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Chris -- 2018-04-11

#1 2013-09-27 18:53:20

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2612

decibell, pressage, interlockutor, divestation

Mark Twain wrote: “Before the spelling-book came with its arbitrary forms, men unconsciously revealed shades of their characters and also added enlightening shades of expression to what they wrote by their spelling.” Twain, it appears, has more confidence in the authority of spelling books than I do. People still manage, in spite of a library of works by our Mrs. Grundies, to give us glimpses into their minds by the way they (mis)spell words.

The line between subconscious orthographical sin and accidental misspelling is a fine one, though. Whether any of the four words below are more than accidents depends on how much attraction we assign to the semantic magnets embedded in them.

(1) Decibell. The decibel, a unit used in electronics to measure amplifier gain and in acoustics to measure sound pressure, is derived from the name of Alexander Graham Bell. So those who spell the term “decibell” may just be recalling the derivation. Because, however, Bell’s name, like that of the sprinter Usain Bolt, is one of those surnames that begs to be semanticized (I wrote about some of these names on this forum in 2009), it is equally possible that ding-donging bells may be exercising some influence on the spelling.

Wood working forum: “There is a video on the Felder website where they video the same Hammer planer with a conventional and with a spiral cutter and with a decibell meter running. Ten decibells is a big sound reduction.”

Web forum: “Melissa, the Sanderson Center used to have a deciBell meter – a gadget that measures how noisy a place is.”

(2) Pressage. The Latinate noun “presage” is less common than the AS equivalent “foresight,” but it still shows up in the modern English phrase “a presage of.” It’s uncommonness may be an invitation for some people to interpose the word “press” (as in “bad press”).

Interpretation of song lyrics: “his … was a pressage of death”

Opera discussion: “it destroys the entire wonder and mystery of the ‘O du, mein holder Abendstern’ soliloquy, which is a pressage of death and personal loss. ”

(3) Interlockutor. “Interlocutor” became a popular English term in the middle of the nineteenth century. Some decades later, about the time “interlocutor” began to feel a bit stiff and formal, the word “interlock” was becoming popular in a variety of technical contexts (see Ngram relation of the terms). In recent decades the two words have merged in the coinage “interlockutor.” I suppose someone you can’t get away from at a cocktail party is an interlockutor.

TV show forum: “Rather than show the SM – if only in a minor role – as an active member of the artistic team, and an interlockutor between all parties in rehearsal and production, they’ve given the poor soul the job of announcing breaks during heated moments in rehearsal.”

Report of a panel discussion on Radio Australia: “ Lee Hoi-chang precisely because he has a more conservative appearance might actually be a more credible interlockutor with Washington.”

(4) Divestation. “Divest/devest” and “devast,” deriving respectively from Latin terms for “to clothe” and “to lay waste,” have done a multicentury dance in English. Their shared meanings have caused some confusion. (Think about the strip image in “strip mine.”). The long dance is largely over, however: “devast” has folded its tents and stolen way, leaving behind only the word “devastation.” Some web writers, missing the old dance, turn “devastation” into “divestation.”

Blog entry: “Whatever happened on 9-11 is now starting to look like ‘child’s play’ when it comes to the divestation created by Hurricane Sandy.”

History teacher note to her students: “Second semester begins with Jefferson, the Corps of Discovery, and ends with the Reconstruction of the U.S. after the divestation of the Civil War.”

Last edited by kem (2013-09-27 19:43:00)

Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.



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