Archives for posts with tag: Terminology

What’s the story, is it free rein or free reign? Something that has confounded me for a good while.

To me, both spellings and implications make sense. To give someone free rein is to loosen the metaphorical reins to the point where they can do as they please.

To give someone free reign is practically the same thing, though it sounds more regal, more majestic if you like, reflecting the meaning of the word spelled that way.

Apparently the former is the correct spelling and use of the phrase. See here from Merriam-Webster, whose US provenance doesn’t negate the conclusion for UK English I don’t think.

Somewhat tangentially, in fact totally tangentially, here’s a question whose answer you should file away for potential pub quiz benefit. What’s the only word in the English language which ends in mt? Answer – dreamt! Compound verbs featuring dream don’t count :-).

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…

It was Donald Rumsfeld’s phrased response to a White House question in 2002 that was to provide him with an excellent legacy and the title of a book. He distinguished between things we know we know, things we know we don’t know, and the unfathomable things that we don’t know we don’t know.

These are otherwise known – if you pardon the overused word – as the known knowns, the known unknowns and unknown unknowns.

I was tasked the other day with making sure the US version of a website was accurate, not just in terms of spelling and phrasing, but also used the correct terminology. My realisation that I had  not used the correct word for the US audience had already caused quite a bit of re-work and prompted a detailed pass through the US website to catch any further inaccuracies.

The problem was, you had to have worked extensively in that industry to know what the correct name was in the US, or whether they used the same descriptor as their UK friends.

So there were terms that I knew I knew, and the ones that I knew I didn’t know. Unfortunately, there were also bound to be terms that I didn’t know that I didn’t know, and they wouldn’t be spotted until it was too late. It’s the unknown unknowns that get you in business, as in many other things.

It’s bad enough having unknown unknowns in a fairly niche website with a few thousand visitors a month. Imagine having them for matters affecting entire countries and global relationships. Nasty.