Archives for posts with tag: Spelling

In the last of this week’s cluster of posts on the spelling and meaning of a couple of words in this glorious language, I want to touch on the application called Grammarly, about which I profess to know very little.

I often see ads for Grammarly playing before I watch a video on the BBC international website, and by the American accents on the ad and the American base of the company, I assume the application helps with US-English phrasings, spelling, meanings, syntax and so on. There may well be a UK-English version too, though I doubt there’s an Irish-English version, or a Scottish-English, Welsh-English or any other variant that blurs the edges between language and dialect.

Two lads from the Ukraine founded the application, so perhaps its real benefit is for those for whom English is a second language. For many of us, however, we already have a lot of this functionality built into our office productivity applications and our browsing applications. For instance, if you erroneously search for ‘Grammerly’ – presumably an easy mistake to make if you’re the person who might need and want to use the correctly spelled version – on Chrome, you get returned suggestions for Grammarly.

Those of us who already get help from our everyday software and have a decent command of the language are using our skill and judgement on the grammar and phrasing side of things anyway. We use the tools to correct typos and omissions, and we use ourselves to correct the other more subtle areas of the language.

Which possibly explains why the application is probably very successfully catering to the vast numbers of people who need to converse in the dominant language which is not their dominant language.

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Hmm, discrete os discreet? Tough one.

Just when you thought there wasn’t a difference – or should I say just when I thought there wasn’t a difference, lo and behold there is. The root Latin word is the same, but the spelling and the meaning has diverged. I’m not sure why.

Discrete spelled this way means separate, as in the map can be split into discrete parts. In that sense, ironically, it’s the opposite of concrete.

Discreet spelled with the double e means careful, circumspect, delicate almost. It means something completely different to discrete. You could say they have discrete meanings :-).

And then, to further confuse, there is the abstract noun discretion, which is not connected to discrete as would make sense, but to the double e version. I must exercise proper discretion with these two words in future…

‘Always learning’, or so they say. Well I am, anyway.

Do you know the difference between cache, caché and cachet? I thought I did. I was quite confident in fact.

Cache – pronounced cash – is a hiding place, most commonly known these days as the place where your cookies, Internet and browsing history files reside until or if you clear it out.

Caché – pronounced cashay – is the past tense of cacher, to hide in French, so it means hidden. OK so far I think. It is not the correct spelling for the next meaning, however.

Cachet has a bunch of different meanings. It originally refers to an official seal or stamp on something, like a document, but lately is most commonly used to denote prestige, as in ‘her job carries a certain cachet’, or ‘this food has a cachet within the fitness community’. In this sense, it is not, as I thought it was, spelled caché. D’oh!

Speaking of which, who decided that d’oh! should have an apostrophe? What’s missing or owned there do denote such a mark?

I wonder if a lot of Americans spell mandatory wrong? They tend to say man-dit-ory and I’m guessing a lot of them try to spell it that way. I must confess that I thought there might be a variant spelling using the ‘i’, as sometimes crops up when the two languages continue to diverge, but no, the ‘i’ version is a non-runner.

It’s easier for us European English speakers to spell it correctly since we sound the word differently to our new world friends. For us the second syllable is the gloriously named ‘schwa‘ vowel, the sound we make on many unaccented syllables that comes from the middle of our mouth, the most economical and efficient place from which to issue a non-stressed syllable. Think of the word ‘sofa’, and the ‘a’ is your classic schwa sound.

This, I would suspect, makes it more natural for us to guess that an ‘a’ is the correct letter, since it feels closer than an ‘i’ and certainly better than an ‘e’, ‘o’ or ‘u’, although they all have schwa representation as well – as in independent, potential and support, respectively.

I guess you can make the argument that since you ‘mandate’ something, it would make sense to see mandatory, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say don’t be surprised if US dictionaries start permitting manditory as an alternative spelling in the next decade or so.

Pore over this, if you too are similarly mistaken.

You learn something new every day. It’s always a pleasure for me when I learn something new about the English language.

I’ve often used the term to ‘pore over’ something, meaning to take in all of the detail of something. Finally, a hundred times after I’d used the term or heard it used in conversation, I saw it written down in a story on the BBC website. My initial reaction, arrogantly, was that the writer had made a mistake and that I was right. 15 seconds later I was proved wrong. How could I have doubted the August BBC?

I had always assumed it was to ‘pour’ over something, as in the example of pouring gravy on my roast potatoes, or pouring our eyes over a document or painting. But no, different root word, different etymology, different spelling.

English is rough. Really rough sometimes, and not just on people who speak it as a second or third language. For us native speakers too.

Take palate, palette and pallet for instances. One is in your mouth, the second is a board for your paints or a family of colours for your product or company identity, and the third is a useful device for stacking, lifting and moving a bunch of items.

All of them sound exactly the same, at least in my accent, to the ear. Yet, they all originate in different root words and consequently are all spelled differently.

I must confess I spelled the second version wrongly the other day. I thought it was double ‘l’ as well as double ‘t’. Thank goodness for autocorrect. And thank goodness too that it wasn’t a fourth spelling variant, at least not to my knowledge.

This kind of thing never fails to remind me of the two different languages we use; the written one and the spoken one.  While you might think that the written one is harder, try explaining to a non-native speaker heteronyms like ‘tear’, words that are spelled the same but mean different things and are pronounced differently. I think I’ll stop there…

I often see the words stationery and stationary mixed up. It’s an easy mistake to make, and is only an issue in the written word, since both words are pronounced identically and the context is usually clear.

Stationery is a noun, meaning office and desk-type stuff. Think millinery, machinery, that kind of thing.

Stationary is an adjective, meaning motionless. Think customary, arbitrary, and so on.

And of course, because this is English, you get nouns like anniversary and adjectives like blustery :-).

So, remember to keep your stationery stationary and you’ll be fine. Good luck!

I was reading a software manual the other day – I know, very rock and roll – and a sentence began ‘To do so, go to…’. All quite legitimate and grammatical. Also, written by an organisation that doesn’t use English as a first language and whose author was Eastern European, betrayed by a few other incidents of phrasing elsewhere in the document.

It got me thinking about our fabled, ancient, and multi-rooted English language, and how impenetrable it must seem to learners of the language. Not of the spoken language, but of the written language. The dictionary must be constantly at hand.

We don’t even think about it as native speakers, but right there you’ve got five two-letter words, all ending in ‘o’. In order, one’s a infinitive prefix, one’s an infinitive verb, one’s a kind of adverbial thingummybob that can mean a bunch of things depending on where it is in the sentence, the next one’s an imperative verb and the last one’s a preposition. Phew!

Not only that, but two of the words have completely different vowel soundings to the others.

They’re testimony to how the language has evolved over the years.

Congratulations to the writer for getting it right, but, boy, we don’t make it easy. I won’t even get started on two, two, sew and sow…

Here are two words that tend to be confused – not the words themselves, of course, I’m sure they know what they mean and how to spell themselves – in certain circumstances.

Take the old-fashioned compliments slip, used to add one’s good wishes or hello to an item sent to someone. And we know someone is being complimentary about us when they say nice things. All good so far.

Then there’s complement and complementary. I first came across the word complement in a Latin lesson where it was used to describe, for example, the word ‘good’ in a sentence like ‘the boy is good,’ where the adjective carried the same case as the noun, as though the phrase was actually ‘the good boy.’ With me so far?

The confusion arises when you consider the word complementary/complimentary. The former completes or supports something, the latter says something nice.

So imagine my consternation when I was invited to a complimentary webinar the other day. I was about to scoff in contempt, thinking, ‘I doubt this is a webinar where they’re going to say nice things about me.’ Surely they’re offering a complementary webinar, where the webinar supports the product I’ve just bought?

But then, I thought, maybe they did mean complimentary, in a sense that the webinar was free, gratis, for nothing. I had to grudgingly give them the benefit of the doubt. Coulda gone either way.

I know, I should get out more, it’s true…

IMG_3535Where’s a physical spell checker – otherwise known as a dictionary, which nobody carries any more – when you need one? I remember about 20-some years ago in the US I saw a ticket tout with a sign saying ‘I wont (sic) tickets’.

Here’s a picture of a slightly more recent gaffe.

Online spell-checking tools in our email and document creation applications make it easy for us to avoid elementary blunders. They’re like calculators though, they make us lazy with our command of the basic skills of literacy and numeracy.

It’s OK to make these mistakes verbally, because it’s a different language to the written form and no-one can read what you say. Not so when your output is codified for all to see.

We can’t always rely on our friends to put us right on our mistakes. We have to do the work ourselves, or risk being found out.