or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Point

Yesterday I was ranting about "ogle" and something occurred to me: the German word for "eye", "Auge", looks quite a lot like both "auger", which is to say a piercing tool which makes holes not unlike eyelets, and "augur", which is to say to predict or foresee. But not everything is as it looks, so the question before us is, which one of these words is actually related to "eye" and which isn't?

Trick question! Neither of them, it turns out, has anything to do with "Auge"/"ogle". One of them, mind you, is of rather dicey provenance. The OED suspects, but can't confirm, that "augur" is related distantly to "garrulous", but cites a philologist whose opinion is that it's related to "augment". "Auger", it avers, is in part from Old English "gar", "something which bores or pierces", which would make it a relative of the fish known as the gar (otherwise garfish), which has a long, pointed snout.


This is Broken is a charming website devoted to things that don't work the way they're supposed to: its subhead is "A project to make businesses more aware of their customer experience, and how to fix it", and that may be what it started out as, but since people get to post whatever they think is broken, there are all sort of things such as a door with signs reading both "Emergency Exit Only" and "NOT an Emergency Exit!" And so someone who was, I would imagine, having a bad day while trying to write something posted the following:

Broken: English spelling

Do you know why there are no spelling bees in Spain? Because Spanish is spelled just like it sounds. It's English that is so hard to spell.

Are there spelling bees in other languages? I haven't heard of any.

(Of course, despite the difficulties of English, I think it's totally broken not to learn how to spell properly.)

The link will take you to quite a number of comments, most of them interesting and well-informed. Is English spelling broken? Yes and no. It's certainly a slumgullion, borrowing as it does from pretty near every language on Earth; it's cruel and patternless and contains thousands upon thousands of traps for schoolchildren and non-native speakers alike. But it isn't broken, because there's nothing to fix (despite the attempts of generations of spelling reformers). It reflects its wide-ranging and storied history; it proudly bears the imprint of every immigrant, every borrowing, every coinage. It is what it is, and I love it.


Post a Comment

<< Home