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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Random Thoughts on Puns, Spelling and Prudery, while walking up the Gloucester Road
As readers of this blog will know, I appreciate a good pun - and a bad one still more so. Hence my suggestion to a visiting Turkish scholar that we meet this morning in the local patisserie, Bristanbul. I worried it might be coals to Newcastle, but being new in the country he was pleased to have a taste of home, I think, and I have returned with a generous present of baklava.

Walking back up the Gloucester Rd., I saw this...


I try not to be a spelling nerd, but it saddens me to find mistakes enshrined in the fronts of shops that haven't even opened yet - and stationary/stationery is basic. Will they correct it, or will they try to brazen it out, like Bristol's machine hire firm, Alide Hire Services, whose lorries always give me a start when I see them? For a while, I thought "alide" must be some kind of technical (chemical?) term, but now I'm almost convinced that it's just a spelling error that stuck. Though it occurs to me that it may be a portmanteau. Was Alide Hire Services named after Alison and Derek, the way Tesco is (or isn't) a shortening of Tessa Cohen?

A little further up, I saw this... I hadn't realized till I checked that Sinbad could be spelled Sindbad - that indeed, it derives from the Sindh river. I suppose the pun lurking in Sindbad might have discouraged the prudish from retaining the "d" - even as it inspired the neatest (if apocryphal) imperialist telegram in history, "Peccavi" - which Napier really ought to have sent on capturing Sindh province in 1844, but which was actually invented by the teenage Catherine Winkworth.

Passing a fuchsia bush, it occurred to me that even in the wacky world of English orthography that flower holds a very special place. It's named of course after a German Mr Fox, and "ought" to be pronounced "Fucks ya". Was it too changed for reasons of prudery - the way the Victorians changed Piddletown to Puddletown? How did they pronounce "fuchsia" in the more unbuttoned seventeenth century?

One of many things I love about the Gloucester Rd. is that, if I keep walking up it for another 30 miles, I will indeed end up in Gloucester. Which gets me to wondering about the non-rhyme between "puddle" and "middle", and what Dr Foster really stepped in.

A corner shop opposite the University of Leeds not only proclaims the availability of 'stationary' within, but also 'tin food'. I can't help but think that would be pretty bad for the teeth. Unless, of course, it is on the analogy of dog food, and is designed to be fed to your pet tin?

Or possibly it's the Yorkshire way of suggesting that the food is the height of fashion - "t'in food"?

Ah, that must be it! You see, I've tried to fit in up here, but obviously I am hopelessly behind the times, and all but deaf to the latest trendy lingo.
Oh, sorry - t'latest trendy lingo.

Slip a note under the door about stationery.

That's a good thought. I suspect it will join about 100 others, this part of Bristol being what it is, but worth it just in case.

If they get 100, you'd think that might prompt them to bestir themselves!

One Sunday morning in spring I walked down the road here, and encountered a store with a little cardboard sign--

'We are closed, have a happy Eastern'



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That page does interest me: I'd not realized that Fuchs hadn't seen a fuchsia.

I'd still like to know how it came to be pronounced in so strange a manner. I've had a quick look at a poetry corpus, but no one seems to have used it as a rhyme word before the late nineteenth century. However, as early as 1800 we find it being misspelt "fuschia" by no less a person than Erasmus Darwin - which is perhaps evidence that it was being pronounced in the familiar way from a very early date.

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It was named by a Frenchman after a German using a Latin naming convention invented by a Swede. Hmm...

Edited at 2013-08-23 06:28 pm (UTC)

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I'm glad that our guts are as one on this point. And thank you for all the references - it's fascinating stuff: I particularly like the evidence of the Wakefield nurseryman.

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Thank you again. If only he had released it as a podcast!

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They wondered then, and we wonder still!

"If we go by modern usage, [Erasmus] Darwin habitually mis-spells a number of common words. These unusual spellings are preserved. The most important are:

ach [for ache], affraid, agreable, antient, benifit, cabage, chuse, colum, compleat, desease [for disease], dilirium, fortun, fossiles, hansome, knowlege, least [for lest], loose [for lose], medecine, Parlament, percieve, recieve, sais, sieze, spiritted, tom [for tome], volum, wastecoat, Wedgewood."


As far as I can tell, quite a lot of these were bad spellings in his day as well. We know from Gwen Raverat that there were other poor spellers in the Darwin family -- "A fact about Uncle Horace, which set him in a most amiable light, was that he had the greatest difficulty in learning to spell well enough to pass the Little Go. My grandfather did not spell very well either -- all through the Beagle Journal he spelt broad BROARD, and and yacht YATCH -- a sympathetic weakness."

Heh - I always spell Wedgwood wrongly too. (But then, I wasn't a fellow member of the Lunar Society.) But this is very useful, and suggests that, far from Darwin or his printer simply making a typo, the "fuschia" spelling reflects his pronunciation, as do many of the spellings you've given here.

Tangentially, I love Period Piece! It's what I aspire to with my family history entries.

Edited at 2013-08-24 07:49 am (UTC)

Well, but Fuchs in German isn't all that close to Fucks -- "fookhs" is more like it. So at least in received pronunciation I don't THINK it would sound all that rude (though of course as an American I speak under correction in these matters). Even in German, the -chs combination often gets slurred into something sounding almost like -sh to an Anglo ear. So fookhs-ya to foosh-a to few-sha is not a surprising progression.

Well, but Fuchs in German isn't all that close to Fucks

You're right about RP, but there were and are many who pronounce the 'u' in what we might call an oo-like way. Pretty much anywhere north of a line drawn from the Severn to the Wash it's the usual pronunciation: that's a lot of people who would hear 'Fuchs' most naturally as 'Fucks'. Still, I can see that there might be an assimilation to 'foosha' over time. I just wonder whether it was hastened by the horrible homophone.

Maybe they mean to let you know that their gift cards don't move.

Sorry to be commenting from the future, but I can't stop reading your lj.

I'm happy to get comments from anywhere in the time-space continuum!

I can report that since I made this post I've noticed the 'a' of stationary hanging off in a sad dog-ear, as if it had been attacked by a roving gang of spelling hooligans. It has now been replaced with an 'e', and peace is restored to the Gloucester Rd.