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AWADmail Issue 174

August 21, 2005

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

From: Noel Fletcher (noelfletcherATsbcglobal.net)
Subject: Spell Check (Re: invious)

In firms where I managed the computer systems and the clerical/accounting staff, I refused to install spell-check. I wanted my people to stay sharp and concerned with spelling, grammar, punctuation, and propriety.

Statements properly spelled but wrongly phrased can be more damaging than simple spelling errors. Reliance on spell-check encourages people to relax and fail to review the other elements of writing.

From: Toni M. McLaurin (tonimclaurinAThotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--physis

As an orthopaedic surgeon, I found your definition of the word physis very interesting (and previously unknown) to me. Physis is the medical term for what is commonly called the "growth plate" in children's bones. This is the area near the end of the bone through which the complex process of bone growth occurs. How fitting that your definition of "Something that grows, changes, or becomes" is exactly what occurs medically through the physis!

From: Andrew (abp4ATlawgate.byu.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--apposite

As a law student I have only encountered today's word, apposite, in the negative. Judges use it when they are being thorough and weigh in on an issue even though counsel argued it poorly. Running into inapposite so often has made me wonder why it means "not particularly relevant" instead of "strikingly irrelevant".

From: Lee Stadtmiller (stadtmillerlATci.billings.mt.us)
Subject: misspelled words

You made a comment about words being misspelled so often that they become part of a culture and language. This is somewhat disturbing to me. I am a cemetery manager and I am constantly battling the idea that cemetery should be spelt "cemetary". I hope the unknowing and unthinking population doesn't win this battle.

From: Jim Halverson (jhalvATaol.com)
Subject: Definately a problem!

Your comments on the frequent misspelling of "definitely" highlighted one of the difficulties of English orthography--the almost uniform pronunciation of all the vowels when they occur in unaccented syllables. Instead of making their own characteristic sound, the vowels all move towards the schwa sound, "uh." Thus both i's in definitely are usually pronounced "def-uh-nut-ly"; whereas the e and the y have their characteristic sounds because they are in syllables that get primary and secondary stress.

As an English teacher I'm often frustrated by the frequency of the schwa, and in my spelling books for Scholastic, where I try to make orthography fun with mazes, puzzles, and stories, I devote a whole chapter to the schwa and to the change of vowel sounds in unaccented syllables. But that chapter is less important than another one on those five demons that are surely the most frequently misspelled words in English, the homophones "it's" and "its" and "there", "their", and "they're".

I met, not long ago, a young man who aspired to become a novelist. Knowing that I was in the profession, he asked me to tell him how he should set to work to realize his ambition. I did my best to explain. 'The first thing,' I said, 'is to buy quite a lot of paper, a bottle of ink, and a pen. After that you merely have to write.' -Aldous Huxley, novelist (1894-1963)

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