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Apr 30, 2007
This week's theme
Words about words

This week's words
obiter dictum

Previous week’s theme
Words having vowels aeiou once and only once, and in order
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with Anu Garg

Search the Web for 'Missippi' and you'd find thousands of hits showing pages where the authors clearly meant Mississippi. With the advent of modern computers and spell-checkers you'd think this illustration of haplography would not occur so often.

If you feel this is bad, imagine the time before the printing press came along, when the only way to make copies of a book was with a quill and parchment. There were no photocopying machines to crank out double-sided copies.

Biblical translations and copies of other books from olden times are replete with haplography and its cousins. Many scholars spend their lifetime identifying these 'bugs' in ancient books and other scripts.

A counterpart of haplography is haplology. Haplology occurs when one 'eats' a few letters while pronouncing a word. Latin nutrix (nurse) came from an earlier word, nutritrix. Chancery, a contraction of chancellery, is now an acceptable part of the English language. Perhaps some day 'probly' will be considered standard and 'probably' obsolete!

If there are some words that economize on letters, there are others which splurge. The word for this phenomenon is called dittography. This week we'll see a few more words about words.


(hap-LOG-ruh-fee) Pronunciation Sound Clip

noun: Accidental omission of a letter or letter group that should be repeated in writing, for example, "mispell" for "misspell".

[From Greek haplo- (single, simple) + -graphy (writing).]

"In the apparatus of Trounce's edition, dittography occurs at line 266, haplography at line 352, and there are numerous erasures and corrections within the text."
Elaine Treharne; Romanticizing the Past in the Middle English Athelston; The Review of English Studies; Oxford University Press; Feb 1999.


The older I grow, the more I listen to people who don't talk much. -Germain G. Glien

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