Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wonderings and Googlings (Wherein I wonder about words, then I Google them)

indispensible: 1,020,000
indispensable: 44,200,000

That's better than I thought ... better than I'd do before my first cup of coffee.

Indispensable looks so wrong — even when I saw it this morning on the New York Times website.

Yes, Webster's New World calls "indispensible" an outright misspelling. But my eye doesn't want to accept it.

And with that, I return to my copy editing work. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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Joel said...

Your transparency is admirable. I've always been a decent speller, but there still several words I consistently get wrong. Ironically--or not--I was in an experimental phonics class when I was first learning to write and spell and such; it just seems like phonics wouldn't be conducive to good spelling. On the other hand, I was raised in a subculture that might be said to overvalue rote memorization, "trivia" (at least, minutiae) and, certainly, rectitude.

But English is so arbitrary and, really, quite the slut of a language--borrowing and bastardizing with little sense of faithfulness, let alone decorum. Improper is more the rule than the exception. I can't think of any of the other rules that is truly reliable. The "i before e" nonsense seems especially sadistic to me.

If there's a rule for "-ible" and "-able" I'm pretty sure I never knew it.

"Occasional" (hey, I got it right that time) is one word that often trips me up. "Necessary" used to. I think they're in cahoots; they seem to contradict each other and I just know they're messing with my head. "License" used to piss me off.

And, alas, we are increasingly dependent on spell check and the availability of instant resources via the 'net. I find myself leaning heavily on FireFox's inline checker (that redlines misspellings even as I type--"mispellings," for instance) and Google's "define:" function.

It's all a scam anyway. Poor spelling gets on my nerves but I almost wish it didn't. And I love informalisms like "kinda" and "gonna" and such. Even IM speak has an appeal. R u 4 real. Y yes i am. They used to bug me. That was before I started text messaging. I still hate to see a "4 Sale" sign. Maybe I'm just bothered by the thought of trafficking in underpriced 4s.

I also admit, for all of my rant against the inconsistencies and lawlessness, I find it all oddly attractive. Is it sexist to say that I think of the language as a beautiful woman, so even her impertinence can kinda turn me on? Uh, yeah, maybe "sexist" doesn't go far enough. "Creepy" perhaps.

June Casagrande said...

My most can't-get-over-it example of cruel English spellings: tough, though, through.

My favorite misspelling: prolly.

My word I was sure I'd never learn to spell correctly: embarrass.

My opinion on your affection for such things: No, it's not sexist. Plus, if it's how you feel, it's how you feel. And, though acting on certain feelings is wrong (lucky break for you, Bill O'Reilly) the feelings themselves never are.

My added thoughts on spelling: Sometimes people ask me to suggest help for the spelling impaired. I'm never quite sure what to say, short of telling them to read more. Seems to me there's something innate about being a "good speller." (Like you, I've always been a very good speller, but not an excellent speller. I still flub ones like "supersede" on the copy editing tests. And it was pretty late in life that I learned "a lot" and "lightning.")

Faldone said...

If there's a rule it is the following:

If the root verb is from a Latin verb of second, third, or fourth conjugation it's -ible, otherwise it's -able.

Since dispense is from the Latin first conjugation verb dispensare the correct spelling is dispensable. This rule is totally useless for quick and dirty spelling if you don't really, really know your Latin. I had to look dispense up in the AHD. I, too, thought indispensable looked wrong and I am (or had been) a fairly good speller.

June Casagrande said...

Wow. I'm impressed. And also relieved that this is another one I get to blame on my schooling. Curse the Florida public schools that don't teach Latin! Plus, it's such a disadvantage if I ever travel to Latinia. (My school wasn't so hot on geography, either. I wonder what Dan Quayle's excuse is?)


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