or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Sleave It To Beaver

Yeah, I know. That doesn't even make any sense. The hardest thing about writing these pieces is coming up with a title that's simultaneously sensible and amusing. I usually fail. I don't think there are any points for trying.

Anyway. I saw the phrase "plastic sleaves" in print yesterday and couldn't quite believe my eyes. Not because it's an especially awful mistake, but because the word "sleave" is so uncommon; I was surprised it survived a spell-check (assuming, obviously, that it got one).

A sleave is not a sleeve. When Shakespeare wrote of "sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care", he wasn't talking about the sleeves on your pajamas. A sleave is a fine thread, particularly a silken one, and "ravelled" means, among other things, "tangled". Any sewers or knitters out there? A tangled mass of fine thread is not an easy thing to unknot, let alone knit up.

Googling "sleave of care" and then "sleeve of care" reveals that about two and half times as many people got it right as got it wrong. That's heartening, a little.

Here's what isn't heartening: a theoretically useful online resource called The Literature Network gets it wrong. A search in the complete text of Macbeth for "sleave" reveals nothing, while a search for "sleeve" gives the expected quotation (it's in Act 2, Scene II). How's anyone supposed to search Shakespeare (or anything else) when there are significant spelling errors?


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