Jonathan Crowe

I’m a blogger and writer from Shawville, Quebec. I blog about maps at The Map Room, review books for AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and edit a fanzine called Ecdysis. More about me.

My Correct Views on Everything
↳ Language

Ottawa Valley Twang

The Ottawa Valley has a distinct dialect, apparently. CBC News had an item about it a couple of years ago. The Language Portal of Canada has a page. Here’s a glossary of expressions. More recently, the Ottawa Valley to English Dictionary has appeared on Tumblr. In practice I’ve found it less distinct than the websites about it make it out to be. Maybe it’s milder now than it once was; maybe it’s less strong on the Quebec side; maybe I haven’t been paying close enough attention; maybe I’ve just gotten used to it. Or I’m just not talking to the right people.

A Symbol for ‘The’

What is this I don’t even … an Australian restaurateur, Paul Mathis, has launched a campaign to create a symbol — ? — for “the” in the same way that the ampersand (&) is used for “and,” on the grounds that it would save space and make typing easier: “the” is the most-used word in the English language, after all. This may be the craziest thing to hit the English language since the Simplified Spelling Board (which Teddy Roosevelt was a fan of, writing memos with their spellings). Via The Verge.

The Long S

Read enough old books and you’ll probably encounter more than once an unusual letter that looks like an f without a crossbar — ? — where an s ought to be. It’s not an f, it’s a since-abandoned form of the lowercase s called the long s, and it was used at the beginning or the middle of a word; the s we know today, the short s, was only used at the end of a word or where the s would be doubled, e.g. mi?tre?s, di?tre?sing. (There were some exceptions to this rule, of course, which BabelStone explains in a long post about the long s’s usage.)

The long s has a long history but it’s all but forgotten today. Now it haunts archives and rare book rooms, waiting to entrap unwary graduate students who dutifully recopy it as an f. (This is wrong: write it as an s.) It lived on in Fraktur long after it disappeared in Roman type, and survives today as part of the German letter , which is essentially (or e?sentially, or e�entially) a ligature of ?s, and in fact “ss” is used for � where that letter is unavailable.

Translating Hatteras

Despite blogging about it last month, I’m not quite done with Jules Verne’s second published novel, The Adventures of Captain Hatteras. William Butcher’s modern translation turned up in the mail today; I’d ordered it to have a better translation on hand. Flipping through it, though, I paused over how he translated the last line of the book.

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Quotation Marks and Punctuation

Ben Yagoda looks at the online trend to use British style of putting commas and punctuations outside quotation marks rather than the traditional U.S. practice of putting commas and periods (but not colons, semicolons, question marks and exclamation points) inside the quotation marks, viz.:

‘That’s stupid’, she said. (British usage)
“That’s stupid,” she said. (U.S. usage)

— which Yagoda ascribes to online writing existing in a copyeditor- and style-manual-free zone and the fact that the British method is more logical and consistent. This is a far tougher argument than, say, whether to use one or two spaces after a period, which is more settled than I first thought. Via Daring Fireball.

Spell ‘Gadhafi’

It’s an age-old question (I even remember it being a Carson-era Tonight Show gag in the mid-eighties): how the hell do you spell Moammar Gadhafi’s name? The Associated Press explains why it goes with “Gadhafi” rather than dozens of other possibilities. “[T]he spelling is complicated by a perfect storm of issues: Arabic letters or sounds that don’t exist in English, differences in pronunciation between formal Arabic and dialects, and differences between transliteration systems.” Via Boing Boing.

Words in 1907

A couple of interesting posts from Mary Robinette Kowal, whose novel Shades of Milk and Honey has just been nominated for a Nebula, about the use of language in 1907, and the resources she uses to figure out whether or not a word or phrase was in use in 1907 and how somebody would swear in 1907. Obviously the novel she’s working on right now takes place in 1907, but this sort of thing is interesting for anyone who’s trying to find the mot juste for a work of fiction set in any historical period.