or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


God, I really hate snotty people who make corrections without knowing what they're talking about.

No, not me. I generally do make it a point to know what I'm talking about, and I do my research to make sure of it. If I should happen to make a mistake, which does happen, I admit it and correct it and move on.

I was reading a blog and the blogger used the word "insure" to mean "make sure [that something happens]", and some commenter wrote in to say, "Oh, and when you used 'insure', you should have said 'ensure'."

Wrong. Wrong-o. "Insure" and "ensure" are interchangeable in most applications. There are instances in which only the one or the other will do: when you're talking about insurance, then "insure" is the only correct verb (obviously), but otherwise, you can generally use one or the other as you will. "I will ensure that she gets home safely" and "I will insure that he does his duty" are equally correct. There are niceties ("insure" might be used more commonly for financial applications and "ensure" for all others, and I believe the British use "ensure" more often, North Americans "insure"), but in general (and I do not get to say this very often), use whichever pleases you at the moment, and don't listen to ignoramuses.

On the other hand, when an actual error crops up, something avoidable, something professionally published (as opposed to any ordinary blog or a letters or comments section), then something ought to be said, and it probably will, by me. Here's a paragraph from a Salon.com piece about an interview with the Obamas:

Everyone needs to chill about the dog. It's not arriving until the family is ensconsed in the White House, sometime in late winter or early spring.

"Ensconsed"? "Ensconsed"? How did that even make it off the fingers and into the keyboard, let alone into a publication? Oh, wait: it's Salon, home of no editors and precious few spellcheckers.

Mind you, "ensconse" has, predictably, shown up in the English language, way back before spelling was codified, when people spelled as they saw fit. (It would have occurred naturally, since we got it from Old French "esconser".) But that doesn't make it a valid spelling nowadays, any more than "knygth" is for "knight", even though that appeared in English too.

The correct word is "ensconced", and its root is "sconce". No, not the wall bracket for torches or candles: that comes from Latin "abscondere", "to conceal", which is also, self-evidently, the source of "abscond". There's a whole second "sconce" in English, and it's a small military enclosure; this word comes from German "Schanze", a bundle of sticks, which is presumably what the little fort is made out of. Amazingly, Germanic "sconce" doesn't seem related to Latinate "sconce" in any way. Don't you love it when that happens?


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