Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Word play

When I wrote that last post I spent a couple of minutes wondering about spilled versus spilt. I went with spilt. Spilt is an ugly looking word but it sounds better.  And according to some dodgy internet source it's the one most associated with milk. Spilled wine. Spilt milk.

If I was sitting in a newsroom we'd debate it and eventually whoever was in charge would win. If I was at the ABC in Australia or the BBC in Britain there'd be a style guide. My blog, my style I guess.

I'm not a crazed pedant but I do rather miss the pedants that clutter a newsroom. Even in a television newsroom everything used to stop while a debate ensued about a word or a phrase. There were groans when you heard a clanger like "As dawn broke the full extent of the horror was revealed..." or worse still "farmers are bracing themselves." Groans too when the boss banned the use of words like 'crisis' or 'row' or on budget day wouldn't let you write 'war chest' or 'armory'. The bans never lasted long.

I miss the living group thesaurus I worked with. You could always call out to the rest of the desk mid-sentence when stuck for the right word or phrase.

There were six to eight of us round the desks tapping out news and shouting down the phones.  I was better at shouting down the phone than dreaming up puns.  My all-time favourite tease line was dreamed up by someone else. The story was about some brown owls who'd stopped mating because of an unusually wet season: "Too Wet To Woo" was the line she used. Gold.

We had a particularly cantankerous correspondent who'd seen his fair share of conflict. He was there when the Berlin wall came down and probably when it went up too. He had a plastic hip so he'd given up on war zones but he'd often come back to the newsroom in a crisis and put together the most beautifully scripted packages.

He'd always send a cranky missive about the latest mistake we'd made on air. His favourite rant concerned the confusion of 'less' and 'fewer'. If you can count it, use fewer. If not, use less. Less flour. Fewer cups of flour.

Of course there's a pedant in all of us and we all like to be right. When I worked in radio in Sydney I saw that side of a lot of normally quite rational people. Answering phones on local talkback radio is the best fun you can have... some days.

Whenever a particular New South Wales town was mentioned in the traffic reports the phones would light up with outraged residents (and those who went there once in 1976) all adamant that their pronunciation was right and ours was wrong and then ten minutes later, that the correction was wrong and we were right in the first place.   I wasted many minutes of taxpayers' money answering those calls. I can't even remember what the place name was now.

If all this talk of pedantry lights your fire, head over to Stan's, an Irish pedant recently introduced by the lovely and amusing Mise. And if I have made a few errors, please don't call me to complain... I'm not paid to blog.


By the way, when searching for an image I found the one above and this - a list of the 100 most beautiful words in English.  My favourite word (not on the list) is voluptuous. It sounds just like it should and is velvety and smooth and... voluptuous. When I was a child the word I loved saying was Blomfontein. It's a city in South Africa and I've never been there but I liked the way it sounded. Odd, I know.


  1. That is a great list. But no amanuensis? (administrative assistant). I see also that most of those words are Greek in origin which explains why Greek is easy on the ear.

    I must go to the pedant's blog. I love being a pedant and of course pedantry can really pay off when one is a lawyer. Mind you most people around me are 100 times more pedantic than me and that is saying something. I would have loved to hang out in the newsroom with plastic hipped man.

    And re swimming nappies. I have done that too. Just never put one on overnight. They are not very absorbent, if you get my meaning.

  2. Another fabulous post for a word lover like me, Ann (I'm still looking for a word for 'word lover' BTW). I'm off to check out those two blogs now - thanks for the recommendation. Now, lunchtime for Sam! J x

  3. So well written I just couldn't get to the end quick enough. I love pretty pictures, but I also love witty words. You are the witty-word-wiz!!

  4. I never learnt to say Blomfontein, and at 39, I guess I is too old to learn.

    My favourite word is Serendipity

  5. A lovely languagey post. Great read.

  6. Oh thank you, Ann! I used to be rather a pedant myself, but I grew out of it. Having children seems to sideline all that. I still get a bit cranky about if/whether and 'This is she'/'This is her', but not so much that I'd mention it. 'Too Wet to Woo' is magnificent.

  7. Sounds fun. . . a room full of wordsmiths. (and hopefully good coffee)


  8. Sanguine is one of my favourites (not mad about the definition though!)
    Place names I like are Gulargambone and Canowindra
    (pronounced canoundra!)These both cause problems in the news rooms!!!!!
    Lovely post Ann as usual.

  9. This is a great post Ann. I've read some of Stan's blog but then I feel inadequate because of my lazy writing!! My favourite word is salubrious. The place name I like best is Woolloongabba. xx

  10. I've just taken a brief (very brief) break from writing a tedious tender to read this post. And feel all inspired now, thank you :) I know it's not elegant, but I love the word ludicrous. Hmmm.

  11. What a great post!!! Long live language pedantry!! I find language is our visiting card, so we had better show ourselves to advantage, right??
    One of my favourite words in English is "peculiar" (and if it is pronounced with a British accent I just melt!!!)


Thanks for taking the time to write, Ann x


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