Thursday, 1 December 2011

A word miscellany

I usually enter the title of the post first and then try to keep to the point. OK, I know I sometimes - even frequently - drift off but I do try to get back again. Usually. Oh heck! I'm doing it again!

So I had thought to use the word "wordplay" as the subject of today's ramblings. I was just about to type it in the title space - indeed, I had got as far as "Wor" - when I had second thoughts. Now I'm beginning to wonder if I was right in the first place as what I think I'm going to write is a miscellany of thoughts about words. There are a couple of things that prompted these thoughts. And there's another thought just popped into my head. I typed "there are a couple". That sounds correct, but as "couple" is singular (even though it refers to more than one!) should I have typed "there is a couple"?

I told you this would be a miscellany, so don't expect anything like a smooth transition from one thought (paragraph) to another. The only thing that links any of this is that it is all about words. Or most of it is about words.

One of my pet irritations is people who should know better, such as television news reporters, using the word "less" when they mean "fewer".

Damn! The word I want has gone right out of my head! I'm sure it starts with a "p" - "para"-something or some such. It means a word that is spelt the same backwards as forwards, like "refer" or "tenet". They have long amused me (little things etc) but my favourite has always been the one some wag attributed to Napoleon: able was I ere I saw Elba.

Plurals provide us with some confusing oddities. Given that the general rule is to add an "s" to the singular, except when the singular ends in "y" when the "y" is knocked off and "ies" is added, why is the plural of sheep, sheep? And why does (do) fish sometimes becomes fishes and other times stay as fish? If the plural of house is houses, why are more than one mouse, mice? And the bird grouse stays as grouse when there are several, but when it mean a complaint, it becomes grouses. It's all just too confusing to explain in anything like a logical or reasoned way.

Talking of confusion,

"Palindrome". That's the word!

Back to confusion. I especially like those mnemonics we use to remind us of things. You know - "Richard of York gave battle in vain" for the colours of the rainbow. I tend to make them up myself to remember car numbers, and in that case, the whackier the better. For example, Climbing Mountains, 54 foolish men tumbled equates to CM54 FTM. That's not the number of a car I or anyone I know has ever owned but just something I made up as an example. It may exist - it's in the correct form - or it may not. Another I remember from way back is cows much straw: many cows abstain. This is a reminder of how to deal with magnetic variation when dealing with compass bearings and maps. When transferring a bearing from Compass to Map, Subtract the variation. From Map to Compass, Add the variation.

Now I suppose I had better try to think of a title.


Uncle Skip, said...

The only mnemonic that comes to mind for me is one I learned about the color code for resistors when I was in tech school in the Navy. I'm fairly certain I couldn't apply it any longer and I won't repeat it here because your blog is family friendly

Buck said...

Heh. Skip and I are of the same mind! But the USAF Basic Electronics School bowdlerized the mnemonic to "Biloxi Beer Rots Our Young Guts But Vodka Goes Well." (The school was at Keesler AFB, located in Biloxi, MS)

Like Skip, I'll not post the original.

Suldog said...

I know what you mean about "there are a couple", as I always have the same feeling when writing something such as "If I were a dog, I would do so-and-so", because I always feel as though it should be "If I was a dog...", but Word tends to correct me more often than not, for whatever that's worth.

The Broad said...

I just have to but in and say to Suldog, that 'were' is 'were' because the verb is in the subjunctive!

The word 'couple' is a funny one because if we say 'There are a couple of of things' it feels correct -- however, in speaking we would probably say, 'There's a couple of things'!