The Grammarphobia Blog

Spell blinding

Q: I blame a lack of reading for all the spelling mistakes I see in the written media. Two recent examples: “free reign” and “course bread crumbs.” And then there is the reverse problem – words misspoken because they are read but never heard. I mispronounced “consortium” until I was corrected, and a dear friend pronounced the “g” in “gnome” until she was clued in. In light of this, how can we help each other with our language lapses – without sounding like boors?

A: Unless you’re the parent or perhaps the spouse of the offender, there’s no polite way to correct somebody’s English. Just keep using good English yourself and hope that it will rub off! I wrote a blog item about this earlier in the year.

As a veteran of newspapers (the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Des Moines Register, etc.), I suspect that there may be more to this misspelling business than a lack of reading.

Friends who are still slogging away in newsrooms tell me that such goofs are often the result of staff cutbacks. All the downsizing that we see in the industry forces reporters and editors to churn out more and check less.

As for pronunciation, you may be surprised at what’s considered proper these days.

“Consortium,” for example, can be pronounced as con-SOR-tee-um or con-SOR-shee-um or con-SOR-shum, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.).

“Gnome” has always been pronounced NOME in English as far as I can tell. But the word for the dwarflike creature comes from a Latin word (gnomus) in which the “g” is pronounced, and the “gnome” that means a pithy statement comes from a Greek word (gnome) with a pronounced “g.”

Interestingly, we pronounce the “g” in some other English words derived from the Greek root: “agnostic,” “diagnosis,” etc.

Isn’t English wonderful?

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