Palpably false

This blog excepted, of course, the Internet is a great source of misinformation about language (and everything else). Take the page entitled English language did you knows. It claims that “skiing is the only word with double i.” Nice try, but that leaves out genii and radii; it also omits the tasty mushrooms called shiitake, along with the entomological term reduviid, a name for assassin bugs, which find other insects tasty.

The same website claims that “the longest one-syllable [hyphen mine] word in the English language is ‘screeched,'” but a bit higher on the page we see the statement that “the word ‘Strengths’ is the longest word in the English language with just one vowel.” Notice that strengths, like screeched, also has nine letters that form a single syllable, so at best screeched is tied for the longest one-syllable word.

The English language did you knows page begins with a list of words that supposedly don’t rhyme with anything else. The claim is true for most of the words, including eighth if it’s pronounced eightth, but not if it’s pronounced in a way that rhymes with faith (which is the pronunciation I grew up with); the same sort of thing holds true for breadth, which many English speakers pronounce as if it were breath, which of course ceases after death. And as for the supposedly unrhymable scalp, the unidentified compiler(s) of this list apparently never heard of the lower case alp, a word formed from Alps that now designates a high mountain in general.

Another English word that rhymes with scalp is palp, which the 1913 Webster’s Dictionary defined as ‘a feeler; especially, one of the jointed sense organs attached to the mouth organs of insects, arachnids, crustaceans, and annelids.’ The word is derived from Latin palpare ‘to stroke, touch softly, pat.’ English once borrowed that as palp, a verb meaning ‘to have a distinct touch or feeling of.’ Though palp as a verb is archaic or obsolete in English, the equivalent Spanish palpar is alive and well. Medical English has the verb palpate, meaning ‘to examine a body by pressing it with your fingers.’ Spanish and English have the adjective palpable, whose meanings include ‘touchable’ and by extension ‘obvious, evident, easily noticed or perceived.’

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jomegat
    Sep 28, 2011 @ 19:13:37

    Good stuff Steve. That’s why I come here. 🙂


  2. Trackback: palpitar « Spanish-English Word Connections
  3. lexiekahn
    Sep 30, 2011 @ 18:00:14

    The most often cited English words without rhymes are the color names “orange,” “purple” and “silver.” I channeled my inner Ogden Nash to come up with these rhymes:
    orange — [with Cockney accent] “door hinge”
    purple — “burp’ll” (A burp’ll make baby feel better.)
    and this near-rhyme:
    silver — “pilfer”


  4. Steve Schwartzman
    Sep 30, 2011 @ 18:12:56

    Isn’t it strange that three of those unrhyming words are for colors? Good of you to Ogden-Nash-ize two of them and almost the third.


  5. smzang
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 15:21:25

    I so very much enjoy your style and the information you provide is interesting and helpful to all, most especially writers.
    I chose this article to reply to because ‘bad information’ is one of my pet peeves in all the world. Back in the dark ages when I was a student, we sat in coffee houses and solved the problems of the world and levied our wisdoms upon it. Though we were sure we had the right answers, everyone present knew that we were gifted with enthusiasm rather than credentials and experience. The big problem with the Internet is that it is one big coffee house; all too often information is shared with such confidence that the innocent often forget to check it for validity. You bring that point home with grace, accuracy and a tinge of humor that makes for an excellent read.

    Thank you!


  6. Steve Schwartzman
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 16:15:54

    And thank you, a writer, for that long and thoughtful response. Naturally I’m pleased that you find style, grace, and a tinge of humor in my writing. As for accuracy, I certainly strive for it (partly due to decades of teaching, and teaching mathematics in particular). I could recount other instances of misinformation on the Internet that I’ve come across, and tell about my successes and failures in getting those mistakes corrected, but I’d have to write longer essays than this one.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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