Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Better than Spell-check, and way more fun.

I follow @oedonline and @OxfordWords on Twitter, and enjoy their various offerings, which include things like Word of the Day, Foreign Word of the Day, and the OED Word of the Day.  OxfordWords just posted a link to common spelling mistakes, which you may find interesting.  As far as I could tell, these words don't vary depending on which continent you're spelling them on.  There is another page devoted to differences between British and American spellings.

By far the most entertaining page on the Oxford Dictionaries webpage is the on-line Spelling Bee.  You can choose one of three levels (Tricky, Difficult and Fiendish--and trust me, Fiendish IS fiendish), and you can choose American or British pronunciation.  You can even post your scores to your FaceBook page (um, no thanks--not after Fiendish!).

There is an entire page devoted to games, which looks like a fun place to spend a rainy afternoon. However, the sun is shining here, so out to do the weeding.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Huh? Say WHAT?

This is supposed to be a spelling blog, but who can resist this interesting and interactive website from Yale University?

This research group at Yale has developed a map of the US using what they call "microsyntax": regional grammatical and usage idiosyncrasies. It is really fun to take a look at what passes for normal in other parts of the country....of course, I make fun of other parts of the country tongue in cheek, since I hail from the land of "a Whole Nother Thing" and presently live in a state where directional signals seem to be very, very optional.

Scroll around and take a look. Have fun!  And maybe we'll have to add "anymore" to the next word list.

Props to Visual Thesaurus for the interesting lead.

If a picture paints a thousand words....

...then today's prize goes to language maven Eliza Edgar, who sent this cartoon by Dave Coverly to me the other day.
Thanks, Eliza!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Have you been waiting for this with baited breath?

Gosh, I hope not! The correct term is "bated" breath--that's "bated" as in restrained. Baited breath implies that you might have some worms, or bait of some other type, in your mouth. Yuck.

Oxford Online Dictionaries have published a page that can help you avoid floundering and foundering in your written work.  Pore over it to ensure you have the correct word, lest you accidentally leave your readers "week" with laughter.  They do have a couple of British spellings--the word "kerb" might look funny to anyone who hasn't tried using it in a cut-throat Scrabble game--but it's a useful list.

One pair that the list missed is marital/martial: I once made this typo in a paper about Greek drama (in my defense, the line between war and marriage was pretty thin in the play I was writing about). Luckily, my teacher thought it was hilarious.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

National Spelling Bee

I live in a house full of Stanley Cup fanatics, and have despaired of ever gaining control of the remote long enough to watch the Bee on TV.  Luckily for me, the folks at Visual Thesaurus are putting together lists of words used in the rounds.  Boy, that could make my life easier....

Check it out, and enjoy!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Help from the experts

The people who work for the Oxford English Dictionary have a wonderful collection of blogs, word-a-day emails and Twitter feeds. Yesterday's tweets were particularly useful for us: they wrote about the word "chthonic" (featured in our Bees), and they posted a list of frequently-misspelled words--along with their correct spellings. Check it out.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Dover artist and fellow word girl Jane Bleakley forwarded this link:  http://www.woopstudios.com/fun/.

Check it out: it's cool.  They have a swirly word web that is reminiscent of the one on Visual Thesaurus--Woop Studios' one is a bit artier, and you can click on the individual words (if you're quick enough) to see a brief description and an image of a print featuring the word you've selected.  Their artwork is for sale, and they state an interest in partnering with charitable organizations and schools for mutual benefit.

As clever and creative as it is, the website lacks any notation about the sources of the collective nouns illustrated. It looks like there are some traditional terms alongside some more fanciful words.  For example, Woop lists a prettying of doves (the traditional term is dule), and a journey of giraffes (rather than a tower or a totter).  Because it's not clear where Woop Studios found their alternate terms, I would not rely on the site for more than entertainment (and shopping).

Juliana Berners (or Barnes), the grande dame of terms of venery, would likely disapprove of some of the content, but can you imagine what she might have thought about the word web?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

coming and going

Words and word-nerds come and go.  Today is a red-letter day on both counts:  Amelia Slawsby sent me this link about the first spelling bee winner:

First national spelling bee winner dies at 97

Frank Neuhauser, who in 1925 won the first U.S. national spelling bee with the word "gladiolus," has died. He was 97.

AND....are you ready? Today is the 172nd birthday of the word "OK":  http://blog.oup.com/2011/03/ok-day/. You should read the post; it is actually very interesting (here's a teaser: OK originally stood for "oll korrect"), and there is a link to Google Ngrams worth looking at.
It is safe to say that whoever coined the phrase "OK" from Oll Korrect was not a spelling bee finalist. I was about to say that participants in any of the Dover Bees would have a ridiculously easy time spelling gladiolus, but then found my fingers hesitating mid-word...it's trickier than it looks.  I think we might have to add that to the list for next time...

Friday, March 11, 2011

She? Oui!

Visual Thesaurus posted an article today about the origin of the word "she". At first I thought it was ridiculous, because, really, why would that be a separate discussion from the origin of the word "he"? Turns out it is. And we did not have "she" until the 1100s!

I'd heard of the French land of Oc and land of Oui, but apparently English boasts a land of She, or at least a map of where it took hold first. 

Check out this fascinating essay, and take nothing for granted!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Gorey Details

My fondness for Edward Gorey began in a grade school library, when my friend Mary and I happened upon his illustrations in Edward Lear's poem The Jumblies. It solidified at the start of college, when Mary sent me a postcard from a page of Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies, stating that "K is for Kate who was struck with an axe".  After checking my mailbox several times a day during Freshman Orientation, I was overjoyed to receive a piece of mail, even one that forecasted my demise.  Naturally, I glued it to my dorm room door.

Just imagine, if we'd had technology 'way back then, Mary might have sent me a text message instead of the postcard.  How sad.

The Boston Athenaeum is hosting a Gorey exhibit: Elegant Enigmas.  I dragged my favorite oculogyrist (who is now so long of limb, so deep of voice, and so thoroughly and adolescently dour, that I am tempted to refer to him as Lurch) with the promise that he'd appreciate Gorey's humor.

It's a small exhibit, but nicely done: there are a couple of rooms with drawings from Gorey's books, as well as illustrations he did for other authors; there are some amazing envelopes that he decorated (letters to his mother, I believe--good boy!), and--and this was my favorite part--his sketches and rough drafts. It was very instructive to see the "seeds" of Gorey's finished work. His drawings are so painstakingly perfect, done in superfine-point pen, that it is hard to imagine that Gorey ever needed to make a rough draft. But he did, and we can all take comfort from that knowledge.

In addition to his artistic talents, Gorey had a curious way with words. The Athenaeum exhibit has a study for a piece called Nursery Frieze, in which a line of creatures (his rough draft shows rhinos, but these look more like wild pigs) march across letters of the alphabet while saying random words like gavelkind, ophicleide, corposant, wax and jequirity. His cartoons feature characters with whimsical names like Lord Wherewithal, Mr. Earbrass, and Miss Skrim-Pshaw.

If you are not already a fan of the Boston Athenaeum, you should be. It is a membership library with research facilities, as well as a committment to outreach and community. I called them for information and a friendly, helpful HUMAN BEING answered the phone--on the first ring!  It's a lovely building, too, with large light-filled rooms, tucked into the top of Beacon Hill at 10 1/2 Beacon Street (Lurch was reminded of Platform 9 3/4, and thought I was making the address up to tease him). The Gorey exhibit is open to the public--suggested donation is $5 (you must give SOMETHING, says the sign, but give what you can) and although small, Elegant Enigmas is worth at least that.  If you find yourself in the area--lobbying at the State House, enjoying a meal downtown, or whatever--stop by and see for yourself. Lurch and I give it four thumbs up.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A group by any other name?

Chatting with artist and fellow word-lover Jane Bleakley today led to some speculation on spelling words involving groups of animals...you know, a gaggle of geese and so forth.

A little poking around led to a terrific list, published by Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources.  Not only does it give us the wonderfully obscure words for animal groups, such as a cete of badgers and a dray of squirrels, the article by Janice Welsh also tells us HOW many of these names came to be. 

Check out the article and then ponder why it is a knot of toads, but an army of frogs.

You can also check out Welsh's source, An Exaltation of Larks: The Ultimate Edition, a book written by James Lipton and published by Viking Penguin, 1991.