Thursday, November 15, 2012

Extreme word nerdery

I'm more than half way through The Horologicon. I feel pleased with myself for already knowing some of the words it contains, such as ultracrepidarian, which is a person who opines on matters they know nothing about. It has a rather interesting and amusing etymology involving a sneaky painter, a shoemaker and a sandal. Given the number of books I have read about amusing and peculiar words, I probably should know some of those in The Horologicon by now. 

Today I used a word I learned from The Horologicon in a sentence - ploitering, which means giving the appearance of working. (Yes, I was referring to myself.)

While I'm being wordy nerdy, every now and then I ruminate upon the peculiarities of the English language, particularly on different combinations of letters that produce the same sound, and the reverse - words containing the same combination of letters that are pronounced differently. For example:
Different letters, same sound: SH
nauseous (depending on your pronunciation)
schedule (ditto)
Same letters, different sound: -OUGH
(and, if you add a T) thought
There's probably some I've omitted. I do best at this exercise when I can't sleep, not that I recommend it as a sleeping aid. I'm not particularly interested in the reason for these peculiarities; it's the cataloguing that I enjoy - logophilia meets listaholism. This could be the nerdiest thing I've ever blogged. 


missjane said...

Could be worse, you could have an entire blog about words, a 17thC Scot and an old French comedian... :)

Ghoti is my favourite example of the madness of English. I went looking for a poem about English spelling (which I figured you'd already know) and found a treasure trove:

Deidre said...

Language is such an interesting thing isn't it! Nerd out I say, nerd out!

piggywhistles said...

Very interesting. It is these peculiarities of English which make it so hard for people who have reading difficulties.

Jayne said...

Hi Miss Jane. You know, I did actually think about you and your Six Degrees of Sir Thomas Urquhart blog when I wrote that headline. Extreme for me, but I do have some way to go to match your level of word nerdery!

Hi Deidre. Very interesting indeed. I certainly will continue to nerd out. I know no other way. :D

Hi PW. I imagine it makes learning English as a second language difficult too, but then I suppose most languages have their own quirks and challenges for the learner and even the learned at times.

SparrowFalls said...

I've recently read 'Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling' by David Crystal.

It is a pleasant little book explaining why (mostly UK) English has lots of exceptions and how they have come about (local dialect, invasions, monks, printers, dictionary makers, empire, commerce).

The conclusion is that English spelling is messy but explicable - if you know the history of that word.

At least I now know why 'accommodate' is spelt that way...