Thursday, February 25, 2010

Quite Interesting Facts About Words

The BBC broadcasts a television series called Quite Interesting - devoted to the attitudes of "curiosity, discovery and humour."  It is hosted by the wonderful Stephen Fry.  QI also has a regular column in the weekend Telegraph.  In a recent article, some quite interesting facts about words are compiled, including this bit about word frequency:
Of the quarter of a million words in the OED [Oxford English Dictionary], about half are nouns, 25 per cent adjectives, 15 per cent verbs and the last 10 per cent are prepositions, conjunctions, suffixes etcetera. It is this last category that yields most of the top 10 most frequently used English words, according to a 2006 survey carried out by the Oxford English Corpus. They are: the, be, to, of, and, a, in, that, have and I. The 10 most popular nouns were: time, person, year, way, day, thing, man, world, life and hand. The 10 most popular verbs were: be, have, do, eat, sleep, drink, put, keep, run and walk. The 10 most popular adjectives: good, first, new, last, long, great, little, own, other and old.
I am kind of surprised about hand and run and walk.  Considering the source is the Oxford English Corpus -- which comes from literary textual sources, not the spoken word -- I suppose it does make sense.

P.S.  While I am loathe to cite a Wikipedia article about anything, there is an interesting entry for Stephen Fry (at least as of  25 February 2010 at 10:04 p.m. EST).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Word of the moment

The word of the moment is salmagundi
Pronunciation: sal-mə-ˈgən-dē
1. a salad plate of chopped meats, anchovies, eggs, and vegetables arranged in rows for contrast and dressed with a salad dressing
2. a heterogeneous mixture. potpourri 
Sounds vaguely Anglo-Indian , doesn't it?  But it's not; it is French in origin (salmigondis).  Speaking of Anglo-Indian, that reminds me of one of my favorite dictionary titles:

Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive, by Sir Henry Yule.  It was published in 1903 (and is quite politically incorrect).  As it is out of copyright, there are free versions, both full-text and as a searchable database.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

One month until the next DSB!

The second Durham Spelling Bee will be held on Saturday, March 13, 2010. Sign-in at 6:00 p.m. Spelling starts at 6:30 p.m. 

As usual the Bee will be at everyone's favorite coffee house, Joe Van Gogh, 1104B Broad Street.  Get yourself some beans!

And remember: there will be prizes!

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tattoo spelling mistakes

Enjoy this gallery of the Worst Spelling Mistakes Made in Tattoos.

Thanks to Jen Dziura for the pointer.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Word of the moment

The word of the moment is crapulous.

Pronunciation: KRA-pyə-ləs
Etymology: Late Latin crapulosus, from Latin crapula intoxication, from Greek kraipalē
Date: 1536

1 : marked by intemperance especially in eating or drinking
2 : sick from excessive indulgence in liquor

Example: "Rush Limbaugh is known for being a crapulous debauchee."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Commonly misspelled words

accommodate, minuscule, occasionally, millennium...

There are lots of these kinds of lists out there. Here is one from

100 Most Often Mispelled Misspelled Words in English

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Winning words at the National Spelling Bee

Here are the winning words in each of the years from 1925 to 2009 at the National Spelling Bee.  Don't be intimidated; we start out with much easier and happier words at the Durham Spelling Bee.

1925 gladiolus
1926 abrogate
1927 luxuriance
1928 albumen
1929 asceticism
1930 fracas
1931 foulard
1932 knack
1933 propitiatory
1934 deteriorating
1935 intelligible
1936 interning
1937 promiscuous
1938 sanitarium
1939 canonical
1940 therapy
1941 initials
1942 sacrilegious
1943 NO BEE
1944 NO BEE
1945 NO BEE
1946 semaphore
1947 chlorophyll
1948 psychiatry
1949 dulcimer
1950 haruspex
1951 insouciant
1952 vignette
1953 soubrette
1954 transept
1955 custaceology
1956 condominium
1957 schappe
1958 syllepsis
1959 cacolet
1960 troche
1961 smaragdine
1962 esquamulose
1963 equipage
1964 sycophant
1965 eczema
1966 ratoon
1967 chihuahua
1968 abalone
1969 interlocutory
1970 croissant
1971 shalloon
1972 macerate
1973 vouchsafe
1974 hydrophyte
1975 incisor
1976 narcolepsy
1977 cambist
1978 deification
1979 maculature
1980 elucubrate
1981 sarcophagus
1982 psoriasis
1983 Purim
1984 luge
1985 milieu
1986 odontalgia
1987 staphylococci
1988 elegiacal
1989 spoliator
1990 fibranne
1991 antipyretic
1992 lyceum
1993 kamikaze
1994 antediluvian
1995 xanthosis
1996 vivisepulture
1997 euonym
1998 chiaroscurist
1999 logorrhea
2000 démarche
2001 succedaneum
2002 prospicience
2003 pococurante
2004 autochthonous
2005 appoggiatura
2006 ursprache
2007 serrefine
2008 guerdon
2009 Laodicean

Monday, February 1, 2010

Spelling Bee Brouhaha

There's nothing worse than a sore loser... except maybe a litigious sore-loser Dad.

In a recent local Los Altos School Spelling Bee in California, a mistake was rightfully settled, declaring that two spellers should go on to the regional spelling bee.  This is all good.  Then, when a third boy's sore-loser dad decided he didn't like the outcome of the regional bee, he filed a $2-million lawsuit against the local sponsor.  Fortunately, the court told the dad to get over it.  You can read the brief story here:

SerVaas, Joan. Spelling Bee Brouhaha. Saturday Evening Post, Jan/Feb2010, Vol. 282 Issue 1, p61
Blog Directory So You Think You Can Spell? BlogTogether Wordnik blog Joe Van Gogh