E, by Gummey

One of the things that most irritates me about people who want to standardise English spelling is the fact that it is clearly changing all the time.  No sooner would it be standardised than it would start to morph into something else.

Over the past few years the spellings of words such as ‘pricy’, ‘spicy’, ‘chancy’ and ‘flaky’ have wobbled like Mr. Blobby in a high wind.  I was re-reading John Le Carré’s ‘The Russia House’ the other day, and came across the spelling ‘flakey’, which I don’t think would be the norm now.  ‘Spicy’ is always spelt without an E, but ‘pricy’ is now more often spelt with an E.  I have noticed this repeatedly in what used to be called the broadsheet press, so it is being done by top journalists.

Without going back and doing extensive research, I can’t be sure of this, but it seems to me that ‘pricy’ always used to be spelt without an E, and it is only in recent years that the E spelling has become prevalent.  ‘Chancy’ seems to be spelled both ways with equal frequency.

I’m not going to wade in and say which I think is correct, although I would always tend to use the spellings without an E.  Both are perfectly clear, and I can’t see that either is objectionable.  My spell-checker doesn’t seem to mind most of that time, though it doesn’t like ‘flakey’. (The spell-checker on WordPress doesn’t like ‘pricy’, so perhaps ‘pricey’ is a US spelling.)

In my view, the greatest reason for not standardising English spelling is because it would destroy the etymological clarity of word meanings.  Of course, I do think that people should have some idea of the etymology of words, and I have no idea whether or not this is taught.  I hope it is – it is always been one of my great joys. However, the other great reason is because you simply can’t hold people to standard spelling – it seems to be against human nature.

Published in: on June 13, 2014 at 10:49  Comments (2)  


I’ve coined this phrase to describe the complete lack of awareness that so many people in power seem to have in relation to inappropriately sexual behaviour. It is sadly much-needed, as many recent cases in public and educational life have revealed.

The timeline usually goes like this:

  • An incident of inappropriately sexual behaviour occurs between a person in power or authority and a person of much junior status. The incident may be reported, or may even be widely known about, but it is covered up or brushed aside. (more…)
Published in: on February 26, 2013 at 16:40  Comments (3)  

Word Hate: Academic actors

I remember once during my tenure as Editor of Arts Professional magazine asking a very academic writer to change her use of the word ‘actors’, meaning principal personnel in a given situation, to something else – because to us, in the arts sector, the word means someone who works in theatre, TV or film. She was taken aback, as if such an interpretation had not even occurred to her, but she complied.

I’ve just come across another use of the word in a review by the fabulous Linda Colley, who has written so many great history books such as Britons and Captives. Reviewing “Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain” by John Darwin, in today’s Guardian Review, she writes: (more…)

Published in: on December 29, 2012 at 13:06  Comments (5)  

Quitting quits

I wanted to mark the passing of a meaning. The phrase ‘calling it quits’ seems no longer to mean ‘saying we’re now all square’ – for example, when you pay off a debt or make an exchange of goods. It now means ‘saying we’re finishing this’ – i.e. that we’re quitting something, usually a relationship.


Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 12:31  Leave a Comment  

Word Hate: the ‘China are’ Syndrome

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but the third person singular is starting to disappear from our language. The use of the plural verb for a team or organisation has crept so far into verbal and written language that it is now too late to stop it. It has always been an legitimate option (‘our team say they can meet the deadline’), but the rot has now truly set in. (more…)

Published in: on February 1, 2010 at 10:14  Comments (5)  

Word Hate 2: We like the sound of that: proven, orchestrate, uxorious

It happens every now and again that a word becomes current, and sometimes even evicts a more proper word, simply because people like the sound of it. ‘Proven’ is a case in point. ‘Proved’ is the past participle of ‘to prove’. It used to be absolutely normal usage – yet you never hear it now. Everybody says ‘proven’. (E.g.: “It has not been proven that climate change is man-made.”) I seriously believe it’s because some media journalist has over-used the Scottish legal phrase ‘not proven’ a few times on telly, and then it has been picked up by people who think it sounds somehow better, weightier, more meaningful, more irrefutable than ‘proved’. (more…)

Published in: on December 23, 2009 at 12:56  Comments (3)  

Word Hate 1: Regularising ‘regular’

Two things that ‘regular’ does not mean: medium-sized, and frequent.

The use of ‘regular’ in our coffee shops has come from America, and while I’m not in principle opposed to Americanisms (many of which are entirely glorious), this is one I can’t stand. What happened to ‘small’, ‘medium’ and ‘large’? Well, I can tell you what happened to ‘large’ – it is now ‘regular’, while anything bigger is now called ‘large’. (more…)

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 14:50  Comments (1)