, in partnership with BDB has been assisting AC SCD with securing s93 or s25 PA funding from APACS and HO once approval has been given from HMC&E regarding the VAT issues."

The answer is as follows.

"The City of London Police Chief Officer Group and the Metropolitan Police Service Management Board wish to work together to create a Dedicated Cheque & Plastic Card Unit. The Events and Income Development Unit, in partnership with Bircham Dyson Bell has been assisting Assistant Commissioner Serious Crime Directorate with securing Section 93 or Section 25 Police Act funding from the Association of Payment and Clearing Services and the Home Office once approval has been given from Her Majesty's Custom & Excise regarding the Value Added Tax issues."

• The Daily Show's Ed Helms described the Democracts as "feckless--devoid of feck." M-W: Scots, from feck effect, majority, from Middle English (Sc) fek, alteration of Middle English effect

• Another Comedy Central show, which is animated, is called "Drawn Together."

• A reader asked me about the word triennial. I had to look it up:

1 : occurring or being done every three years (the triennial convention)
2 : consisting of or lasting for three years (a triennial contract)

ADJECTIVE: 1. Occurring every third year. 2. Lasting three years.
NOUN: 1. A third anniversary. 2. A ceremony or celebration occurring
every three years.

So I advised that treat it like biannual/biennial:

biannual - twice a year
biennial - once every two years

triannual - three times a year
triennial - once every three years

• A CTA infomercial on Windy City TV (trust me, it was better than anything else in prime time last Wednesday after West Wing) referred to bus drivers as bus operators.
Who in the world--outside of CTA headquarters--actually calls them "bus operators"?

• From wordcrafter:

Vixen is one of extraordinarily few words beginning with v which comes from Old English, rather than a foreign tongue, typically French or Latin. (The only others are vane and vat.)
Also, though the names for this animal (a fox if male but a vixen if female) seem related, but why do they begin with different constants? Which led to the other, and why? The root of these oddities is the region dialects of southern England, where folk tend to pronounce an initial "unvoiced fricative" as a "voiced fricative". Putting that in ordinary terms, an s is pronounced z, and an f is pronounced v, at the start of a word. For example, the locals in Somerset will pronounce that name 'Zomerzet'. The word fat became vat, and the Germanic word fahne = flag became vane. In Old English, the feminine of fox was fyxe or fyxen, which the southern dialect converted to vixen. These three words are the only such bits of such dialect that have worked their ways into standard English.

• Two interesting words posted recently at DTWW (I especially love the second one):

king v. among graffiti artists, to (pervasively) paint one’s name or symbol (throughout an area); to own an area through tagging or bombing. link [Is this like checkers? "King me!"]

unass v. to dismount or disembark (a vehicle); to get off of (something); to unseat (someone); to leave (somewhere). link

• Nicholas Kristof quoted the following in a recent column:

"When a Texas governor, Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, barred the teaching of foreign languages about 80 years ago, saying, 'If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for us.'"

ASD-L says there's no evidence for this quote, though there is for a related quote from a different person. more (at bottom of page)

Previous column and inflections

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