Thursday, November 15, 2007

Anciente rootes

The Informed Reader (B8) scoops the November Texas Monthly. The topic -- English spelling, root words, and the discrepancies between the two -- is tangentially related to another topic of interest to me: dyslexia. According to several studies, English-speaking kids may be more prone to this "word-blindness" than speakers of other, *phonetically regular* languages.

The speller in question (a near-spelling-bee-champion, 13, named Samir) apparently has given up spelling bees in favor of math competitions because (at least in part) English is too phonetically irregular and of complex etymology for him. (BTW -- I competed in math competitions from 7th to 12th grade; they are quite fun!) Samir's sad demise:

In English, the same root can give rise to divergent spellings. Gentile, genteel, and gentle all come from the Latin word gentilis. Also, a single word can suggest multiple roots. In 2006, Samir lost in the seventh round because of just such a word, "eremacausis" ("gradual oxidation of organic matter from exposure to air and moisture"). The word sounds like it should come from the Greek eremos (suggesting solitude) or aero (for air). In fact, it comes from erema meaning "gently" or "gradually," the only word in Webster's to do so. Samir opted for aero and crashed out with a-e-r-o-m-o-c-a-u-s-i-s.

This year he blew his last chance to win a title due to clevis (a U-shaped piece of iron). He panicked over the detail that it was "probably Scandinavian" and opted for c-l-e-v-i-c-e.

2 comments:

WomanHonorThyself said...

ah thats a tough word!..interesting piece!

Hannah J said...

It brings back the memory of when I lost a grade-school spelling bee because the judge mispronounced o-t-o-l-a-r-y-n-g-o-l-o-g-i-s-t (ear, nose, and throat surgeon) as "AUTOlaryngologist." Another word I missed then was 'chiaroscuro' (art term meaning light and darkness).