Thursday, May 18, 2006


Miss Spelling for the Millions

The internet is changing the English language, at least the spelling of it. You would think that with the ubiquity of spell-checkers, spelling would actually become more consistent. But alas, there are people like me who do not use them.

The folks who maintain the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language (OED) do so with the help of the Oxford English Corpus, "a collection of texts of written (or spoken) language." They make the claim that—

The Oxford English Corpus gives us the fullest, most accurate picture of the language today. It represents all types of English, from literary novels and specialist journals to everyday newspapers and magazines and from Hansard to the language of chatrooms, emails, and weblogs. And, as English is a global language, used by an estimated one third of the world's population, the Oxford English Corpus contains language from all parts of the world - not only from the UK and the United States but also from Australia, the Caribbean, Canada, India, Singapore, and South Africa. It is the largest English corpus of its type: the most representative slice of the English language available.

And they're celebrating their billionth entry.

According to Patrick Barkham,

Ancient English cliches and expressions are being mangled by the culture of cut and paste and the spread of unchecked writing on the internet....

[D]ozens of traditional phrases are now more commonly misspelled than rendered correctly in written English.

Here are some they've identified—

Standard Common
strait-laced straight-laced
just deserts just desserts
fount of wisdom font of wisdom
free rein free reign
sleight of hand slight of hand
fazed by phased by
buck naked butt naked
vocal cords vocal chords
shoo-in shoe-in

The lexicographers also note that only men "hijack, crouch, kidnap, rob, grin, shoot, dig, stagger, leap, invent or brandish." But women "consent, faint, sob, cohabit, undress, clutch, scorn or gossip." Simply appalling, really.

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