or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Nose on Your Face

First, you owe it to yourself to watch this video, which is a demo of Will Wright's new game, Spore. (The page says it "looks like it could possibly be the best video game ever". Could? Possibly? It obviously is the best video game ever.) Wright invented SimCity and The Sims, and on the strength of those two games alone has earned his place in the pantheon, but this...well, I'm just flabbergasted. Watch the video and see if you aren't, too.

Okay. Done? At around 1:05 in the 35:47 video, Wright is talking about the various body parts for the evolving creatures, and unfortunately, he uses the word "probiscus". It's unfortunate that he used the word, because it doesn't actually exist--at least, not in the world of correct words. (He shouldn't feel too bad: professional smarty-pants Anne Robinson made the same mistake on "The Weakest Link" once. The contestant asked her to repeat the question, which she did, once again mispronouncing the word, and understandably he got the answer wrong.)

The word, in fact, is "proboscis", pronounced "pro-BOSS-iss". (It's now casually used to refer to the nose, but more correctly applies to an organ such as an elephant's trunk or a mosquito's stylet, something used to secure food. It's from the Greek "pro-", "in front", plus "-boskein", "to feed".)

I suppose I can understand how such a mistake might have arisen: we have a few words in English that end in "-iscus", such as "discus", "hibiscus", and "meniscus", but no others that end in "-oscis", so it might seem natural to apply a familiar-sounding ending to the word. Still: wrong.


Blogger Tony Pius said...

...and I immediately thought, "Wait, pro-BOSS-is? Surely he means pro-BOSS-kis, because the Greek has a kappa, doesn't it? And anyway, that's how I've been pronouncing it all these years."

Visit to the dictionary. Sure enough, "L, fr. Gk proboskis, fr. pro- plus boskein to feed." I'm right!

...Except that it also backs up your soft-c pronunciation.

Man. That hasn't happened to me in years. And now I've got that reader paranoia: what else have I been pronouncing wrong all this time?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006 8:21:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

The nice thing is that if you've been prononcing "proboscis" incorrectly--and, really, how often do you have call to use it?--nobody's noticed, because they all think it's pronounced "pro-BIS-cuss" and spelled accordingly. The other nice thing is that if you're pronouncing anything else wrong, nobody's noticing that, either, so there's actually an upside to an increasingly uneducated society.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006 6:26:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home