From Alan Wachtel:
I think you overlooked part of the question from Concerned Reader in Issue 144, who asked: "The evening star ('Thee-evening-star' or 'The evening
The use of unstressed the before a vowel, rather than the with a long e (like
thee ), seems within the last few years to have become the norm among many speakers, even educated ones. If you listen carefully to television announcers, you'll hear it all the time. Rather than railing against this practice as wrong, wrong, wrong (which it is), I wonder why such shifts take place, why they happen so rapidly, and why no one seems to notice that anything has changed.
Yes, we did overlook that part
of his letter. Interestingly, the other extreme is heard, as well: the
(pronounced thee) in front of words having an initial
consonant. The reason we have two pronunciations of the is to
make pronunciation easier. If we don't elongate the e in the
before a vowel, we either have to insert a glottal stop or run everything
together. We hear more of the latter.
From Annette Olsen-Fazi, Ph.D.:
As a professor at Université Pascal Paoli in Corsica, France, I disagree
totally with Mr. Hershberger's evaluation of the usage of with au jus. The
French expression au jus translates into English as "with the juice (of),"
making an additional "with" redundant.
As an addendum to Kevin Welsh's gripe about students who write "coulda" and
"woulda" (not to mention "could of"), I am distressed by the increasingly
common use of "very similitude" among my college students to describe a fictional text which they perceive as being faithful to reality.
Barb and Malcolm give a joint cringe!
From Roger Whitehead:
As interesting as ever. Re the pronunciation of
demesne. In Britain, where the word is in
common use still in land ownership deeds, it is pronounced "demain",
showing even more clearly its links with domain.
On dwell. I hadn't realised the origin of that. It lives on after a
fashion in the English country name for deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) -
dwale, also meaning "causing drowsiness". I see from OED2
that the word is applied to other soporific plants. An alternative etymology for
dwale is from the French deuil for "grief" (cognate
Finally, some more acronymic duplication for you:
- LCD display (LCD = liquid crystal display)
- GUI interface (GUI = graphical user interface)
- Declare UDI (UDI = unilateral declaration of independence). This
refers to the secession of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from the British Commonwealth in 1980 but still in use today for other, lesser acts of
waywardness. It's almost a double redundancy, since declarations of independence tend to be made unilaterally anyway. Your country
certainly didn't ask permission of mine to do so, for instance.
- VDU display (VDU = visual display unit). Another rather hoary term,
and also containing redundancy. Aren't all displays visual?
- ID document (ID = identity document). Many people have forgotten, if
they ever knew, what the D in ID stands for. "Got any ID?" is a common request from security guards, shop assistants and other such persons.
Another is "VIN
number", where VIN means "vehicle identification number".
From Ray Adams:
In your discussion of volcano you said, "Some scholars believe Vulcan comes from Cretan (the language spoken on Crete, not that of cretins)".
I suppose you intended (rightly) to make a distinction between present day residents of Crete and the condition of cretinism. But isn't there a far off connection? Mistaken as it may be.
The biblical record from Paul's epistle to Titus (c. 60 AD) states, "Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true."
But my puny little pocket sized Webster has this entry for cretin, indicating that it is from French
chrétien, "Christian, hence human being; a person suffering from cretinism."
So perhaps the connection is only a visual similarity?
Yes, the connection is indeed
only visual. See our discussion of cretin
in Words to the Wise of Issue 27.
From Mark Schwarz:
Just thought you'd like to know that
piripiri is also used in Japanese to
mean "spicy". It doesn't sound very Japanese, so maybe it has the same origins as the other examples mentioned.
From David Helm:
A friend of mine in college told me one time that until recently he hadn't understood what was controversial about "Youth in
Asia" - this was back in the late seventies. It was only later that he realized they were discussing
euthanasia. He knew what the word meant, but had only seen it in print, and didn't realize it was pronounced the same as "Youth in Asia"!
On another note, while growing up, my mother would ask us if we wanted pie "with or without" a la mode whenever we had pie. We were well aware it was incorrect usage. By the way, how did "a la mode" come to refer to "with ice cream" anyway?
Still a great site. Many thanks for keeping us well informed.
Á la mode means, of
course, "in the fashion". It came to refer to serving
something with ice cream in the late 19th century in the U.S. because
doing so was "fashionable" at the time. Now the term has
lost its "in the fashion" meaning and just means "with ice
From Tony Hill:
This showed up in my inbox this morning. Thought you word folks might be
In British slang, the term
to spend a penny means "I have to go to the
toilet." After the UK joins the EU, the term will be euronating.
Keep up the great work.
From Brian Degnan:
Great site as always! I must say, what was up with those grandiose epiphanies about the corrective
with au jus? I am so happy your DNA had been spliced with phosphorescent genes so that you could shed some much-needed light on the subject. Good job in sweeping the floor! [Now, here comes the hard part.] However, you have a comment to one writer, saying
à la mode and au jus should be seen as adjective clauses. I feel that it should be said that these more naturally become adverb clauses, as most prepositional phases can be used in native English.
'Tis a small thing to quibble about, but we do feel that they should be
characterized as adjectives in English, as they do describe the nouns they
follow (pie and roast beef, respectively). We do see
how they could also be construed as adverbs ("pie
à la mode").
Now in reading your letter and remarks on the
golf refrain and your past discussion on acronyms, I have to say that your explanation of ok having to be pronounced “ock” to have ever been qualified as an acronym may have lacked some basis. It is my understanding that very few two- or three-lettered words can be said as a word and not as individual letters. You mention ufo being pronounced “oo-foh” in Britain. All right. Well, then there are RAM and ROM, to name a few. In addition, there are NOW, National Organization for Women and WHO, World Health Organization; these two others are actual words when said out, and much easier to become the anomalies, as is RAM. This contrapositive side of my pedantic point is quite limited. Most of such girth are said spelled out, no matter their ability to resemble words nor the manner of falling into the category of a word-like group of letters. Compare, if you would, to the aforementioned: USA, UK, AA, ISP, VIP (although sometimes now said “vip”) NYC, AKA, IRA (an exception when meaning the retirement fund), GI (however you want to take this one to mean), COD, GOP, PLO, OB/GYN (two acronyms) etc. These, somehow in our ingrained syntax, will not come out as fluent phonemes, but as abrupt, individual letters, much like ok would have always been said.
The rub here is that most language experts consider acronym to
refer only to words that are created from the abbreviations of
several words. In the U.S. we would not consider UFO an acronym as
we don't pronounce it as a word. Same for OK, OB/Gyn, GOP,
etc. One of those language experts who agrees with this definition
of acronym : H.W. Fowler (and company) in The New Fowler's
Modern English Usage.
Anyhow, enough said, let us go back to my initial sentiment. I really think your paper is a great collection of thoughts on the fashions of language. It really gets the mind to think critically about the nature of things. Thank you so much for the site!
much! We're delighted to have you as a reader.