Sunday, April 18, 2010
Did You Know?
I’m reading a book by Bill Bryson called Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words and enjoying it quite a lot. It’s a collection of entries about problem words, problem spellings, problem usages, etc. Not something you read straight through but something you browse. I have found a fair number of things that I did not know, though, so perhaps you won’t know them either. Here goes:
1. “Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well” is not the quote. It’s “Alas poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.”
2. Axel, axle. I thought they were both spelled the same. An axle, of course, is what connects two wheels. An “axel” is a “jump in ice skating.” I’d heard the term but didn’t know it was spelled differently.
3. Bellwether. Originally, a “bellwether” was a sheep with a bell around its neck that was used to lead other sheep to a new pasture. Who knew?
4. Dormouse. First, I probably have often spelled this doormouse, and second, it’s apparently not a mouse at all.
5. Flotsam and jetsam. Although I knew the difference between these two materials (jetsam is what has been jettisoned from a boat while flotsam is what has just floated off), I didn’t know that, traditionally, “flotsam went to the Crown and jetsam to the lord of the manor on whose land it washed up.” Cool.
6. Forego, forgo. I never realized these terms were spelled differently. I just thought “forego” had two meanings. In reality, “forego” means to go in front of someone or something while “forgo” is to deny yourself something. I think I will forgo dessert this evening. The bands will forego the parade. I don’t see “forego” used very often these days.
7. Gantlet, gauntlet. I thought “gauntlet” just had two meanings, one as a type of glove and the other as the double line of people through which another person must run while being beaten. Apparently, “gantlet” used to be the preferred term for the “double line of people” meaning, but it has been so confused over time that almost everyone uses “gauntlet” now for both meanings. I’m going to start using “gantlet” again. Let’s save “gantlet!” I'm throwing down the guantlet to anyone who uses guantlet where gantlet should be used.
8. Grandiloquence. It’s not spelled grandeloquence. Eek. I think I’ve screwed that up a time or two.
NOTE: this week begins our final testing and grading period for the semester so my posting and commenting will be spotty.