or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, August 01, 2005

Little or Nothing

I can't get away from the word, or wordoid, "miniscule".

It shows up in The New Republic, as usual, not to mention the Quality Paperback Book Club's monthly catalogue, which features a book on calligraphy that, they claim, includes Caroline Miniscule.

This online article makes the argument that "miniscule" is an acceptable variant of the unassailably correct "minuscule" (which is obviously Latinate--it comes from "minusculus", "rather small").

Even if I were to concede that "miniscule" is acceptable, which I don't, what's to be gained by using it? It's no easier to spell it in that fashion, and it makes more than a few people (granted, nit-pickers like me, but we're people too) snarl about the loss of standards and the decline of public education. The fact is that using the non-standard form opens one up to free-lance correction or even harsh judgement. It costs nothing to do it correctly the first time, gives no-one pause, excites no acidic debate. Why on earth wouldn't any writer prefer that?

And while I'm on the subject, if the egregious misspelling "miniscule" is just another variant, then why mightn't we say that "peak" is just another variant of "peek"? I've growled about this before, and damned if the same mistake hasn't battered my eyes again, this time in Slate.com:

In Over There, the insurgent gets blown in two just above his jeans, and there's no sign of an intact spinal cord peaking out above the waistline.

It's wrong. It's worse than wrong: it's a borderline-illiterate mistake, no different from mistaking "where" for "wear" or "piece" for "peace". "Peak" and "peek" are not the same word; they are not synonyms; they have no etymological common ground. (Ditto for "pique".) And goddammit, we have a right to expect that professional writers and editors know the difference.


Blogger Ana said...

Thank you! The mistakes you rant about are exactly the types of things that bother me when I read books and articles. I don't care if people make mistakes in e-mails or other personal correspondence, but professional writers and editors should use and spell words correctly. Sometimes the mistakes are so obvious that running the spell-check on the computer would pick them up. Other times they aren't so obvious, but a good editor should be able to find and correct them.

My favorite mistake (this one a simple typo) so far is from a state park south of Boston. There is a sign there that states that the Native American chief who gave the land to the white people died of the "plaque." He must have had really bad teeth.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005 5:52:00 PM  

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