or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, April 21, 2006

Oh, My Stars

I haven't snarled about The Consumerist recently. High time, don't you think?

This article is about a new blog, Mouseprint.org, which is something I so wish I'd thought of myself: the brazen discrepancy between what a commercial offer promises and what the fine print--the mouse print--actually says. It's wonderful.

The Consumerist thinks so, too. Unfortunately, their little review of the website contains the following sentence:

Also note their section on laws governing the use of asterixes in advertising.

Yes, it really does say "asterixes", despite the fact that on the page they're directing you to, the word is spelled correctly: the page is entitled "Use of Asterisks".

First things first, I suppose. "Asterisk" is related to "aster", "asteroid", and "astronomy": they all descend from the Greek "aster", "star", and in fact "asterisk" is directly from Greek "asteriskos", "little star". Couldn't be much clearer.

Now, some words have over the centuries become mutated due to a process called "metathesis", which is the transposition of elements--letters or sounds, usually. "Wasp", for instance", was once "waeps", and the plural still is "wopses" in some British dialects. However, to the careful speaker, many metatheses sound vulgar or subliterate: "nucular" for "nuclear", for instance, is a particularly risible example. "Aks" or "ax" for "ask" also sounds uneducated, despite the fact that "ask" actually began its life as "acsian" in Old English, soon mutating into "ascian"; the two co-existed for hundreds of years, and "ax" is still heard in parts of English and the United States; but to Canadian ears, at least, and I wager to speakers of Standard English almost everywhere, it sounds coarse.

There's no escaping the fact that, metatheses and "acsian" notwithstanding, "asterisks" is correct English and "asterixes" is not. The prescriptivists have spoken.


Blogger Frank said...

"The prescriptivists have spoken." *gong*

Saturday, April 22, 2006 1:33:00 AM  

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