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Math or Maths?
April 30, 2014 5:39 PM   Subscribe

Math or Maths? A few minutes with Dr Lynne Murphy (an American linguist in England) should clear this right up. Via Numberphile.
posted by R. Mutt (116 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
S. Maths.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:44 PM on April 30


How else would you shorten Mathsematics?
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:10 PM on April 30 [15 favorites]


England, where math is plural and sports is singular.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:11 PM on April 30 [11 favorites]


well, there's euclidean geometry and non-euclidean geometry, peano arithmetic and regular arithmetic, and doubtless other examples i can't think of right now, so, maths is defensible, but i just say math.
posted by bruce at 6:12 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


I use math, being an American, but I always though the proper way to use maths was "maths are _," making it a fascinating word that turned from singular to plural in the shortening. I am slightly disappointed now.

As for aluminum vs. aluminium, they're both wrong. The proper name is alumium, you ignorant proles.
posted by Hactar at 6:22 PM on April 30 [2 favorites]


I take this to mean that because "mathematics" is singular, "math" is correct.

USA! USA! USA!
posted by maryr at 6:25 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]


Do we create math or discover it? Does math exist independent of our ability to think about it?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:26 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


Dr. Murphy is a smart cookie. Good one, R. Mutt!
posted by rmmcclay at 6:27 PM on April 30


I always thought that the singular 'math' was an elegant and simple term to describe the overarching concept. Maths seemed to be a bit clumsy.
posted by Splunge at 6:27 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]


I thought we said 'maths' just to ensure we aren't mistaken for Americans.
posted by pompomtom at 6:29 PM on April 30 [15 favorites]


Chocolate Pickle: "Do we create math or discover it? Does math exist independent of our ability to think about it?"

Go away, Tegmark!
posted by symbioid at 6:34 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]


pompomtom: "I thought we said 'maths' just to ensure we aren't mistaken for Americans."

Not an issue. Trust me. :-)
posted by Splunge at 6:36 PM on April 30


Spoiler: Math is fun, therefore singular, without an s.
posted by Brian B. at 6:44 PM on April 30


"ths" is too odd of letter combination for me to use. It's just a strange movement of my tongue. Like the last bit of air being squeezed out of an old balloon.
posted by fishmasta at 6:54 PM on April 30


Now, what about meths?
posted by Jimbob at 7:15 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


Surely in the spirit of peace and harmony we can all agree to use "arithmetic" and leave the matter be!
posted by Bromius at 7:17 PM on April 30




It's from the Greek, so properly it is mathematikons. You're welcome.

(She has a book on her shelf titled "A Natural History of Negation". I sooo want to leaf through it.)
posted by benito.strauss at 7:30 PM on April 30 [7 favorites]


MATHS HOTS UP

(It was even designed by someone named Burbanks.)
posted by aws17576 at 7:34 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


I was looking over her shoulder at her bookshelf too!
posted by R. Mutt at 7:35 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]


Jimbob asked...
Now, what about meths?
Please leave the New Zealanders out of thus.
posted by pjm at 7:47 PM on April 30 [11 favorites]


"Mathematikons"! Syncope here. Neuter plural so it's (ta) mathematika. Funny thing though, neuter plurals take a singular verb. So you're all right.
posted by homerica at 7:47 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]


Can someone give me a tl;dr of the video? I'm interested in this but don't really want to spend 6+ minutes on it.
posted by mikeand1 at 7:49 PM on April 30


(She has a book on her shelf titled "A Natural History of Negation". I sooo want to leaf through it.)

No, you don't.
posted by nightwood at 7:50 PM on April 30 [17 favorites]


Bromius: "Surely in the spirit of peace and harmony we can all agree to use "arithmetic" and leave the matter be!"

But what about when we're doing a math that involves variables and manipulating equations? Or when we're doing a math that involves geometric figures and their relationships? Or when were doing a math on sets of items which aren't numeric at all? None of those maths are an arithmetics.
posted by Reverend John at 7:55 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


mikeand1: "Can someone give me a tl;dr of the video? I'm interested in this but don't really want to spend 6+ minutes on it."

Math vs. Maths prescriptivism for the fail, but haters gonna hate.
posted by Reverend John at 7:57 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


Now, what about meths?

That's the spirit.
posted by Flashman at 8:17 PM on April 30 [5 favorites]


None of those maths are an arithmetics.

Yeah, some Sudoku puzzles have instructions that include the phrase "there is no math involved", but they really want to say "there is no arithmetic involved, just logic".
posted by benito.strauss at 8:32 PM on April 30 [2 favorites]


"ths" is too odd of letter combination for me to use. It's just a strange movement of my tongue. Like the last bit of air being squeezed out of an old balloon.

I bet you love saying "sixths"
posted by aubilenon at 8:44 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


"ths" is too odd of letter combination for me to use. It's just a strange movement of my tongue.

Don't look.
posted by maryr at 8:44 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


The reader is wrong
posted by fallingbadgers at 8:54 PM on April 30


I'm interested in this but don't really want to spend 6+ minutes on it

Is 3 minutes ok? Because at least in a browser, youtube lets you view stuff at 1.5x or 2x speed, which makes videos much less painfully slow. (Warning, don't watch too many videos like this or you start to go mad when actually, you know, talking to people because they Speak Too Damn SLOOOOOOOOW.)
posted by aspo at 9:01 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


She mentioned the rancor behind math vs. maths and aluminum vs. aluminium, but somehow failed to bring up soccer. It's probably for the best.
posted by Edgewise at 9:01 PM on April 30


failed to bring up soccer

Don't you mean 'footsball'?
posted by hap_hazard at 9:06 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]


I learned elementary math in French, so it always made good sense to me that people might say "maths", because it is, afterall plural in French. Les maths, les mathématiques.

I think the S is important because it's the thematics, or the study, that is relevant when we use math[s]. We use maths to describe and study the world around us. It makes sense to maintain the plurality of a subject that branches off in all kinds of directions, with all kinds of applications. Does this make sense, or is it bed time? If I have to ask...

I personally use both, but am more likely to say math because I get fewer funny looks that way
posted by Violet Femme at 9:20 PM on April 30


Well, since 'the set of all sets' is an inherently contradictory concept, and yet all sets are, as mathematical objects, contained in mathematics, 'math,' implying as it does a unitary object, must also result in a contradiction, so it's going to have to be 'maths' -- for all that it makes my skin crawl.
posted by jamjam at 9:20 PM on April 30


"ths" is too odd of letter combination for me to use

Deaths.
Earths.
Fifths.
Goths.
Laths.
Moths.
posted by yoink at 9:32 PM on April 30


The one thing about having lived in multiple countries with their own brand of English (Englishes?) is that now I keep second-guessing myself when asked which version of the word I use.

(I usually use 'math', but I was raised in Malaysia, which uses a form of British English. So hm.)
posted by divabat at 10:21 PM on April 30


Lings is fun.
posted by flabdablet at 10:26 PM on April 30 [2 favorites]


Fifths.

Don't forget

Sevenths.

Nor my favorite,

Sixths.
posted by carsonb at 10:48 PM on April 30


Forget

Eighths.

though.
posted by carsonb at 10:48 PM on April 30


I bet you love saying "sixths"

What baffles me is that many in Britain, even highly educated people (I'm looking at you, David Mitchell!), seem unable to pronounce a singular sixth; it comes out as "sickth."
posted by Sys Rq at 10:49 PM on April 30


I'm just so disappointed that 'musth' is an uncountable noun, otherwise we could have the words 'musths". But I guess we mustn't "musths".
posted by benito.strauss at 10:55 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


This is reminding me that there's a century-old sidewalk stamped with TWELTH AVE S in my city.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:21 PM on April 30


benito.strauss: "
Yeah, some Sudoku puzzles have instructions that include the phrase "there is no math involved", but they really want to say "there is no arithmetic involved, just logic".
"

Its okay though, because Japan solved that oversight with KenKen.
posted by pwnguin at 12:18 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


If I were good at matha, I could write an equation showing how intensity of conviction correlates positively with the triviality of the issue.

What's the 'double number' thing mentioned right at the end, btw?
posted by Segundus at 1:37 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


I wonder how long she has been living in Britain. I can hear hints of an acquired British accent, especially the way she enunciates the "t" in the middle of a word as a "t," as a opposed the the American way of changing that to a "d".

Or, as a German exchange student jokingly asked me: "Is it butter or budder in America??"
posted by zardoz at 2:13 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


What baffles me is that many in Britain, even highly educated people (I'm looking at you, David Mitchell!), seem unable to pronounce a singular sixth; it comes out as "sickth."

I've literally never noticed this before and now it's annoying me how hard it is to actually say "sixth" (and also annoying my colleague who has just watched me say "sixth sickth sixth sickth" about ten times until the word has lost all meaning.)

Also I just put the American "math" thing down to the way you randomly leave out letters and words. It's a couple OF seconds.

*duck(s)*
posted by billiebee at 2:46 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]


"I wonder how long she has been living in Britain. I can hear hints of an acquired British accent, especially the way she enunciates the "t" in the middle of a word as a "t," as a opposed the the American way of changing that to a "d"."

My favourite American pronunciation is vehicle. You pronounce the h lol. So awkward. Also awkward? wkw? Is this right?
posted by marienbad at 3:26 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


"Does this mean Americans have a greater understanding of what constitutes plural?" *aggressive zoom in*
posted by Quilford at 3:27 AM on May 1


Well I watched the video to the point where she'd stated the obvious- it's a singular noun, and since when do we abbreviate words by using the beginning syllable and then tacking on the last letter? Since never, but apparently this weird affectation of an abbrevation took hold like a national case of grocer's apostrophe, because people thought it sounded learned or something.

So that's annoying but at least it didn't do that other incredibly English thing where you use the first syllable and then 'y', as in 'footy' etc, in an apparent attempt to sound like a nation of adorably-accented toddlers. Because 'maths' is, at least, less goofy than that.
posted by hap_hazard at 3:37 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


So that's annoying but at least it didn't do that other incredibly English thing where you use the first syllable and then 'y', as in 'footy' etc

Cheeky
posted by billiebee at 3:49 AM on May 1


I'm going to keep saying "maths" because I'm Australian and that's how we say it here (and "math" just sounds wrong to my ears). She seems to be saying that it's essentially a regional thing anyway, so I can live with that.

I'm also going to continue pronouncing Linux as lie-nucks too, just because I'm stubborn.
posted by damonism at 3:58 AM on May 1


The math vs maths thing doesn't bother me in the slightest — it's the superfluous 's' on the end of Lego that really flips my facepalm switch.
posted by ZipRibbons at 4:10 AM on May 1


My favourite American pronunciation is vehicle. You pronounce the h lol. So awkward. Also awkward? wkw? Is this right?

That's not American, it's Southern.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 4:19 AM on May 1


I will religiously correct 'aluminum' to 'aluminium'. In return I always pronounce 'sulphur' as 'sulfur'.
posted by edd at 5:04 AM on May 1


Deaths.
Earths.
Fifths.
Goths.
Laths.
Moths.


The ability to load a single vowel with up to eight consonants is one of English's strengths.
posted by flabdablet at 5:39 AM on May 1 [3 favorites]


it's the superfluous 's' on the end of Lego that really flips my facepalm switch.

Right, because that should totally be Legoes.
posted by flabdablet at 5:40 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]


I always thought "math vs. maths" was just one of those things that explains why Americans and Brits are divided by a common language.
posted by jonp72 at 5:45 AM on May 1


"ths" is too odd of letter combination for me to use. It's just a strange movement of my tongue.

That's okay, in much of England it is actually pronounced 'mafs'.
posted by srboisvert at 6:04 AM on May 1


Or, as a German exchange student jokingly asked me: "Is it butter or budder in America??"

The single largest issue I had during seven years in England was asking for water at restaurants.
posted by srboisvert at 6:08 AM on May 1


Violent Femme's comment about how mathematics is plural in French seems like it might be an important clue--wasn't French a dominant language in the English aristocracy? Wish I could ask Dr. Murphy that. Perhaps a MeFite can step into the breach?
posted by mondo dentro at 6:22 AM on May 1


Algebra is a math. Geometry is a math. And so on.

Don't ask me about combinatorics.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:24 AM on May 1


I say maths (and programme, and boot, and lift, and bits, and bloody, and loo) because I spent two weeks in England a couple of years ago and want everyone to know it.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:26 AM on May 1 [9 favorites]


It's from the Greek

The Greek what? Or which Greek?

Should we employ the rules of The Greek to form words in The English?

= = =

This is giving me a flashback to listening to short wave radio during the first Gulf War. UK-trained reporters spoke of [PAT-ree-it MISS-isles] and US-trained reporters spoke of [PAY-tree-it MISS-ulls]; sometimes simultaneously. Also, the varying pronunciations describing Iraq's use of "French-built super-ay-tarn-darned fighter-bombers", which had been used by Argentina during the Falklands Malvinas Falklands Malvinas Falklands Malvinas Falklands Malvinas Falklands Malvinas duck season rabbit seasonduck season rabbit season
 
posted by Herodios at 6:42 AM on May 1


Algebra is a math. Geometry is a math. And so on.
Don't ask me about combinatorics.


That's Numberwang!
posted by The Bellman at 6:42 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]


What baffles me is that many in Britain, even highly educated people (I'm looking at you, David Mitchell!), seem unable to pronounce a singular sixth; it comes out as "sickth."

The officially sanctioned message from David Mitchel is that he couldn't care less.

[I think the si-x-th versus six-th pronunciation debate is another divided by a common language Pandora's box]
posted by rongorongo at 6:47 AM on May 1


> It makes sense to maintain the plurality of a subject that branches off in all kinds of directions, with all kinds of applications. Does this make sense, or is it bed time?

It makes sense, but not the kind of sense language makes. That's the main point she's trying to convey, and she does it brilliantly. Language is not logical, but people desperately want to make it logical, or at least to believe that the things they say are more logical than the things those other people say, and since rationalization is one of the things people are best at, they always find a way.

> I wonder how long she has been living in Britain. I can hear hints of an acquired British accent

Yes, that was fascinating! According to her faculty page, she's been at the University of Sussex since January 2000.

> Violent Femme's comment about how mathematics is plural in French seems like it might be an important clue--wasn't French a dominant language in the English aristocracy?

No, and trust me, you're not going to come up with some insight that will overturn her ideas about the history of the word. She's a linguist; she knows this stuff.
posted by languagehat at 6:49 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]


you're not going to come up with some insight that will overturn her ideas about the history of the word.

Indeed. For those unwilling to sit through the clip, here's the money quote:
"[Either is] just the habit that was got into. [The dispute arises from] folk etymology . . . People are always looking for reasons why their form of the language is more logical than the other and the problem is that language -- on the vocabulary level -- doesn't follow logic. . . ennuthing goes."
posted by Herodios at 7:04 AM on May 1


Side note, but I was surprised by her two-syllable pronunciation of "mathematics". I've always pronounced the e in mathematics, which is apparently common in England but not in America. I suspect that's because I've heard "mathematics" more often from British media than in real life in America.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:24 AM on May 1


You mean three syllable? I don't think it's possible to pronounce "mathematics" with only two syllables.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:43 AM on May 1


Make the E silent, that's how I pronounce it.
posted by divabat at 8:14 AM on May 1


Make the E, the second M, the second A, the second T, the I and the C silent, that's how I pronounce it.
posted by flabdablet at 8:16 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]


edd: "In return I always pronounce 'sulphur' as 'sulfur'."

Is there a way to pronounce "ph" that's not equal to "f"?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:00 AM on May 1


There's clearly a conservation of "s"s going on here:

UK: maths / sport
US: math / sports
posted by Chrysostom at 10:03 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]


The single largest issue I had during seven years in England was asking for water at restaurants.

After finally understanding your order, do they get it from the tap or from the taps?

(Oh! One thing I like to gripe about the British griping about is the North American form "Can I get..." for ordering in restaurants. "You go right ahead," they respond, smugly attempting wit. Dear pedantic Britons: get /get/ v. 1. come to have or hold (something); receive.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:55 AM on May 1


Don't get me started about collective nouns taking a plural verb in British English.

"The company are going to invest in..."
"The British government are examining..."

Makes my brain hurt.
posted by oaklandj at 11:01 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]


smugly attempting wit

Are you sure they're not actually having a dig at the 'can I'? I was taught that this was rude, when you're really asking 'may I'?
posted by pompomtom at 2:40 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


> Algebra is a math. Geometry is a math. And so on.
> Don't ask me about combinatorics.


Well, geometry is an area of mathematics. Which probably makes algebra a field in mathematics and functional analysis one of the mathematical domains.

What does that make combinatorics? I don't know; you choose one.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:53 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


Are you sure they're not actually having a dig at the 'can I'?

Pretty sure.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:04 PM on May 1


Are you sure they're not actually having a dig at the 'can I'? I was taught that this was rude, when you're really asking 'may I'?

I never heard that "can I" was rude so much as that it was asking the wrong question. That you were capable of doing it was not in question, what was in question was whether you were allowed to do it.

But this, too, is as feeble as all those "my dialect is logical and yours isn't" rationalizations. It's perfectly acceptable in the UK to say to your waitperson "Could you bring me...", for example. But a "logical" response to that would obviously be "yes, of course I could, I've got arms and legs, don't I?" Whereas, instead, it's far more likely to be "certainly sir/madam" followed by the bringing of the requested item.
posted by yoink at 3:04 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


edd: "In return I always pronounce 'sulphur' as 'sulfur'."
Is there a way to pronounce "ph" that's not equal to "f"?
Sulp her?! I hardly even know her!
posted by Flunkie at 3:06 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


My favourite American pronunciation is vehicle. You pronounce the h lol. So awkward. Also awkward? wkw? Is this right?

So? You pronounce the H in herbs. Silly.
posted by maryr at 3:46 PM on May 1


In what language do you write web pages? aitch-tee-em-el? Or haitch-tee-em-el?

Likewise, is it ecchs why zee or ecchs why zed?
posted by nushustu at 3:58 PM on May 1


Joakim Ziegler: quite. ;-)
posted by edd at 4:22 PM on May 1


So? You pronounce the H in herbs. Silly.

I never really understood why Americans leave out the H in herb. You don't say 'orse, 'ouse, 'eart, 'amburger... Please 'ope me!
posted by billiebee at 4:25 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


I never really understood why Americans leave out the H in herb. You don't say 'orse, 'ouse, 'eart, 'amburger... Please 'ope me!

Wait, do Brits aspirate the "h" in "honor?" In "hour"? "Heir"? "Honest"?
posted by zardoz at 4:36 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


What's the 'double number' thing mentioned right at the end, btw?

I also found that intriguing but confusing. After rewinding it a few times I figured out that you can click a box in the upper left corner of the video, and it takes you too a second video where (among other things) they discuss the fact that Brits would tell you the number 8844 as "double eight double four", but Americans would never do that.
posted by polecat at 4:38 PM on May 1


Wait, do Brits aspirate the "h" in "honor?" In "hour"? "Heir"? "Honest"?

Ell no, but neither do Americans. I mean, is herb the only example of a difference with leaving out the H?
posted by billiebee at 4:46 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


A few months ago I heard a BBC podcast where the presenter pronounced the letter H as "haitch". It's left me frightened and confused ever since.
posted by polecat at 4:51 PM on May 1


Algebra is a math. Geometry is a math. And so on.

Similarly, in the field of electronics, my pocket calculator is an electronic, my cell phone is an electronic...wait, am I doing this right?
posted by polecat at 4:53 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


A few months ago I heard a BBC podcast where the presenter pronounced the letter H as "haitch". It's left me frightened and confused ever since.

In Northern Ireland how you say "H" is often a signifier of whether you're Catholic or Protestant. In general, Catholics say "haitch" and Protestants say "aitch". Go fig(y)ure.
posted by billiebee at 4:59 PM on May 1


I never really understood why Americans leave out the H in herb. You don't say 'orse, 'ouse, 'eart, 'amburger... Please 'ope me!
The "h" didn't even really exist until the late 15th Century, when it was basically copied in from the related Latin word. And it remained silent until the 19th. So, hey, I'm perfectly fine with language changing, but the question is not "Why don't Americans pronounce it", it's "Why did English start pronouncing it after hundreds of years of not doing so".
posted by Flunkie at 5:00 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


A few months ago I heard a BBC podcast where the presenter pronounced the letter H as "haitch". It's left me frightened and confused ever since.

Here you go.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:21 PM on May 1


In what language do you write web pages? aitch-tee-em-el? Or haitch-tee-em-el?

In Australia, that depends on whether you went to a Catholic school (haitch) or not (aitch). In the light of what billiebee said, this makes sense - Irish Catholicism would have been easily the first flavour to become culturally visible here.
posted by flabdablet at 8:16 PM on May 1


Also, jumpers are not swearers, they are skirts you have to jump into.
posted by maryr at 10:53 PM on May 1


...I think? Shoot, now I'm unsure of what jumpers are. I know sneakers are shoes and waders are rubber pants...
posted by maryr at 10:53 PM on May 1


> I never really understood why Americans leave out the H in herb. You don't say 'orse, 'ouse, 'eart, 'amburger... Please 'ope me!

Herb is borrowed from French, where all h's are silent. There was never an /h/ in the word. Why do Brits feel the need to put one in?
posted by languagehat at 5:27 AM on May 2


I never really understood why Americans leave out the H in herb. You don't say 'orse, 'ouse, 'eart, 'amburger... Please 'ope me!

Oewh, "ahhhn HHHoop", is it? Aren't we grahnd! "Excuse me, Mater, I'm orff to play the grahnd piahnew!" Now 'and me that 'oop!

Herb is borrowed from French, where all h's are silent. There was never an /h/ in the word. Why do Brits feel the need to put one in?

Yeah it goes against the usual protocol:
  • Educated Brits (especially broadcasters) are very careful and deliberate in their pronunciation of French terms and deliberately careless in their pronunciation of Spanish terms.
  • Educated Yanks (especially broadcasters) are very careful and deliberate in their pronunciation of Spanish terms and deliberately careless in their pronunciation of French terms.
posted by Herodios at 6:49 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Herb is borrowed from French, where all h's are silent. There was never an /h/ in the word. Why do Brits feel the need to put one in?

Ah, pardon Monsieur 'At. Je suis désolée.
posted by billiebee at 7:25 AM on May 2


Jumpers are, indeed, sweaters. As are jerseys and pullovers. Depending on where you live, of course.
posted by yoink at 7:34 AM on May 2


What's great about these threads is that they let us finally resolve the One Correct spelling/meaning/pronunciation/usage of words.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:06 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


My confusion is over what American jumpers are. I think of them as the denim or corduroy (from the French!) skirts+overalls we wore for school picture day or other days our mothers made us dress up for school. Quick GIS for "corduroy jumper" yields what I picture.

Educated Yanks (especially broadcasters) are very careful and deliberate in their pronunciation of Spanish terms and deliberately careless in their pronunciation of French terms.

What? This is not true where I live. People trying to seem worldly will over-pronounce both Spanish (Meh-hee-co) and French (Pare-ee) terms. The rest of the time we butcher both languages pretty well, educated or not.
posted by maryr at 9:03 AM on May 2


In what language do you write web pages? aitch-tee-em-el? Or haitch-tee-em-el?

Hit-m'l.
posted by Drexen at 9:51 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Educated Brits (especially broadcasters) are very careful and deliberate in their pronunciation of French terms and deliberately careless in their pronunciation of Spanish terms.
Educated Yanks (especially broadcasters) are very careful and deliberate in their pronunciation of Spanish terms and deliberately careless in their pronunciation of French terms.


Hahahahahaha no.

The British certainly use a lot more French words than Americans--proximity'll do that--but good lord do you guys butcher it.

I mean, for example, such a simple word as fête ("fayt")? What the actual heck. 1. That's not at all what an ê sounds like, and 2. There's already a perfectly good English word from the same root meaning the same thing: festival. (Of course, in North America, we often prefer the German -fest, so, hey.) To say nothing of the British habit of always emphasizing the wrong syllable in longer French words.

A lot of Southern European products have French names in Britain (or corrupted French, e.g. rocket from roquette), because that's where they were shipped from, whereas in America these same things tend to retain the non-French names (arugula), because they tended to come with people who knew what they were.

Americans generally don't have much call for French outside of place names left over from New France, so that tends to be what gets butchered: Calais="Callus," Versailles="Versailz," etc. But Spanish place names are often corrupted in exactly the same way. So are English ones, for that matter (e.g. Birmingham).

I love when Brits who know a bit about Spanish try very hard to apply that knowledge to nominally Spanish things from places where that knowledge does not apply. It seems the most common one is Ibiza (Br. ih-BEETH-uh, local Catalan ay-VEES-suh), but the other night on that Victoria Corren show for smarties, some guy Spanished up some Mexican ("Veracruth") and I laughed and laughed. Sometimes not trying is the best option.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:52 AM on May 2


And yes, after the first time or two there is nothing more utterly tedious (or insulting to the field of linguistics) than pedantic examinations of which linguistic forms "make more sense" or are supposedly more foolish and nonsensical than other ones, especially when the conversations are consistently filled with more post-hoc conjectures and just-so stories than an MRA pontificating about evolutionary psychology.

IMMEDIATELY STOP CARING.
posted by Drexen at 9:58 AM on May 2


( I just realised that's kind of a threadshitty comment, for which I apologise! Please ignore my crotchetiness. )
posted by Drexen at 11:34 AM on May 2


Herb is borrowed from French, where all h's are silent. There was never an /h/ in the word. Why do Brits feel the need to put one in?

While that's a reasonable question (and, of course, they didn't start putting one in until about the C19th), neither the Brits nor the Americans are remotely consistent on this issue. There are lots of "H—" words in US English that derive from French words where the h is pronounced. No American says "'atchet" or "'arangue" or "'arp" or "'aversack" or "'ash," for example. So there remains a puzzle why this one word retains a sense of being "borrowed" from the French in American and lost that sense in English. Of course, the answer to the puzzle is probably "just because." Linguistic development is a lot like evolution in that a lot of what gets preserved and passed on is just the conservation of random mutations. (And yes, I do realize I'm telling you nothing you don't, personally, know--I'm just riffing off your point.)
posted by yoink at 12:07 PM on May 2 [2 favorites]


At least with haversack, the French got it from the Germans who pronounced the H -"Haver", being an old-timey word for oats (i.e. haverstraw is straw from oats) and haver or haber or haevre or similar is what oats are called in other Germanic languages. so with that one, we reclaimed the 'H' that was cruelly stolen from the word by French tyranny.

time for some Quaker havermeal.
posted by xetere at 3:30 PM on May 2



Algebra is a math. Geometry is a math. And so on.

Similarly, in the field of electronics, my pocket calculator is an electronic, my cell phone is an electronic...wait, am I doing this right?


And of course Acoustics is a physic, and Cosmology is a physic, and Particle Physics is a physic, right?
posted by polymath at 1:46 PM on May 4


Macroeconomics is an economic, Microeconomics is an economic, Voodoo economics is an economic...
posted by Sys Rq at 2:54 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


so with that one, we reclaimed the 'H' that was cruelly stolen from the word by French tyranny

Bring us your poor, your huddled aspirates, yearning to breathe free!
posted by yoink at 2:54 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Z. Zed. What? Hwat?
posted by Splunge at 5:35 PM on May 4


Oh God, I trip up sooo many Americans by spelling words with Zed. They look at me weird until I say Zee and then it clicks. COME ONNNNNN
posted by divabat at 6:06 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


It just occurred to me the Spice Girls should have said, "Here's the story from A to Zed."
posted by Chrysostom at 6:43 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]




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