Issue 135, page 4

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New Ask Us Theory About
Sez You...
From Ian Williams:

Guestmudgeon Sam Bankster asked: "Why in the world is everyone so averse to using the word "me" in the genitive case?".  Surely "Me" is the accusative case.

Yep.  Read on.

From Bruce Yanoshek:

Another excellent issue, of course, and I'm just up to the Curmudgeon's Corner, where I have to let Sam Bankester know that it is the objective case he is objecting to, not the genitive. For mistakes in the genitive case, those same people talk about "My wife and I's two children." 

From Carol:

Sam actually means that 'me' should be used as the accusative alternative to the incorrectly used 'I' in expressions such as 'Tom threw a party for Helen and me', not the genitive which denotes possession.

Gosh, we love our readers, they're so smart!

Yes, it should have read "accusative case".

From Richard Timberlake:

[Re last week's newsletter:] My dad used the expression ginger peachy keen long before 1960. I'm sure I heard him say this in the 1950s; the way he said it made me think he probably used it when he was growing up in the 1920s & 1930s. I'll send him an email and ask him.

Please do.  Let us know what he says!

From Chandra McCann:

I'm curious to know, then, what the relationship is between "marsh-mallow" the flower, and that tooth-decaying candy you so accurately and delightfully described. I find it especially interesting that the French word mauve technically means "colour of the mallow flower", because the French word for "marshmallow" (the candy) is guimauve. As far as I know, most marshmallows of the campfire variety are white, not mauve.

This is where understanding the relationship between the candy and the plant comes in handy.  Marshmallow candy was originally made with root juice of the marsh mallow, sugar and egg whites.  It was thought to be a cure for dysentery and cough.  However, even when it was found not to have any medicinal properties, it continued to be popular as a sweet.  (Like treacle).

Today gelatin replaces the marsh mallow root in the candy.  So you see, the name of the candy has nothing to do with the color of the flower and everything to do with the plant itself. 

From Bruce Yanoshek:

I am still reading this week's issue, but I had to stop to question your certainty about the prefixes tera-, zetta- and yotta-. I have read different sources for them, which sound much more likely than your septa- and octo- explanation. My sources suggest that tera- is from the Greek for "monster", and the "coincidence" of its similarity to tetra- is what led to peta- and exa-. Both explanations seem quite possible, so I am just offering the alternative.

Then, what seems more likely than the explanation you gave, they started with the Latin alphabet, from the end, and similar letters in Greek, getting zetta- (from z/zed and zeta) and yotta- (from y and iota, although that one seems fishy to me, since Y is more closely related to upsilon than to iota). Although I am unhappy about the iota in the explanation, I think zetta- from septa- and yotta- from octo- seems like much more of a stretch, since the alterations in spelling were much smaller in the other prefixes.

Very interesting.  You know, they all sound just a little wacky, don't they?  Etymologists just don't seem to agree on these.  We have sent an inquiry directly to the CIPM and we'll see what they have to say.

From Alec Frank:

Regarding my inability to discern readily the difference between an italic "o" and an italic "a" on TOWFI --

Attached is the screen shot that you suggested, illustrating exactly what I see. Because the italic "o" is so square on its right side, when reading at a normal speed I believe that I confuse the upper right corner of the "o" for the point of an italic "a" and further imagine the lower right corner of the "o" to be the tail of an italic "a." An "o" shouldn't have corners at all, should it? :)

The screen shot is from the PC (Win2000) version of Netscape Communicator 4.76 displaying at a resolution of 1280x1024. The font looks exactly the same when I use Internet Explorer 5.5 under the same conditions.

We took the above image from your screen shot.  It is a perfect example of what we explained last week: the larger, thicker font (in which "Fricative" and "Hobson-Jobson" are shown) is the font that almost the entire site is published in.  The smaller font (in which "(noun & adj.)" appears) is used on only a few pages in the interest of space, such as the glossary page (which is the page that your screen shot comes from) and the bibliography page.  If you, readers, see the entire site in that smaller font (as Glen Galbraith does, see his letter and screen shot below), something's amiss. 

We certainly don't disagree that the smaller font is difficult to read, and we completely understand the difficulty with the italicized a and o in the small version of the font.  The real issue as we see it, however, is that the weekly sections of the site are not intended to be displayed in the smaller font.  See below.

From Glen Galbraith:

Like Aleck Frank (this week's Sez You), I also have difficulty distinguishing an italicized "a" from an italicized "o". Sometimes context solves the problem (I know that Jahn, Poul, Gearge and Ringa did not sing Lucy in the Sky with Diomands). But context rarely (I dare say, never) helps me with Sanskrit or Indo-European root words. As a work-around, for the last few weeks I have just downloaded all 5 pages first thing and then read them in Microsoft Word (which makes the print much bigger and thicker, and for some reason does not display the linen-textured background). If you can't easily fix this--no big deal (I will just keep downloading the pages).

Attached for your reference is a screen shot in JPEG format.

Thanks, Greg.  Your screen shot is from last week's issue, which, under normal circumstances, appears in the thicker font shown in Alec's screen shot above.  If you are seeing the site in the smaller font that your screen shot shows, something is wrong.  We're not sure exactly what, however.  As we mentioned last week, Melanie occasionally sees the site in that smaller font, but it appears to be a memory issue or at least some problem that is repaired by rebooting her PC (this is true at work AND at home -- two different PCs).

From David Greenstein:

I have come across the word commercial spelled "commerical" more times than I can remember.

From Jane Irish Nelson:

The one seemingly simple word that I have always had trouble spelling correctly is: occasion (or any words formed from it, such as occasionally); I always want to add another i before the s.

From Fran:


I have had to look up the spelling every time I've used these words for the past 60 years. 

From Collette:


Did I get it right?

From Richard Aaron:

I nominate diarrhea, and its variant spelling, diarrhoea, to be in the running (pun intended) for the top ten most difficult English words to spell correctly.

From Alec Frank:

My vote (of the moment) is for the word mnemonic.  The hard part, of course, is its first letter. And if you don't know the first letter of a word, you'll have a devil of a time finding its spelling in the dictionary. I remember canvassing all the other silent-before-n letters I could think of (k, p, g) before trying "m" on a whim.

All excellent additions to the "toughest English words to spell".  If you remember, this whole discussion started with our mention of fuchsia and desiccate.  Another reader added rescission last week.

If you like mn- words, try looking up some tm- words, like tmesis, sometime. 

From Don Veirs:

Your website is a hoot, keep up the good work, it IS necessary.  I was always told to just drop the first "subject" and see if the second one fits. For example: "Pete gave the lessons to Mike and I", just drop out "Mike and" and see if the "I" can stand on its own. Most of us would realize that "Pete gave the lessons to I" wouldn't work.

Yep, we used to use that little trick, too.  It's a good 'un.  Thanks, Don!


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Last Updated 10/14/01 01:02 PM