Still palpably false

(This is an update of a post from 2011.)

As good as the Internet is for some things, it’s also a great source of misinformation about language (and whatever else you’d care to name). Take the page entitled English language did you knows. When I first came across the page in 2011, it claimed that “skiing is the only word with double i.” Nice try, but that left out genii and radii; it also omitted the tasty mushrooms called shiitake, along with the entomological term reduviid, a name for assassin bugs, which find other insects tasty. The false claim about skiing has since been removed from that site.

The same website still mistakenly 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 would be tied for the longest one-syllable word. There are other nine-letter monosyllables as well.

The English language did you knows page used to begin with a list of words that supposedly don’t rhyme with anything else. One supposedly unrhymable word was scalp, so 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.’

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim Ruebush
    Feb 29, 2016 @ 09:18:29

    It’s hard to believe there are wrong things on the internet. 🙂

    I refer you to Randall Munroe.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 29, 2016 @ 09:38:15

      Thanks for the introduction to Randall Munroe.

      What never ceases to frustrate me is that even after mistakes get pointed out, the purveyors of the mistakes often don’t care enough to fix them.


  2. shoreacres
    Mar 02, 2016 @ 08:51:20

    I’ve never heard of that site, but when I visited just now, I learned that (according to their report) “bookkeeper” and “bookkeeping” are the only two words in English with three consecutive double letters. Given my rocky relationship with doubled consonants, you can understand how that bit of news could give me heart palpitations.

    What really grates is the name of the site, which leaves me palpably irritated. “Did you knows” reminds me of Mr. Bill, from Saturday Night Live, and his famous “Oh, no!” expression. It morphed into “Oh, nos!” and seemed ubiquitous for a while.

    On the other hand, it’s just as likely that my irritation is related to the missing question mark, or the verb-as-noun phenomenon. Language changes, of course, but some changes make me want to say, “Oh. No.”


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Mar 02, 2016 @ 09:16:02

      For some reason I remember from childhood that Ripley’s Believe It or Not claimed an even longer string of consecutive double letters in boob-bookkeeper. Unfortunately that isn’t a real term, even if some bookkeepers are boobs.

      The missing question marks on the linked site annoy me as well. So do those verbs used as nouns. That’s a trend I became aware of only recently; I guess I hang around with the wrong people.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Mar 02, 2016 @ 11:41:23

      I should add that some uses of a verb as a noun are a well-established part of the language. For example, we talk about having a say in something.


      • shoreacres
        Mar 03, 2016 @ 07:34:06

        I stumbled across a follow-up article by the same NYTimes writer. Here’s his last paragraph, which adds the same sort of caveat and an interesting point:

        “Nominalizations aren’t intrinsically either good or bad. Yet, used profusely, they strip the humanity out of what we write and say. They can also be furtively political. Their boosters see them as marvels of concision, but one person’s idea of streamlining is another’s idea of a specious and ethically doubtful simplicity.”


        • Steve Schwartzman
          Mar 03, 2016 @ 08:01:14

          Thanks for pointing out the follow-up (you used the verb follow up as an adjective and now I’ve used it as a noun).

          It occurred to me that “a specious and ethically doubtful simplicity” could pass as a definition of politics, or at least of political campaigns.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
%d bloggers like this: