Monday, September 09, 2019

Often?






Laura from Kewadin was curious about the word often. Specifically, she wanted to know why most people don’t pronounce the letter –t–, making the word sound like 'off-en.

This is the sort of question that can lead to fisticuffs, as a quick search on the internet will reveal. Those who pronounce the letter –t– accuse the other side of illiteracy, and the –t– suppressors turn around and do the same.

Your favored pronunciation may depend on the style you encounter in your family, your circle of friends, or your geographical region. Letters that appear in print are not always sounded when speaking. Sometimes this is the product of history and evolution. In Middle English, for instance – the time of Geoffrey Chaucer – the word knight was pronounced as kuh-‘nickt. The spelling would have changed as the pronunciation changed, but the spelling was frozen in time when the printing press was invented.

But the most common reason why certain letters are not pronounced is because letters in proximity sometimes require awkward or rapid shifting in mouth formation. In words such as often, soften, moisten, listen, hasten castle, epistle, and nestle, the awkwardness is avoided by suppressing the –t– sound. It is not laziness or illiteracy; it is convenience and comfort.

Take the word often. When you get to the letter –f–, your lower lip is touching your upper teeth as you expel breath, and your tongue is resting at the bottom of your mouth, perhaps just barely touching the lower teeth. To then pronounce the letter –t–, you’d have to move your lips away from the teeth, simultaneously snapping your tongue upward to touch the back of the upper teeth. I know that it sounds like no big deal, but informal speakers tend to value fluidity over rigid meticulousness.

On the other hand, most speakers do pronounce the letter –t– in words such as
after, lastly, justly, mostly, shiftless, and boastful because no oral contortion is involved in moving from letter to letter.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find some podcasts there under TheRon Jolly Show.




Monday, August 19, 2019

Port & Starboard


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A listener asked how 'port' and 'starboard' came into nautical use instead of just saying left and right.

At one point in naval history, the steering apparatus was on the right side of the boat. When the steersman docked the vessel, he had to maneuver the left side toward the pier. If he used the right side, he would have damaged the rudder by jamming it against the pier. So the left side was used to load and unload cargo in port. It was the port side.

Starboard had nothing to do with stars; it didn’t refer to celestial navigation. Star was an early variation of steer. The right side was the steering side because that’s where the rudder was located in early Germanic boats. It was connected to the steer board.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find some podcasts there under TheRon Jolly Show.





Monday, July 01, 2019

Infectious and Contagious






Terry from Suttons Bay wrote “I have seen measles described as infectious in one magazine article and contagious in another. Are the words identical?”

There are slight but real differences between the two words. Contagious comes from a Latin root that means touch, so a contagious disease implies contact with a patient. An infectious disease spreads via a micro-organism, so direct contact is not necessary. If the environment is contaminated, the infection can spread.
        
For example, allergies and botulism are infectious, but not contagious. You can’t get them by touching another person. But measles, on the other hand, is contagious. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, most of the people who come in contact with the patient will get the disease unless they are immune.

Measles is also infectious. It can be present in the environment after the patient has left the room. If the infected person coughed or sneezed, the measles virus can survive in the air or on surfaces for up to two hours.

So wash your hands!


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find some podcasts there under TheRon Jolly Show.



Friday, May 10, 2019

Align



Ginger from Acme, Michigan asked if the word align is related to the word line. Indeed it is. Align came from a Middle French term that meant to arrange two or more items in or along a line.

Bizarrely, its earliest meaning in English (15th century) referred to a male animal copulating with a female animal. Proper aim is everything in love and war.

In the 18th century, it was commonly used as a military term, as in cavalry formation or aiming a gun properly at a target. It slipped casually into civilian use to designate anything lined up with geometric precision.


By the 19th century, it took on the added meaning of associating oneself with a cause, a movement, or a group. For a brief time, a variation was alignation, but it is now labeled as rare. And in our day, given breeding potholes, wheel alignment is a concern for auto owners.




Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find some podcasts there under TheRon Jolly Show.




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