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Grammar Girl? “Dipthong”? Can we revoke her license?

July 3, 2012

picture-3995While browsing on the Web the other day, I came across across a “Grammar Girl” post on “w” being used as a vowel.  This is always a fun topic to me, since words such as “cwm” that entered English through Welsh use “w” as a vowel.

Unfortunately, this particular “Grammar Girl” post (which was guest written by Sal Glynn, who has a biography posted identifying him as an editor at Ten Speed Press”) was full of fundamental errors in linguistics.  Even worse, it was hardly grammatical.  Among the most painful of errors was the repeated misspelling of “diphthong” (with two “h” characters) as “dipthong” (with one “h” – as if was was about to take a dip in a thong).  This misspelling occurred once in a section heading:

What Is a Dipthong?

grammarThe worst thing about spelling “diphthong” as d-i-p-t-h-o-n-g is that when one spells it with only one “h,” it almost always indicates a mispronunciation.  “Diphthong” is pronounced, according to the OED, as /ˈdɪfθɒŋ/ in IPA.  As is usual in American pronunciation, /ɔ/can be substituted for /ɒ/, so /ˈdɪfθɔŋ/ is also an acceptable pronunciation.  But someone who spells the word as “dipthong” is probably mispronouncing it as /ˈdɪpθɔŋ/.  (In you do not read IPA, think [dif-thawng] and [dip-thawng].)

Now all of this is normally forgivable (everyone misspells and mispronounces words from time to time), but this was supposed to be an expert.  How can we tak seriously a “Grammar Girl” post when it (a) is not grammatical; and (b) is not written by a girl?

I wish grammarians were licensed by the state so we could revoke “Grammar Girl’s” license.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    July 4, 2012 12:18 am

    First, he did spell it right most of the time. It was a typo, not that he didn’t know how to spell it. But I want to know how you pronounce ophthalmologist?

  2. July 4, 2012 8:37 am

    Oh dear, Greeky English. And how to say it, how to spell, to type, and correctly? Let’s add the name Sappho to our list.

    Back to φθογγος, I think it’s arguably biblical. If we include the New Testament that includes the Septuagint, we get Psalm 19:5 (as Psalm 18:5 in Romans 10:18) as this:

    Εἰς πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν ἐξῆλθεν ὁ φθόγγος αὐτῶν

    Probably this is a monóphthong but could it also be a diphthong?

    (Not to confuse things too much, but I notice the tag on this post is initially spelled, “diphtong.” Nasty little Theta, Phunny little Phi. Silly how PhThonggos once could be defined clearly and distinctly in the lexicon as “any clear, distinct sound.”)

  3. July 4, 2012 12:28 pm

    Indeed, the tag should be “dipthong” — deliberately misspelled, because this post is about — the misspelled word. Unfortunately, the original tag was a different misspelled word — I blame it on the QWERTY keyboard (when touch typing, the “h” is so much easier to reach than the “t”). The post does not really address diphthongs, except the spelling of the word.

    As to the pronunciation of ophthalmologist, I pronounce it just like it is spelled. There is the question of how optometrists came lose those h’s, but alas, ever since Johnson, spelling has become increasingly standardized in English. Sure, there may be a few disputes over taking the “ue” out of “catalogue” or the “ugh” out of “doughnut,” but more or less, I predict that spelling in 2212 will look a lot like spelling in 2012. I hope they can pronounce “diphthong” by then.

    Regarding φθογγος, my recommendation is to follow Ulysses’s example and have yourself bound to the mast lest the Sirens’ φθόγγῳ ἐπερχόμεναι distract one from one’s task.

  4. Bobb permalink
    August 25, 2012 8:43 am

    “How can we tak seriously a..”

    Coming soon on GrammarGirl.com: HE MISPELLED “TAKE”

    And the internet world keeps on turning.

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