Is it jif, as in JIF brand peanut butter? Or gif, as in gift? Seems a strange thing for a giraffe to quibble over, especially if the inventor calls it jif. Weird words lead to weird arguments. Does the parent get to name the baby, or must he follow linguistic conventions?
To say gif seems akin to calling me Holy, not Holly. I’m good, but I’m not that good. Then again, it stands for “Graphics Interchange Format,” and the g in graphics is a hard g. I love weird words, but some seem to unnecessarily complicate communication.
Call it whatever you want and pour yourself a gin martini to celebrate the fact that the world’s not coming to an end, no matter how you say it. Even Merriam-Webster shrugs and declares it’s fine, either way.
Another odd word I’ve been noticing a lot, lately: sceptical. Or is it skeptical? Skeptical certainly makes more sense, given that no one pronounces the word like scepter or septic. I am pretty sure that I grew up spelling it sceptic, but at some point that made no sense at all to me – maybe around the time I learned the word septic and decided that it was too easy to confuse the two. Now I view the whole thing with a healthy dose of skepticism and think the sceptics are septic.
Apparently, sceptic is the British spelling; here, on the other side of the pond, skeptic is the preferred spelling. So, again, don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong – just pick one, try to be consistent, and know that you’ll get funny looks in different regions regardless of which you choose.
I take that back. I re-read the previous paragraph with a healthy dose of skepticism, and decided to investigate further. Etymology Online provides a better historical and linguistic explanation, not only of the word’s meaning, but of the underlying logic for the variations in spelling of the word skeptic.
Another odd word: plait. Whenever I read that word, and my brain comes screeching to a halt. Is it pleat (like the folds of a skirt or curtain) or plat or plate? It’s either plat or plate, according to the dictionary, but its chief meaning is pleat. Its secondary meaning, and the one where I see it used most often, is as a synonym of “to braid.”
Something writers should consider, when choosing words that sound pleasing to their own ear, is whether the word is so uncommon as to drive someone to the dictionary – not (only) to discern the meaning of the word, but to make sure they’re hearing it correctly in their own head as they read, so that they won’t make fools of themselves if they try to use their new word in public. “To braid” is less likely to throw up such roadblocks, I think, than “to plait,” but that may be a regional thing.
Did any of you grow up using the word plait as often, or more often, than the word braid?
It’s good to learn new things. I realize we all suffer “information overload,” these days – far more of it than when that term was minted. But to learn and understand our own language, to grow our vocabularies and our understanding of the meaning, pronunciation, spelling, and origin of words, helps us to understand our own history and to communicate more deeply with others.
What are your favorite “weird words”?