Sunday, May 06, 2007


Speaking of A Word a Day (as I was below), it's worth mentioning that the newsletter usually focuses on a week-long theme to which the daily words relate. Last week, the theme was words about words, and here's a swell one that I had never come across before: haplography.

haplography (hap-LOG-ruh-fee) noun

Accidental omission of a letter or letter group that should
be repeated in writing, for example, "mispell" for "misspell".

[From Greek haplo- (single) + -graphy (writing).]

The description, by AWAD proprietor Anu Garg, says this:

Search the Web for 'Missippi' and you'd find thousands of hits showing pages where the authors clearly meant Mississippi. With the advent of modern computers and spell-checkers you'd think this illustration of haplography would not occur so often.

If you feel this is bad, imagine the time before the printing press came along, when the only way to make copies of a book was with a quill and parchment. There were no photocopying machines to crank out double-sided copies.

Biblical translations and copies of other books from olden times are replete with haplography and its cousins. Many scholars spend their lifetime identifying these 'bugs' in ancient books and other scripts.

A counterpart of haplography is haplology. Haplology occurs when one 'eats' a few letters while pronouncing a word. Latin nutrix (nurse) came from an earlier word, nutritrix. Chancery, a contraction of chancellery, is now an acceptable part of the English language. Perhaps some day 'probly' will be considered standard and 'probably' obsolete!

If there are some words that economize on letters, there are others which splurge. The word for this phenomenon is called dittography.

Okay, make that two words I had never heard before, since dittography was a new one on me, too.

I shared haplography with the students in the Writing for Magazines class I have been teaching this almost-ended semester at Augustana College. They were not too impressed, nor did I observe any of them jotting down the URL for A Word a Day. Oh well...all I can do is lead 'em to the water.

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