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AWADmail Issue 272September 16, 2007
A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
A lot of readers sent their examples of false splitting. Here's a selection:
We have a relative who insists she has a stigmatism.
New Haven, Connecticut is home to the world's best pizza, but most longtime
residents of the city call it "apizza" (pronounced "ah- BEETS"), and all of
the city's finest establishments have "Apizza" printed over the door. This
word seems more an instance of a false conjunction than false splitting, as
there is no "n" involved in the transaction. I wonder if this word can take
a definite or indefinite article; it sounds awkward to say "I'm going out
for an apizza.
I am very excited to hear about all of this false splitting. For several
years now, I have been the victim of it. My name is Anne Siegler, but
often when I introduce myself or leave messages on people's voicemails,
others think my name is Nancy Gler. This happens at least once a week!
It happens so much that my coworkers now jokingly call me Nancy.
I used to go to a one-man repair shop named Al's Auto. He never seemed to
understand why I sometimes called him Al and sometimes Mr. Zotto.
When my kids were younger they loved pasta with olive oil and grated
Parmesan cheese. I always asked them if they wanted some Parmesan on their
pasta. What they heard, though, was whether they wanted "Parmes on it." So
in our household, "Parmesan" was renamed "Parmes", as in, "Would you like
some Parmes on your pasta?"
This week's theme reminds me of when our great granddaughter was about three
and created her own false splitting. She and her mother were coming to visit
us in Vancouver, Washington, and were arriving at the Sea-Tac airport. After
repeating several times the litany, "We're going to Seattle; we're going to
see Grandma and Grandpa," she asked, "Who's Attle?"
At whatever the age kids are when we hold things up for them to name, our
granddaughter puzzled us with her response, "ife" when her dad held up a knife.
I was reminded of your words this week as I heard my GPS tell me to turn right
"onerie Ave" -- which came out as Nerie (instead of Erie). We may be starting
a whole new list of these words even as we -- I mean the GPS and other
computerized voices -- speak.
I have a receipt from about 1890 that reads:
When my son was learning to talk, we saw this process in action. Whenever
he saw me getting a certain piece of cutlery, he'd point and say "ife! ife!"
I was puzzled by this until I thought of my grad school linguistics classes
and it occurred to me that he'd heard grown-ups say "a knife" and thought
we'd said "an ife", at which point I carefully said "the knife" the next
few times I got the utensil and he quickly learned the proper pronunciation.
My daughter, and therefore, I, by extension, read the Junie B. Jones series
of books by Barbara Park, written in the first person voice of a six-year-old.
The character is a master of false splitting. The Principal of the school
makes "a nnouncement"; and when she makes a mistake, she has to say
"a pology", among others.
I like playing with words, and will sometimes refer to people as "noyings".
This results from splitting word "annoying" into "a noying". Thus, "noyings"
are people or things that annoy or are irritating.
This week's theme reminds me of an idea (a nidea?) I had when I was
about four years old. I decided that there must be two separate words
to describe time, one for saying "We'll be there in two hours," and
the other to say "It'll be bedtime in half a nour." Later on, when I
learned to read, I realized what was going on, but I still remember
that word "nour", which made complete sense to me at the time.
Perhaps this was the start of my lifelong love of words and language.
Incidentally, nour does appear in the OED, defined as a variation of
This fascinating theme has prompted a little game at home to invent more
false-splitting words. The best so far is from my partner, who says: "In
the rain, I drive a nautomobile."
One of the words I always liked, which fits in this theme as well, is "lute".
The word actually came from a mishearing as well as false splitting. The
"lute" originally came from the middle east where it's still called the
"Oud". Someone must have asked the name of the instrument, been told "al
Oud" (trans. "the oud"), and heard it, instead, as "a Lute". If you say
"al Oud" quickly and cut the "d" short a lot, it really sounds almost the same.
When I was in the service I noticed a tendency of my southern fellow soldiers
to say "a apple, a omelet, a orange etc", it always sounded quaint to me
and it still does. There was a French play "The Nangora" about a "Nangora"
cat. In French: Un nangora (should have been un angora).
What a fascinating theme this week. I sense you could go on and on anon!
Fascinating stuff, as ever but tell me, did you start off as a Nu Garg
or was it an U Garg?
From: Steve Babbage (steve.babbage vodafone.com)
In the field of cryptography, a nonce is a value that is used only once. For instance, we might want to use the same encryption algorithm and the same secret key to encrypt several different messages. If that's all we did, the system might be insecure; but it can be made secure by modifying each encryption process using a different nonce. The nonce need not be secret (it might be an increasing counter, or a digital representation of the date and time) -- it just has to be different every time.
From: John Bonner (johnnybonner aol.com)
Today's word, nonce, did surprise me. For you see, here in England, the word "nonce" has always been a slang word used both by the police and their criminal counterparts.
Years ago a nonce was an police informant. A 'grass'.
Sadly, now, a nonce is prison slang for sexual offenders, especially those who assault children.
Lexicographer's business is solely to collect, arrange, and define the words that usage presents to his hands. He has no right to proscribe words; he is to present them as they are. -Noah Webster, lexicographer (1758-1843)
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