or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Total Recall

Even native-born speakers of English have the damnedest old time trying to spell it, and who can blame them, really? So many words that are spelled completely differently have exactly the same pronunciation. More sensible languages at least give you fighting chance; different spelling, different pronunciation.

I never have that problem, because I have this brain abnormality (or something) that lets me instantly memorize the spelling of a word as soon as I've seen it--it just happens automatically--which is why I always notice typos and mistaken-identity problems, such as the one in this Consumerist piece about Vista, the new Windows operating system:

In celebration of the imminent Vista launch, they set up a special billboard in Manhattan...then circus performers encased in colorful scuba diving suits repelled down the surface, hailed cabs and left.

"Rappelled" is the word Meghann Marco was looking for.

To rappel, as anyone who's ever watched "The Amazing Race" knows, means to descend a vertical surface on a secured rope. It comes, incomprehensibly*, from the French "re-" plus "appeler", "to summon, to call", from which comes English "appeal". (They both come from Latin "appelare", "to entreat".)

"Repel", on the other hand, is also through French, from Latin "re-" plus "pellere", "to drive", which also give us such words as "pulse", "compel", and "propeller". Completely, as you can see, unrelated.

*It's not entirely incomprehensible, I suppose, just odd. You can use a rappelling line to return whence you came--"re-call" yourself to your original location.


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