Quickly improves English pronunciation!

  Issue 114, page 4

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From Daniel Kelber:

Was I completely misinformed as a child? I remember learning in grade school that this phrase came from how easily these letters, in their lower case form, could be confused on movable type printing presses. 

From Lin Sims:

When I was growing up, this was an admonition to mind my manners, as in "Mind your "pleases" (Ps) and "thank you's" (Qs).  Probably the first place I heard it was in the English public school (equivalent to the USA's private schools, and that's something I'd love to know how it happened!) I briefly attended when my dad was stationed in England.  No cites or references, sorry.  I wish I had them.

No need to panic!  Check Issue 53 where we discussed several of the suggested derivations for mind your p's and q's

From Anthony Stevens:

Malcolm Tent gripes about a migration of subject in the phrase "coal prices are forecasting..." and clearly objects to being bludgeoned by such clumsy reportage. I submit this is nothing more than a standard feature of English language evolution in colloquial use. 

Malcolm has doubtless 'flown into an airport' at some time - yet we all understand he has neither grown wings nor smeared himself across a control tower. Halibut may be 'landing at record values on the quayside' this week - yet we do not expect fish to start making their own transport arrangements, let alone quoting the odds on the latest Madonna album.

As for casted, the suffix -ed makes for clarity of past tense through analogy with hundreds of other established verbs.  I have it ringed in my Collected Shakespeare - if casted was good enough for William, it fits the bill for me...

This kind of usage is clear and understandable English - or should we attempt to be so foresighted as to second-guess the future of language development and lock it in its cell for the night? Vive la France! Under just such custodianship French is one of the few major languages in the world to be under challenge. http://wordsmith.org/board/showflat.pl?Cat=&Board=miscellany&Number=16487&pa
ge=0&view=collapsed&sb=5

No, I can safely forecast: I would rather be bludgeoned than curmudgeoned to death!

It may be evolution in process but right now it's still considered incorrect to use forecasting in the manner that Malcolm Tent discussed last week.  Until that usage becomes widespread and, finally, accepted, Malcolm says, he'll continue to label it incorrect.  He doesn't think "flown into an airport" is at all analogous to the problem discussed with "coal prices" and "forecasting".

As for something being good enough for Shakespeare, does this mean that you use the term bowels to mean "children", as he did?  Even though no one will understand what you really mean, because the standard meaning of bowels today is "the bodily system that excretes solid waste", or, more broadly, "the innards"?  Clarity of meaning is something we consider very important in the usage of language.  A word having a history of meaning X doesn't mean it can be properly used to mean X today when the meaning has shifted to Y (and, so, a word's prior meaning shouldn't influence how we use the word today if it now has a different meaning).  The word bead originally meant "prayer" but came to be associated with the stones of a rosary and, then, to any rounded stones worn as jewelry.  Would you say, to a stranger, "I'm going to say a bead for my dear departed relative" just because bead originally meant "prayer"?  We think that the "if it's good enough for Shakespeare it's good enough for me" logic is flawed.  Clear communication is paramount; sloppy communication impedes clarity.

From Brian Degnan:

Great site, guys, as always, and glad to see you're back better than ever in weekly working order. My question is from your last publication in issue 113 wherein you discussed improper etymologies. One of the phrases was wet your whistle. My question is, isn't the phrase whet your whistle? Such as is with to whet one's appetite, I feel whet your whistle means to stimulate your whistle; *eh-hem* that is, your voice or throat. I don't believe that I've seen it spelled wet, unless we were using chat room spelling. Just my thoughts. What do you opine, fine etymologists?

Wet your whistle definitely came before whet your whistle.  It's quite old...

First whet thy whistle with some good Metheglin.

- Flatman, The Belly God, 1674

...but not as old as:

So was hir ioly whistle wel y-wet.

- Chaucer, The Reeve's Tale, 1386

So, we have wet all the way back in Middle English and whet not heard of until the 17th century.  It's our guess that whet your whistle was simply a misunderstanding of wet..., with influence from whet one's appetite

Whet means literally "sharpen", so that whetting one's appetite means to "stimulate" the appetite, while wet one's whistle means to "slake one's thirst".

Thanks for the good words about the site, Brian!

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