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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Caret and stick

I recently saw an online discussion about the pronunciation of the word "caret". You may not be familiar with this word. It's what someone in the discussion called "the little hat thingie" that editors use to insert something missing into a text. You can see it above in the logo of Editors Canada.

Overwhelmingly, the respondents said it was pronounced pretty much the same as "carrot" (or also "carat" or "karat"). 

But there was a small bastion of Canadians who said "KaRAY".

It's perhaps not surprising that this pronunciation has cropped up. First of all, it's just not a word one hears spoken out loud a lot. Even editors and proofreaders probably don't get together and have lively viva voce conversations about them. "I just love what you've done with your carets!" "Wow, did you see how well she placed that caret?" 

For that matter, it's not a word that most people know. These Canadians, some of whom who had gone to French immersion schools, were imposing a French pronunciation on "caret". Ballet. Bouquet. Buffet. Ricochet. Cachet. Sachet. See? Perfectly logical.

Canadians are notorious for despising anglicized pronunciations of French words. 
FOY urr rather than FOY ay for "foyer"?
OggROTTinn instead of oh grat TAN for "au gratin"? 
Enn ROUT instead of ahn ROOT for "en route"?
Profoundly shocking.

But unfortunately, "caret" is not a French word. It's Latin. In Latin caret means "there (something) is lacking" from carēre (to be in want of). It has been used in English since the 1700s.

The French word for this symbol is apparently un lambda, after the Greek letter that looks like this: λ.

So I have to recommend that this "kaRAY" pronunciation be abandoned, lest people think you are doing a Hyacinth Bucket.


And just be thankful you don't have to call it by its saliva-inducing German name: Einschaltungszeichen

There is at least one example in English of a word whose pronunciation was changed under a misapprehension about its origin: forte. Not the musical direction, which comes from Italian, but the word meaning "a strong point". This came from French fort and was originally pronounced FORT in English. But it was confused with the Italian forte so we ended up spelling it and pronouncing it the same way. One of my correspondents at the Canadian Oxford Dictionary was irate about this "new" pronunciation. It has in fact been with us since the 19th century. But I don't think a small group of Canadians will have a similar impact on the pronunciation of "caret".

Our more common carrot comes ultimately from a Greek word meaning "head" (via Latin and French).

Carat, a measure of weight used for diamonds and other precious stones, and karat, a proportional measure of one twenty-fourth used in stating the fineness of gold, both come ultimately from Arabic qīrāṭ (and qirrāṭ) ‘weight of 4 grains’.

 



May 18 & 19 "Tea and Wordlady": Hebrew and Yiddish Words in English is now booking. For information, click here: 
http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/2016/02/tea-and-wordlady-hebrew-yiddish-in.html 

March 16 "Tea and Wordlady": Bachelor for Rent: Things You Never Suspected About Canadian English is now SOLD OUT 


P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! You can either:



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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Tea and Wordlady: Hebrew & Yiddish in English, May 18 & 19



MAKES A GREAT MOTHER'S DAY GIFT!
Next up in my popular "Tea and Wordlady" series:

Canada's Word Lady

presents

Hebrew and Yiddish:
Alive and Well and Living in English 
An entertaining talk about how
Hebrew and Yiddish words have enriched English
for over 1200 years and continue to do so.
From messiah to maven, sabbath to schnook, 
English wouldn't be the same
without its Jewish heritage.


Full afternoon tea (sandwiches, mini-quiche, scones, cream, and jam, fruit and petits fours, pot of tea) including tax and tip, and
illustrated talk by Katherine Barber

Wednesday 18 May

Thursday 19 May 


2:30 pm

$50

T-Buds Tea Lounge
2nd floor (17 steps)
3343 Yonge St, Toronto
At the corner of Yonge and Snowdon/Fairlawn
3 blocks north (about 5 minutes walk) of the north (Ranleigh) exit of Lawrence subway station

Space is limited to only 24 for each event.
To buy your ticket, please contact
Katherine Barber at 
416-693-4496 or 
wordlady.barber@gmail.com 
before March 25


P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! You can either:



use the subscribe window at the top of this page

OR

(if you are reading this on a mobile device): send me an email with the subject line SUBSCRIBE at wordlady.barber@gmail.com



Privacy policy: we will not sell, rent, or give your name or address to anyone. You can unsubscribe at any point.



Follow me on twitter: @thewordlady

Friday, February 19, 2016

Dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon


This amazing "video selfie" of a gyrfalcon in Churchill, Manitoba, has received a lot of attention since it was posted by explore.org a few days ago: https://youtu.be/IfV8Vi2o_W0 


Of course my burning question was...

How the heck is "gyrfalcon" pronounced, anyway? And where does this name for the largest member of the falcon family come from?

First, the pronunciation.

"Falcon" itself is not simple. When we researched the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, we discovered that most Canadians pronounce the first syllable exactly the same way as they pronounce "fall" (rhymes with "doll"). Some Canadians pronounce it "fal" (rhymes with "gal"). 

This preference for "rhymes-with-doll" seems to be uniquely Canadian. Here are the pronunciation preferences in some other parts of the English-speaking world:
US:
1) "fal"
2) "rhymes-with-doll"

Australia and New Zealand:
1) "forl"-without-the-"r"
2) "fal"

UK:
1) "forl"-without-the-"r"
2) "rhymes-with-doll"
But there is yet another British pronunciation, with no "l" in it, rather like "forken"-without-the-"r".

Why does this British pronunciation without the "l" exist? Back in the Middle Ages when we got the word from French, it was "faucon" (as it is to this day in French). The origin of this French word was the late Latin falcōn-em, falco, commonly believed to be from falc-, falx (sickle), the name being due to the resemblance of the hooked talons to a reaping hook. But since "l"'s after a vowel tend to get swallowed up and pronounced as a vowel themselves before disappearing entirely (the same thing happened in words like "almond", "calm" and "psalm"), Latin falcōn became French faucon.

But, as we have seen with many other English words, come the Renaissance we refashioned the word to reflect its Latin origins, reinserting the "l" in the spelling even while we still did not pronounce it. By the 19th century, under the influence of literacy, people started to pronounce the "l", but for some it is still silent (exactly as in "almond" and "calm"). 

This history explains why the name of the novelist William Faulkner (whose medieval ancestor would have been the important employee in charge of a noble's hunting hawks) is pronounced "FAWKNER" rather than "FAWLKNER".

How do YOU pronounce "falcon"?

Compared to "falcon", "gyr" is a walk in the park: it is pronounced "jurr" (though really I would never have intuitively guessed that from the spelling).

But where does "gyr" come from?

The ultimate source is the Old High German gîr (vulture) derived from a root *gῑr meaning "greedy". But medieval scholars suggested that it was instead derived from the Latin gȳrāre (circle, gyrate), and refers to the ‘circling’ movements of the bird in the air. Since we had a fondness for classical etymologies even when they were wrong, we ended up reflecting this in the spelling (originally we had spelled it "gerfalcon"). See my post about ptarmigan for another example of this phenomenon.

For the interesting story of another member of the same family, the peregrine falcon, click here.

And here's a piece of ornithological trivia for you: female falcons are larger than male falcons. 

With all this talk of falcons, why not contemplate this beautiful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, which gave me the title for this post. It's inspired by a smaller falcon, the windhover or kestrel, but what the heck.

The Windhover
To Christ our Lord

I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
  dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,        5
  As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
  Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
  Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion        10
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
  No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
  Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

REMINDER: March 16 "Tea and Wordlady": Bachelor for Rent: Things You Never Suspected About Canadian English. BOOKING UP FAST! More info here: http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/2016/02/tea-and-wordlady-wednesday-16-march.html


P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! You can either:



use the subscribe window at the top of this page

OR

(if you are reading this on a mobile device): send me an email with the subject line SUBSCRIBE at wordlady.barber@gmail.com



Privacy policy: we will not sell, rent, or give your name or address to anyone. You can unsubscribe at any point.



Follow me on twitter: @thewordlady

Monday, February 15, 2016

Tea and Wordlady: Wednesday 16 March, Canadian English


Since my inaugural "Tea and Wordlady" has been so popular, I have decided to make it a series. Next up:

Canada's Word Lady

presents

Bachelor for Rent:
Things You Never Suspected About 
Canadian English 
A hilarious look at what is distinctive about 
Canadians and their language


Full afternoon tea (sandwiches, mini-quiche, scones, cream, and jam, fruit and petits fours, pot of tea) including tax and tip, and
talk by  Katherine Barber

Wednesday 16 March

2:30 pm

$50

T-Buds Tea Lounge
2nd floor (17 steps)
3343 Yonge St, Toronto
At the corner of Yonge and Snowdon/Fairlawn
3 blocks north (about 5 minutes walk) of the north (Ranleigh) exit of Lawrence subway station

Space is limited to only 22.
To buy your ticket, please contact
Katherine Barber at 416-693-4496 or wordlady.barber@gmail.com before March 11

Saturday, February 13, 2016

No problem

A Wordlady reader poses the following question, which I am often asked about:
I have noticed lately that “you’re welcome” seems to have been replaced by sayings such as “not a problem” or “no problem”. Do you think “you’re welcome” is on its way out?    
There are a number of interesting aspects to this question.

First of all, the fact that "you're welcome" has not always been our way of replying to an expression of thanks. In fact, the earliest example I could find is just over 150 years old, not much in the history of the language: 


Date 1862
Title Davy Crockett
Author Murdoch, Frank, 1843-1872.


Eleanor Oh, no, I like to have my saddle with me. No, I mean I thank you very much. Davy. You 're welcome, miss --
     
Date 1886
Title The Henrietta
Author Howard, Bronson, 1842-1908.


 Bertie Vanalstyne But I love you now more than I ever did before I had suffered so much. I would like to kiss you, please. (Agnes looks up, offers her cheek; Bertie makes movement to kiss her, hesitates, then raises her hand to his lips and kisses it, saying --) Thank you. Agnes (sadly). You 're welcome!

Slightly (but only slightly) earlier is "Don't mention it."


Date 1843
Title The Two Clerks; or, The Orphan's Gratitude: Being the Adventures of Henry Fowler and Richard Martin . .
Author Duganne, A. J. H. (Augustine Joseph Hickey), 1823-1884




"Ha, my dear Fred., is it you? Jove, my boy. I didn't know it -- how are you -- " " I will tell you all, Ned. But first let me thank you for my wife Ned, may -- " " Hang it, don't mention it

I have not been able to determine what people said in this circumstance before the 1840s. If you should happen to know, please pass it along.

A fairly recent addition has been "My pleasure":
. IF

Date 1949
Publication information [Play script]
Title Detective Story
Author Kingsley, Sidney, 1906-1995
BRODY is a huge man, deceptively obese and clumsy in appearance; bald-headed, ugly, carbuncled face, lit up, however, by sad; soft, gentle eyes. He hands one bag to DAKIS. DETECTIVE LOU BRODY Here you are, Nick! DETECTIVE NICHOLAS DAKIS I appreciate that. DETECTIVE LOU BRODY My pleasure. Here you are, Miss.

But clearly "No problem" is an upstart (although perhaps older than you might guess):




Date 1977
Publication information New York: W.W.Norton & Company
Title Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Author Ron Carlson
" I'll go straighten out the mess. " I said. " Thanks, Larry, that's great of you. " " No problem, Randy, " I said.



Date 1982
Title True Love
Author Herbert Gold
Mickelsson said sternly, " It's been a bad year for you, Nugent. I'm very sorry. " " Well, " Nugent said, and sniffled. Abruptly he stood up. " Thank you, " he said, for an instant meeting Mickelsson's gaze. " No problem," Mickelsson said, and waved his pipe. " Any time I can be of help... " 

"Not a problem" is even more recent:


Date 2001
Publication information New York : Simon & Schuster,
Title Addicted /
Author Zane.
" Mr. Wallace, I really appreciate you helping me out like this. My daddy's always working, and I never thought I'd have it done in time for the Cub Scout Derby next week. " What an ass kisser! My daddy patted Jason on the head like he was a Doberman pinscher, which he kind of resembled, I might add. " Not a problem, Jason. I love working with my hands.

Some people get very upset about their interlocutors responding, "No problem!" to an expression of thanks. The usual argument is, "SOOOOO! Wouldn't you have done it if it HAD been a problem??"

I admit that when a cashier gives me change, I say, "Thank you," and she says, "No problem," I have a moment where I think, "Well OBVIOUSLY it was no problem!" But I find some people's virulent reaction to what is, after all, just a polite formula, not to be taken literally, quite puzzling. 

I know it is because this particular issue is one where language usage and etiquette overlap. We older folks learned (in fact, had drummed into us at an early age) a certain politeness code ("You're welcome!"), and when that code is not observed, we find it shocking. When I was a teenager, I had a job where I was waiting on many people from North Dakota. I was shocked to the core by the fact that when I said, "Thank you" to them they replied, "Uh-huh." How rude is that, thought I. Since then, however, I have learned that this is a regionalism in the midwestern US and no more shocking to them than the fact that they call a small paper bag a sack.

But think for a moment if people had similar literal reactions to some of the other polite formulas we have mentioned:
"Thank you!"
"Don't mention it."

"How dare you tell me not to mention it? I DID mention it, dammit!!"
 or:
"Thank you."

"It was nothing."

"Why are you suggesting it was nothing? If it had been something, would you not have done it?"
or:
 "Thank you."
"My pleasure."

"I don't care if it was your pleasure!"

not to mention...

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"I didn't ask if I was welcome, I was expressing my thanks!"
To return to the original question, I don't know if "You're welcome" is on its way out. It may well be, but it's still well represented on the spoken part of the Corpus of Contemporary American English, where "You're welcome" is still a much more frequent response than "No problem" to "Thank you" in radio and TV interviews. But the latter is definitely there. As usual, I think there are much weightier problems in the world to worry about than whether people say "No problem" rather than "You're welcome".

What do YOU say in response to "Thank you"? Do you, ahem, have a problem with "No problem"? If you have children, what do you tell them to respond to "Thank you"?

UPDATE: I just thanked someone for following me on twitter (@thewordlady if you want to do the same), and what was their response? "np", i.e.... "no problem". Another evolution.

For a discussion of another polite formula that is undergoing a change (do you say "I'm well" or "I'm good" when someone says "How are you?"), click here.

PS: Here's an interesting tidbit I found on Lynne Murphy's blog, separatedbyacommonlanguage
 several researchers ...have found that English speakers are less likely to give a verbal response to thanks than speakers of other European languages and that British English speakers are the least likely of all to verbally respond to thanks with a 'minimizer' like no problem, my pleasure, or you're welcome.  


P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! If you are not already subscribed, you can either:



use the subscribe window at the top of this page

OR

(if you are reading this on a mobile device): send me an email with the subject line SUBSCRIBE at wordlady.barber@gmail.com



Privacy policy: we will not sell, rent, or give your name or address to anyone. You can unsubscribe at any point.






Follow me on twitter: @thewordlady




About Me

My photo
Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.