or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Package Deal

So Jim Kunstler got a bunch of hyphenations wrong. Par for the course. I still like to read him every Monday, but he could use an editor. I know it's only a blog, but still.

He also misspelled "passel":

A reader sent me a passle of recent clippings last week from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Now "passel" is an Americanism. It exists in some British dialects, alongside "passle", though it never really entered British English, but it's in all the American dictionaries. It's a word: it's passed into common currency. (It's in Canadian English, too, though probably only from contact with American television and such.) The spelling "passle", however, never did, so I don't think I'd be too far afield in calling it wrong. It's a common mistake, though: Googling it gives 17,500 hits. ("Passel" gets 350,000, which is more like it.)

"Passel" is an alteration of "parcel", in exactly the same way as "cuss" is an alteration of "curse", and it means just the same as one definition of "parcel": "a group or collection of like things". That is to say that "parcel" has a number of meanings, and "passel" has one and only one of those meanings.

"Parcel" is a very old word, from the French, who donated it to Middle English as "parcelle": they in turn got it from Late Latin "particella", which was a version of Latin "particula", which, it ought to be clear, is the source of English "particle". "Particle", in turn, is rather obviously "part" plus the diminutive "-cle", as in "cubicle" and "corpuscle", "little body". ("Icicle" doesn't have this suffix, despite all appearances. It's an Old English word formed of two parts: its first half is indeed "ice". The remainder, however, is from "gicel", descended from a Norse word meaning "a mass of ice": "gicel" actually meant "icicle" all by itself, so somehow, the word "ice" got tacked onto the front of it. You know, just to clarify things. This sort of thing does happens in language from time to time.)


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