bdelygraphy

Ugh! What is this nasty, disgusting, loathsome word? How do you even say this? It starts with a and a bumping bellies in an apparent fight over which gets to attach to the rest. It’s like it was going to be bely and then the gave it the lie and gazumped the whole thing. And though the keeps the first position, we end up saying the – because, unlike Ancient Greeks (and many other people), we are constitutionally opposed to saying [bd] at the start of a syllable. Our tongues simply… abdicate. (That bd is across a syllable break, so it’s OK.) And then we have the echoing y’s like twin tornadoes or, perhaps, cesspits. And the like an upside-down y, and the to complete the set of blunt, grunting, burbling, gargling voiced stops. Why. Just why.

Would you like to know who’s responsible for this mess, where it came from and how it came to be on your screen squinting up at you like some kind of tangle of mudworms? Perhaps a nice hate-read? Continue reading

flexuous

Here’s a word that really flexes its sense. Flex what? U O U S – a set of curves countercurving, bending like barrels or ship bows, veering and careering like a river. It’s like a chart of a fluxus, deflecting and reflecting. Even your tongue, as it says it, rolls and laps like waves at the shore of your alveolar ridge. Continue reading

gazebo

What will please me more than gazing? Gazing at a lovely view, gazing at a lovely open structure with a lovely view, gazing at a lovely word for the lovely structure, gazing at a lovely etymology of the lovely word? Continue reading

nusquamation

Summer, at last, has arrived. In ecdysiastic frenzy the denizens of my city are reaching what’s left of the beach and commencing estivation. And whether or not a sunburn appeals to them, it will be time for desquamation: peeling and prying off the scales of winter sartorial defence, the scales of emotional self-protection, the scales of busy-ness with business, the scales on which we weigh our winter weight. The scales of home and job, too, for it is time for a vacation: to get up and go somewhere – anywhere but here.

Or, for some, it will be time for nusquamation: to go nowhere. Continue reading

Pronunciation tip: Einojuhani Rautavaara and Arvo Pärt

In my latest pronunciation tip I look at why we’re so needlessly skittish about Finnish and Estonian names, and I illustrate with the names of two composers (of the hear-them-on-CBC-radio variety). The scary long one isn’t the hard part.

phryganimous, garrigous

There are people who are like a tropical shower, sweeping through and drenching all around. If they are disposed to humour, you may even be literally showered by spray from their lips and perhaps by a splash from their glass. Some people find such social hydration refreshing. Some need it often; others can absorb it occasionally like succulents and then go without until the next party or conference. Some people find it altogether excessive and retreat to seek dryness before they drown.

Today’s words are for people exactly not like those passing showers. The people they describe are much better for those who require aridity. Continue reading

Made-up rules are what get on my nerves

What many word lovers love most are books. But what some word lovers love most is, apparently, a tidy bookshelf. Everything in its place. A single possible spot for any book. And, similarly, some language lovers love a nice tidy grammar, one where there’s only one option at any given juncture.

I understand the inclination. I’m an editor, and I know that tidiness is valuable. But I also know that it needs to serve effectiveness. If your drive for tidiness reduces the expressive potential of the language and proscribes something that people do with good effect, I do not think you are doing the good work.

I’ve harped on this in many of my articles on grammar. Lately I’ve encountered yet another instance of forced tidiness that I don’t think serves a good purpose. On a couple of occasions, people have said that they learned that what as a relative pronoun subject always takes a singular verb. In other words, Good gin and a little dry vermouth are what makes a good martini is correct and, according to them, Good gin and a little dry vermouth are what make a good martini is not. Continue reading