LawProse Lesson #299: Still more anomalies of spelling.
As we’ve seen over the last two LawProse lessons, English orthography is riddled with anomalous exceptions to what seem, by analogy, to be norms. A great example is idiosyncrasy, the only English word ending –crasy (as befits the sense of the term). All the words having to do with governmental forms (aristocracy, democracy, ochlocracy, plutocracy, etc.) have a different word root at the end. So remembering quirky things like how to spell idiosyncrasy—there are hundreds of similar examples—takes up cognitive energy. It takes conscious effort. Here’s our third installment in this series of four. Thank you to all the readers who continue submitting examples. Remember: this isn’t always about etymology, but about seeming correspondences that might cause a casual observer to expect a linguistic analogy to work when it doesn’t. armadillos but peccadilloes bingeing but tinging cagey but caginess caliber but calibrate encrust but incrustation excludable but includible fence but defense (in American English) glamour but glamorous grain but granary hammer but grammar Herbert but sherbet juror but perjurer lunging but whingeing maintain but maintenance millionaire but questionnaire muffle but duffel patriot but expatriate publicly but plastically ratable but hateable religious but religiosity similar but simulate storm but maelstrom syrah but petite sirah vinegar but vinaigrette weaselly but weevily wondrous but splendorous A little kooky, isn’t it—these matters of English spelling? Spell-checkers can help (or sometimes hurt), of course, but professional copyeditors typically just memorize the hard ones and call them to mind as needed. If they’ve forgotten the precise spelling, they know enough about anomalies to check a good dictionary or usage dictionary. Keep the examples coming to firstname.lastname@example.org (copy to email@example.com). Many thanks to all who wrote with suggestions over the past week: Jean Ashby, Charles E. Damon, Evan Haglund, Alan D. Hegi, James E. Holland Jr., Bernard Kabak, Mary B. Marcin, Tim Morgan, Jonathan Shev, Christopher A. Troutt, Ann Ward, and Joan Westmeyer. SOURCE: Garner’s Modern English Usage 849–51 (4th ed. 2016) (s.v. “Spelling”); see also id. at 702–05 (s.v. “Plurals”); id. at 5–6 (s.v. “-able”).