or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Here are a couple of sentences from this Salon piece about the newest season of Project Runway, an unguilty pleasure of mine:

Jerell jogs out first, giddy with excitement as he thanks his mother, sister, boyfriend and cousin. But nobody else seems all that giddy as his models strut down the runway festooned with the gawdiest dresses this side of Dollywood.

We've established that nobody who writes for Salon owns a computer with a spellchecker, which is kind of sad, since they've been standard issue since the mid-1980s. We've also established, I think, that there is no editorial oversight. This leaves only the question of why I'm still reading Salon. Maybe it's for the grim satisfaction of finding avoidable errors and then grousing about them in public. Yes, that must be it.

"Gawdiest" is the superlative form of the theoretical adjective "gawdy", which is not in my computer's spellchecker, is not in any reputable dictionary, and is not correct at all. Of course it exists in the distant history of English, when, before spellings became codified, people spelled words as they pronounced them; but "gawdy" is not etymologically supported and not used at all today, except by people who are wrong.

The correct spelling is "gaudy", from Latin "gaudere", "to rejoice". It had an older meaning, "luxurious", which was usually used to refer to feasts, and in fact "gaudy" is also an old noun meaning "a celebratory feast". Luxury, of course, can easily become ostentation, and that's the modern connotation of the word; "gaudy" now means "flashy, vulgar, show-offy, tasteless, and garish".

How can writers not perform the simplest, most basic error-correcting function in their writing by running a spellchecker? They don't even have to do anything! They can have their software perform the function automatically as they type with little red underlines! I just don't understand it.


Anonymous OmegaMom said...

That's pretty dreadful.

Then you've got the problem like this headline on MSNBC's front page: "How Fannie and Freddie weren't reigned-in". It's spelled correctly. The interesting thing is that lower down the page they've got it correct: "How Fannie and Freddie weren't reined-in".

Sunday, September 14, 2008 3:54:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

And even then, "reined-in" isn't entirely correct, because the hyphen doesn't belong there: that turns it into an adjective, when what's needed is a phrasal verb.

Oh, English is full of traps and tricks! If I had to learn it as a second language, I'd give up.

Sunday, September 14, 2008 9:29:00 PM  

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