Words & Stuff

EE: And So On (Reader Comments and Addenda)

(20 April 1999)

Mea culpa. There were several goofs, misstatements, omissions, and errors in this week's column...

I forgot to mention a point associated with the mispronunciation "eck cetera" (or sometimes "ect cetera"): people often misspell the abbreviation as "ect." I don't know which (the mispronunciation or the misspelling) is cause and which is effect, but I suspect that at least the misspelling would go away if people understood that "et" means "and."

Thanks to Pierre for pointing out that I blew it on "hapax legomenon" -- that's Greek, not Latin. Oops; sorry. In atonement, I'll mention some other Latin abbreviations that are so common we tend to forget they're Latin (thanks to Jim for inadvertently pointing these out):

The Muppet Show song title was actually spelled "Mahna Mahna," at least on the Muppet Show Cast Album. Thanks to Melissa Shaner for bringing up the issue and Danny Fahs for the confirmed correction. Just to be clear, no matter how it's spelled, it's pronounced /m@ ,nA m@ 'nA/, not /,mA n@ 'mA n@/.

Stacey points out that "ex tempore" is the root of the English word "extemporaneous," so the term is already more or less in wide use. Also, turns out that "extempore" is a bona fide English word, first used in 1553.

Dominus complains that my translations are inaccurate; the problem is really that I failed to make clear that the English versions I gave of Latin phrases were not meant to be literal translations. (I don't have a Latin dictionary, more's the pity, and my available reference material is singularly (or perhaps plurarly) unhelpful regarding literal renderings of some of these items.) I shouldn't have put them in quotation marks; I can see that that looks like I meant them to be literal translations. So, Dominus is right that "et cetera" is not Latin for "and so on"; but it's used in English to mean "and so on," which is what I was trying to say. (Dominus says et cetera literally means "and the rest," and opere citato literally means "work cited." Thanks!)

He also mentions someone who pronounced /usr as "ooser" (/'u sR/, I assume) to avoid confusion with "user" (/'ju zR/).

He reminds me that Willard Espy said "viz" was the only three-letter word that has four syllables. That comment of Espy's was my first exposure to the idea that the abbreviation wasn't pronounced /vIz/, and was one of the things I had in mind when I started writing this week's column; I ended up not mentioning Espy's statement because, as Dominus adds, "etc" also has four syllables. Perhaps Espy felt for some reason that "viz" was a word, while "etc" was but a lowly abbreviation?

Stewart Evans writes that SCO, a software company, used to sell a DOS emulator called VP/ix, pronounced /'vi pIks/ by SCO employees. A customer, however, once called to ask about the availability of "up 9."

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Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>