Giving Airy Nothings a Local Spelling and a Name

A reader tells me that he frequently hears fellow golfers refers to the greens having been “airiated.” He’s not sure how they would spell the word, but he does hear five distinct syllables instead of the proper four syllables of “aerated.”

He would like to know whether others encounter this mispronunciation.

The Latin root “aer-” could theoretically confuse American speakers since “air-” is so much more common; but in fact few people misspell “aerial,” “aerosol,” “aerobic,” “aerie,” or “aerospace.”

So why the extra syllable in “airiated”? I suspect they’re being influenced by another word likely to be uttered on a golf course: “irrigated.” Aeration allows the irrigation to reach the roots of grass.

There is one case in which “aer-” is definitely dying out: British “aeroplane” has been largely deflated to American “airplane,” even in the UK.

When I was using Google to look for various misspellings like “airate” Google gave me Maman, j’ai raté l’avion” (“Mom, I missed the airplane”), the clumsy French title given the movie Home Alone. Funny.


Me and My Big Mouth

A correspondent recently suggested that many readers of my entry on base/bass (p. 27) would need to have the reference to Big Mouth Billy Bass explained.

I enjoy writing jokey references like this and leaving it up to my readers to Google them if they want more information, but I'm careful not to let them obscure the point of the entry.

You can read all about Billy on Wikipedia.

Or see and hear Billy on YouTube. 


A decade of too much fun, but not to worry—we'll be taking a break soon enough

With 2015 looming I realize we're entering the tenth year of the Common Errors in English Usage calendar—a spinoff of the Common Errors in English Usage book, which itself was a spinoff of the Common Errors in English Web site. Ten years is a nice long run, isn't it? I say we take a break after this.

But since I've had time to plan this out, I'm going to do something a little different for 2015. For the next year, every day will rerun a captioned illustration to go with the entry. These will be culled from the first nine years of the calendar.

You can thank (or blame) Barnes & Noble for the great number of cartoons I have to draw upon. If you remember the years that the calendar was available in print, you will also remember that in those years (2006–2010), there were several pages that featured cartoons. There was a very good reason for the high volume: Barnes & Noble agreed to carry the calendar in their stores if there were 100 illustrated pages each year. That motivated me to churn out as many of these as I could possibly dream up.

You'll see in the coming year what a stretch that could be for some of the entries. I have a memory of receiving an e-mail from a disappointed calendar buyer who felt the need to write because she found one of these cartoons so lacking. She objected, but I have to say that the cartoon she found so bad was actually pretty good compared to some of the others, in my estimation.

Oh well, you can't please everyone. I'll bet even some of you will be displeased to know there will be no 2016 edition. If that's you, please keep an eye out for new developments. No, the calendar won't be operating in 2016, but there will be something new in the works. Watch this space for more details.

Read more about the ten years of the calendar in these entries:
"Peter Workman: A giant, engaged"
"A wrongly presented common error"
"Is there a 2011 Common Errors in English Usage Calendar?"
"Common Errors in American Holidays"


Sleeping Rough in a Trough

This Christmas season I’ve noticed a few folks mixing up the stable in which Luke claims Jesus was born with the manger he is said to have been laid in.

A manger is an animal feed trough. The word comes from the French word for “eat.” It is not a sort of building. A manger can also take the form of a V-shaped feeder called a crib. The role such a manger plays in the Christmas story probably influenced the use of “crib” to designate a child’s bed.

A stable is the building animals and occasional humans are sheltered in; the manger is a feature of the stable. 

Matthew says nothing of all this, of course.

For a good discussion of the two birth stories, see this page at errancy.org.


Skewed Comic Strip

I’m a big fan of newspaper comic strips and collect reprint volumes of classic ones from the 20s, 30s and 40s. Some of these old strips are still alive, most of them now far less interesting than their classic versions.

One of the exceptions is Prince Valiant, which has stayed true to the original vision of Hal Foster long after his death in 1982, despite having been shrunk drastically in size from the full-page original.

But Frank King’s original Gasoline Alley was much more interesting and thoughtful than the contemporary version. However, lately it’s been livening up the story by creating bit parts for characters from the distant past. One Sunday strip featured appearances by or allusions to Little Orphan Annie (also featured recently in Dick Tracy), Li’l AbnerLum and Abner, and—oldest of all—The Yellow Kid.

Jim Scancarelli'’s Gasoline Alley has introduced a truly obscure character: the obnoxious store clerk originally played by Frank Nelson who I remember vividly from his many appearances on Jack Benny’s show. He’s not nearly as obnoxious here as in his heyday.

The storyline involves an attempt to return a phone charger to a department store, and Walt asks him to look up the item by its “skew number.”

The correct term is of course “SKU number.” The abbreviation stands for “stock keeping unit.”

Since this is an expression more often printed than spoken, it’s not surprising that relatively few people use the wrong spelling, but it’s not hard to find examples on the Web.

Web example: “Just ordered an iphone4s on ATT and looked at the skew number or order number off iPhone is the same as the unlocked iPhone 4s apple sends out.”

Twitter example: “ How dont u know the skew number for the Louis Vuitton satchel i want for xmas.”

There are legitimate uses for “skew number”—most of them highly technical—involving skewing of one kind or another, but it’s a mistake to use this spelling for a store inventory number.

So why does Walt use the wrong spelling in the strip? Is it supposed to be a joke about his ignorance? But he’s speaking, and the two versions sound identical. Or is it Scancarelli who’s confused? The fact that so far no joke has been made about the mistake makes me suspect the latter.

To experience the original Gasoline Alley, check out these books:

Walt and Skeezix: Book One, 1921 & 1922 


Low How Arose Air Bloomer

I just ran across the remarkable bloomer “lone be hold” and decided to check to see whether this misspelling of “lo and behold” had made it into the Eggcorn Database. Evidently it wasn’t judged a proper eggcorn since it isn’t listed. To qualify, a nonstandard spelling has to make a kind of sense,  like “all goes well” (augurs well) or “cease the day” (“seize the day”), both of which are discussed in Common Errors in English Usage.

However, the affiliated Eggcorn Forum contains an abundance of goofs (in antiquated slang,“bloomers”) that haven’t qualified as proper eggcorns, but which are nevertheless interesting.

In the relevant discussion thread the following are discussed: “loan behold,” “lone behold,” and “low and behold.” It turns out the form I encountered is quite rare, but “lone behold” is more common. “Low and behold” is discussed on p. 181 of my book.

Here’s a good discussion of “lo” vs. “low.”

If you need to disentangle the tortured Christmas-related pun in my title, check out this link to YouTube.