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.


Richard Prosch said...

Great post. I ALWAYS get "axel" wrong! Am looking forward to picking this one up.

nephite blood spartan heart said...

Interesting stuff, I always like perusing over these type of collections.

Cloudia said...

Cool post, Charles!

Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral

Harry Markov said...

This is extremely helpful and I am hoping that they devise a similar book about words in French, which seems to suffer from this. You just need to add a slanted line above a letter and voila, a brand new word. It is frustrating to no end.

Angie said...

Huh, I didn't know that about "gantlet." We definitely have to rescue that word. :)

Re: bellwether, it's actually more complicated than that. They can't just pick any sheep; every flock has a bellwether, whether she has a bell around her neck or not.

Also, I recommend Connie Willis's book, The Bellwether, very highly. Of course, anything by Connie Willis is worth a read, but I've read that one three or four times.

Luck with the end of the semester. :)


Greg said...

pretty cool stuff. i like "gantlet," and i'll definitely start using it too.

sage said...

Interesting and humbling, as I'm reminded of so much that I don't know. Is this book also funny? I have enjoyed many of his other books and have often wondered about this book and his book on the history of the English language.

the walking man said...

If yoou need to really hear how the language is through a gantlet of teenagers who would beat you with a shrug and say "all those words are 2 long it's not forgo or forego it's 4go."

Bernita said...

Ack, I'm in the same boat as you, Charles.
Similar errors may have resulted from being a fast reader from early on and not checking such words in a dictionary.

laughingwolf said...

oooooo gotta get me a copy!

axel i also a proper name, male... germanic, i think

as for gantlet, nah... sticking with gauntlet, been using it for 638 years! :O lol

every spellcheck i've used has gotten many words wrong...

Angie said...

LW -- axel i also a proper name, male... germanic, i think

Yep, that's where the jump came from; Axel Paulsen, who invented it, was from Norway.

Angie, closet skating fan

Charles Gramlich said...

Richard Prosch, I didn't even know I was getting it wrong.

David J. West, yeah, I have fun with them.

Cloudia, thankee

Harry Markov, he has some entries on foreign words but that's not the main focus.

Angie, hum, I have a couple of Willis's books and need to read them.

Greg, yes, I'm gonna start a save the "gantlet" movement.

Sage, it's not uproarious but it's got some funny parts, usually sort of understated and wry.

Mark, I think we need to put the teenagers through a gantlet until they learn the proper way of addressing their elders

Bernita, I remember multiple times reading gantlet referred to as gauntlet and I'm sure that's where I picked it up.

laughingwolf, my spellchecker is of limited aid as well. How does Axel/axle rose spell his name?

Angie, that's rather scary that you know that! :)

laughingwolf said...

he's 'different', it's AXL ;) lol

Barrie said...

I'm reading a Bill Bryson book too@! That is so weird!!! I'm reading the his book about Shakespeare. Fascinating!!

Heff said...

Nice. I only own the "Dictionary Of Four Letter Words". Damn.

BernardL said...

Thanks, Charles. I'm going to list all these under my 'Things I Don't Care About'. Good Post. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

laughingwolf, oh yeah, that's right.

Barrie, I haven't read anything else by him but will probably try something after this.

Heff, gotta start somewhere.

BernardL, but, but but these are fun!

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Well, done, Charles ... nailed quite a few I hadn't a clue about.

Good luck with your end of semester things ...

Chris Benjamin said...

Bryson has a gift for taking meticulous things like that and making them entertaining. Love his writing.

Travis Erwin said...

Interesting and now you've made me wanna check out that book.

Charles Gramlich said...

Don, thanks. I got an early paper today so grading has started.

benjibopper, this is my first exposure to him but it won't be my last.

Travis Erwin, enjoyable for browsing for sure.

Steve Malley said...

I keep a copy handy-- one of my favourite 'got a minute' books!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Bryson is always interesting, isn't he?

Anonymous said...

Oh, yes I've had some problems with these words as well. Many times I will double check myself, but I know that I've let a lot of them get by me. This is a good reminder. Gauntlet; that one definitely whizzed right by me.

Travis Cody said...

That sounds like a very cool book. I have a similar book called Dictionary of Word Usage, or some such title. It details when to use who and whom and the like.

I shall take up your challenge! Bring back gantlet!

j said...

I've misused forgo. Oops!

I'm going to look up the definition of "Grandiloquence."

j said...

Oh ho! Lofty speech! No wonder I didn't know what it meant :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve Malley, I'm going through it once, then will keep it handy as a refernce on my shelf.

pattinase, I'm certainly enjoying so far.

Jack, I keep thinking I'm finally learning what I need to know about writing and I keep finding there's more to know that I haven't even thought of.

Travis, I've got another really good book in this vein too called "A dictionary of problem words and expressions" by Harry shaw.

jennifer, lol. I did know what it meant, just not how it was actually spelled!

Heather said...

Love this post. Sounds like a really fun book...I had no idea about Forego / forgo. And yes, forego seems to be quite antiquated. Firefox spell check isn't even recognizing it! Haha!

Lana Gramlich said...

Forgo dessert...Certainly not! ;)

Lauren said...

Wow, that is a really interesting book. I want it now. Cool post and thanks for sharing!

Charles Gramlich said...

Heather, it's a cool browsing book. I'm gonna have more entries from it soon.

Lana Gramlich, nothing so drastic, of course. It was only theoretical.

Lauren, glad you enjoyed. I will post more from it in time.

jodi said...

Charles, I did know axel! Other than that, I fear my stuff is rife with errors. Please get a giggle outta my stuff and ignore the errors!

Lisa said...

This is so interesting and I learn so much. Thank you Charles. I'm glad I didn't miss this post.

Charles Gramlich said...

Jodi, I make plenty of errors as well.

Ocean girl, thanks for the kind words. Glad you enjoyed.

cs harris said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I'll have to look for it.

ivan said...

Well, there's always the famous Ax'l Rose.

I once had a German friend, always unemployed, whose name was Axel.

We would tease him. "An Axel with no grease."

Gabby said...

I'll admit, some of these I wasn't even aware of like gauntlet/gantlet. But, I shall have to preen about knowing about forego and forgo. ^_^

Voidwalker said...

That's pretty cool. That looks like a book I'd have on my shelf. Aye Chavo! I need more money.

SQT said...

It's so easy to get this stuff wrong. I try to look troublesome words up before I use them, but there's no way to catch everything. Very useful book!

eric1313 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eric1313 said...

Glad to see you are back.

The gauntlet/gantlet difference was especially interesting. Never knew that. But I did find out about a dormouse. Saw it spelled that way and thought it was misspelled, until I saw it a few more times like that and finally googled it. At least I educated myself on that one.

Best to both of you!

eric1313 said...

I could have laughed at the speller for his typo and looked like a bigger boob than I am. :)

Rachel V. Olivier said...

Cool! My mom just sent me a book called Alphabet Juice that is similar - he goes through and explores different words.

Middle Ditch said...

I knew about axle and axel. The others were a tremendous read.

X. Dell said...

Happy Finals week.

Actually, I'm always surprised at how many of these come up in my own work--despite the fact that I've been writing stuff for years.

It's just too big of a language, with too many words to know completely. That book sounds like one I'd want--so I can personally reprogram my spell-checker (of course, the spelling of 'spell-checker' is probably wrong too).

Charles Gramlich said...

Candy, it's worth browsing through.

ivan, you've got to be careful about teasing Germans, man.

Gabby, you bettered me in that one then.

Voidwalker, money is good for buying books. That's true.

SQT, he cites lots of mistakes made by the so called experts, so no one gets 'em right all the time.

eric1313, I think I always just assumed it was door and probably read it that way even when it wasn't spelled that way.

Rachel V. Olivier, you'll have to let us know if it's worth getting.

Middle Ditch, I wonder if more women know about the axel axle thing.

X. Dell, I can never remember whether spell checker is one word or two.

AvDB said...

I don't know how many discussions I've had with beta readers because I use "gantlet" in one of my pitch letters. They kept telling me it was "run the gauntlet" and I kept explaining it wasn't. They never believed me. You'd think I would have changed the damn line to avoid all the hassle, but, no. It seems I like to beat my head against a wall.

Angie said...

Avery -- I'm like you. [nod] When something is right and I know it's right, I dig in my heels and get stubborn. I'm not sure it's always in my own best interests, but I figure somebody needs to be the crotchety old fart stubbornly clinging to the brakes of language disintegration. [wry smile]


JR's Thumbprints said...

I try not to think of all those technicalities, especially when I'm writing. Still, I can't help it and it's damn interesting material.

Charles Gramlich said...

Avery DeBow, I am proud of you. I shall never gauntlet again! Well, unless it has to do with metal gloves of some such.

Angie, I'm with you and Avery. I say, "This far and no further!"

JR's Thumbprints, it is. I could make a study of such things if I had the time.

ivan said...

I always have trouble spelling corollary, let alone pronounce it or apply it to geometry.

My math teacher used to tell me I thought Trig was a deodrant.

Mary Witzl said...

I love stuff like this!

I've heard about this book and I've been wanting to read it, but I think I'll have to wait until I'm back in an English-speaking country before I can buy it. I don't trust the postal system here enough to order it.

L.A. Mitchell said...

Thanks for pointing out our mistakes, Charles. No, really. We'll all be better writers for your post :)

Akasha Savage. said...

Loved it! I love knowing about words and their meanings. I liked the 'gantlet' 'gauntlet' fact!!

laughingwolf said...

hope that twister missed you guys!

RK Sterling said...

That's really cool, I'll have to check it out.

Shall I start printing bumper stickers to save the gantlet? :)

ivan said...

Troublesome words.

This just came in on my email from an old school pal, Hart Watt, always kind of a troublemaker.

1. Innovative
2. Preliminary
3. Proliferation
4. Cinnamon

1. Specificity
2. Anti-constitutionalistically
3. Passive-aggressive disorder
4.. Transubstantiate


1. No thanks, I'm married.
2. Nope, no more booze for me!
3. Sorry, but you're not really my type.
4. No thanks, I'm not hungry.
5. Good evening, officer. Isn't it lovely out tonight?
6. Oh, I couldn't! No one wants to hear me sing karaoke.
7. I'm not interested in fighting you.
8. Thank you, but I won't make any attempt to dance, I have no coordination. I'd hate to look like a fool!
9. Where is the nearest bathroom? I refuse to pee on the side of the road.
10. I must be going home now, as I have to work in the morning.

Barbara Martin said...

Rehashing the English language from time to time is necessary to keep up with when writing. Thanks for the interesting post, Charles.

Erik Donald France said...

I love this kind of stuff. Play it again, Sam.

Power concedes nothing without a [fill in the blank] . . .

War is . . . [did Sherman ever say it?]

laughingwolf said...

rats! now there could be oil floating your way :(

Charles Gramlich said...

ivan, trig is a bizarre word anyway. Loved the email. I got a bit laugh out of the "impossible" things to say.

Mary Witzl, I can see that. It's a good reference work.

L.A. Mitchell, you don't sound as if you are fully committed to that point of view. :)

Akasha Savage, I think I might have known that when I was little but forgot it with experience.

laughingwolf, yeah, we didn't get any really bad weather. And I sure hope the Gulf doesn't get whacked to bad by the oil. It's had it's share of insults.

Kate S, maybe we should. Get a grassroots movement going!

Barbara Martin, Glad you enjoyed.

Erik Donald France, I found a few other quotes that weren't generally quoted accurately in there and will have to post those later.

Danette Haworth said...

Everyone knows axel is followed by Rose.