or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Here's a paragraph from a Boingboing story about the 1962 World's Fair theme song:

The other problem with the song is the recording. By 1962 standards, this is dreadful. It sounds like the band was encased in an oildrum and miced from the outside. Audiophiles should note that this recording will likely reverse the magnetic fields in your Harmen-Kardon speakers.

Got that? "Miced".

Now, I know that the word "microphone" is often abbreviated to "mic". I think this is a very stupid spelling of the abbreviation, which is pronounced, and obviously ought to be spelled, "mike": mike-row-phone. I mean, "microgram" is sometimes abbreviated to "mike", particularly when it's referring to LSD, and if we can do it to "microgram", why ever not "microphone"? "Mic", according to the rules of English, looks as if it ought to be pronounced "mick". "Open mic night" versus "open mike night"; which makes more sense?

And when you spell the abbreviation of "microphone" as "mic", and then you turn it into a verb, you end up with "miced", which looks as if the "-c-" ought to be soft, and then you get a word that seems as if it ought to rhyme with "diced", confusing everyone (because what do mice have to do with the recording?), whereas "mike" if neatly verbified into "miked", which pretty much pronounces itself. There isn't any way to make "mic" into a verb and then form the preterite without making a giant hash of the thing.

English lets us change the spelling of things if the existing spelling is going to baffle and annoy the reader. It encourages us to do this, in fact, by giving us a big palette of phonemes and judiciously looking the other way when we employ it. Just look at "refrigerator". I've seen, from fifties writing, the abbreviation "frig", which is obviously disastrous: though etymologically impeccable, it lends itself to being pronounced incorrectly, on top of which the word already exists (and has a meaning unrelated to refrigerators). How do we invariably spell the abbreviation? "Fridge". We get to tuck in a couple of letters that don't belong there, in the service of making the word pronounceable in a logical, obvious way. That's what should have been done with "microphone" from the get-go, and it's what we should do now. It's not too late.

(Oh, and the writer was so busy making a joke that he also spelled "Harman-Kardon" incorrectly, but we'll let that pass.)


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