"A man is a man for all his life
A woman is sexy 'till she becomes your wife"
Al Bundy, "Married With Children"
THE QUEST FOR THE PURIFICATION OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
- or -
THE ONLY COLUMN WHERE IT WOULD LOOK *VERY* STUPID IF
I WERE TO MAKE ANY SPELLING MISTAKES
by Richard Karsmakers
As you probably know, I started studying English in September
1991. During the first months of this new academic career I
already found out I was making lots of mistakes where I had
naively thought none existed. I had been mixing up words, I had
been using words with the wrong meaning here and there. I used
wrong plural forms. I'd been making lots of other mistakes,
In other words, I had committed blasphemy against what I
consider to be the richest language mankind possesses. I decided
now was the time to bring this to a halt.
My purpose writing this series is twofold.
First of all, I am afraid, I do it to become better at using
English myself. Sorry for that; I'm afraid I'm just a bit of an
egotistical bastard. You may even think I'm arrogant at that -
after all, I'm no native myself.
Second, I do it because I would like to make sure that you, the
reader, become more adroit at its use. After all, English is the
language of the world and it is my belief that everybody should
be capable of speaking it fluently. The trouble is that even many
native speakers of English can't.
Rather important note: To many of you this column will be
boring. If you are one of these many, then quit now. Pressing F10
will do the job. To make sure that this column is not entirely
boring, however, I have also added some fun bits.
Before I start with anything else in this column I would like to
apologize to the more than 243 million people that I seem to have
inadvertedly insulted, i.e. all proud citizens of the United
States of America. I would like to publish here a letter Stefan
received through InterNet (or God knows which Net) of one of
these 243 million people who considered things having gone wrong
somewhere in the previous featuring of this column.
I have added some remarks in light writing in between.
"...I just finished reading Richard's "Quest For The
Purification Of The English language" in ST NEWS Volume 7 Issue
2, and I noticed many errors. Here they are:
-o- or -ou-
Never heard of "saviour" in American, we spell it
"savior". "Glamour" is only used in magazines dealing
with glamour. Otherwise, common usage is "glamor".
The whole point of my writing was to explain that the
British use -ou- and the Americans use -o-. Erm...
-l- or -ll-
Never heard of "thralldom" in American! Maybe I never
had the reason to use it.
-dge- or -dg-
"Judgement" is perfectly acceptable in American.
"Analogue", "Epilogue", "Pedagogue" are also acceptable.
-re- or -er-
Whoa, LOTSA errors in this section!
Never heard of "Acer" instead of "Acre"
..."Cader" instead of "Cadre"
..."Lucer" instead of "Lucre"
..."Massacer" instead of "Massacre"
..."Mediocer" instead of "Mediocre"
..."Oger" instead of "Ogre"
All these would look like silly misspellings in
American, we would likely laugh at them.
The only word in this section that was correct was
"meagre" which Americans of course spell "meager".
Idioms and spellings
"Disc" and "Disk" are both acceptable.
Officially, "disc" is a flat round object whereas
"disk" can be used in the sense of "floppy disk".
"Film" and "Movie" are both acceptable, and about
"Grey" and "Gray" are both acceptable.
What about Br.E "torch" = Am.E "flashlight"
Br.E "bonnet" = Am.E "hood"
(referring to a car)
Br.E "crisps" = Am.E "chips"
(as in potato crisps)
"I don't want no war" is totally incorrect, only an
uneducated person would say that, and it sounds
horrible in American. Americans would say "I don't want
any war" or more simply, "I don't want war".
One of my tutors mentioned this as an example of double
negation or whatever you call it, that he reckoned
could be used in America. It is likely possible that he
had come across an uneducated American.
I wonder why Richard thinks it's necessary to slag on American
English. In one breath he commends English for being the richest
language in the world and yet he slags on American English for
being different from British english. What a contradiction...
Differences are what help to provide that richness of language!"
I would want to say this: First of all, I did not attend to slag
on anything or anyone. What I was after was trying to get the
British to speak British English and the Americans to speak
American English. In practise it may be totally unimportant
whether a British English speaker mentions "movie" instead of
"film" or "hood" instead of "bonnet", but all I know is that I
get lesser grades if ever I dare to mingle my British English
with American idioms. If I would ever spell "humour" like "humor"
I would get a red thing right through it. I assume, therefore,
that there must be a reason for my teachers stressing the fact
that the British should refrain from using Americanisms.
As the the examples I quoted in part I of this column, I have
taken them all from "The Oxford Guide to the English Language"
(and not too old an edition either), including the "massacer",
"oger", etc., which also sounded odd to me.
So far this letter. I hope it will be the first of a global
interactive discussion on the use of English language.
Let's get down to the actual bit now.
For those of you who read this because they are not afraid of
getting some boring stuff hurled at them, this is the bit to
read. If you want less boring stuff, get down to the bit called
Although fairly simply in its own accord, the forming of the
possessive case (a remnant of the Old English third or genetive
case) is often confused with plurals such as were treated in the
previous occurrence of this column. Basically it's a remnant of
the word his having disappeared and having been reduced to s,
where 's indicated that letters have been removed before the "s".
Normally, to indicate the possessive case one would just have to
add "-s". So a dog belonging to John would be John's dog. In the
case of plurals one normally adds the apostrophe "'" only. So if
you have a book that belongs to several girls it would be the
girls' book. Note that plurals (girl -> girls) should be formed
prior to possessives. Generally, it may be said that you have to
add "'s" in all cases except where you add "'" in the case of a
plural ending with an "s" on itself.
If a noun ends on "s" already without having been made a plural,
add "'s". Examples are boss's, Charles's and octopus's. Plural
possessives can be formed like bosses', Charleses' and
The above is also the case for French names ending in silent
"s", such as Dumas's, and also the case for words ending with "-
z" or "-x" such as Ajax's and Leibniz's.
Unlike the above, however, names ending on "-es" are treated
like plurals which results in you having to add an apostrophe
only - as in Bridges' and Moses'.
Unlike both above cases, polysyllables (words consisting of
multiple syllables) that have no accent on the last or
penultimate syllable can have either "'s" or "'" added - they are
both equally acceptable.
An example is Barnabas' and Barnabas's.
To round this off, there are some more specific cases that need
to be mentioned for completeness' sake.
As you could already see in the previous paragraph I an
expression using the word sake. With these cases you should have
yourself by guided by the pronunciation. Other examples are foir
goodness' sake, for conscience's sake, for God's sake and for
The English often use phrases such as "I'll be going to the
grocer's", which is a perfectly acceptable sentence that just
happens to leave out the word "shop". Likewise, this can also
happen with a case like "This evening I'll be visited Jane's",
where "house" or "place" is deleted. The normal ruled for
possessives apply here, too. Some companies have caused their
name to be used without apostrophe here, such as "Marks &
Spencers" (which should actually be "Mark's and Spencer's") and
"Barclays Bank" (which should of course actually be "Barclay's
Bank"). There is one further rather particular case where no
apostrophe is needed - in the case of the cleaners (as in "take
to the cleaners" or "go to the cleaners").
To wrap this up, some popular exceptions need to be mentioned
where no apostrophe is used and the "s" is directly attached to
the stem of the word. This happens with hers, its, ours, theirs
and yours. The possessive if who is whose - who's means who is.
Similarly, it's means it is and not belonging to it.
Yes. Finally, you have reached the bit that might be
entertaining even to the non-anglophiles! I will do this in every
future part of this "Quest" column, in order to make all of you
see that the English Language "is like a magic moving sea of
possibilities instead of a corset for the mind" (quoted from
"Palin" is Greek for 'back', and refers to the fact that a palin
word, for example, can be read from beginning to end or from end
to beginning and result in the same word.
The true palin words consisting in the English dictionary
contained in Arnor's "Protext" (which is a Collins Dictionary)
are the following:
3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 -
aka deed civic redder adinida
ala esse deled succus deified
ana peep kaiak
bib poop kayak
bob sees level
dad suus madam
There are some more palin words to be found in other
dictionaries, though. What about redivider (the longest standard
English palin word, nine letters) and detartrated (an even longer
palin word that comes from a chemistry handbook, however - 11
letters). One can also check out the left 11 letters of
sensuousness, which is the longest official palin cluster
although itself no palin word.
Unfortunately it has to be said that the English language seems
not as flexible at the Dutch. Possible palin words in Dutch
include "nepmalagalampen", "nepparterreserretrappen", "edelstaal-
plaatslede" and a less proper but nonetheless valid one such as
If we take one step further we get to palindromes, which are
full sentences that can be read in either direction without
becoming different. Of course this requires some creative
nullification of spaces, commas and periods, but wattaheck?
In "Crazy English", Richard Lederer conducts an entire interview
with Doctor Otto Rotcod, born on 9-3-39 from his dad Bob and mom
Ava - a man destined (if not doomed) to speak palindromes all
his life. I will not quote the entire interview here (book
details are mentioned at the end of this article), but I would
not want to keep some examples from you -
"Live not on evil"
"Madam in Eden, I'm Adam"
"Eve damned Eden, Mad Eve"
"Evil did I dwell, lewd I did live"
"Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?"
There are even more ingenuous palindromes in English, however.
What to think of the following, which was concocted by some dude
named Nabokov a while ago -
Every language on earth, I presume, has palindromes. The
following is German -
"Eine hure bei Liebe ruhe nie"
A rather long Dutch one I'd like to mention is -
"Mooie zeden is: Nu lepelt Emma, dat lor, 'n ei, en rolt Adam
met lepe Luns in Ede' zei Oom"
I would like to round this off with a rather old yet brilliant
one that was quoted from an 1866 issue of "Our Young Folks". This
one is truly amazing, as it is not merely a palindrome but it's
also bi-lungual with both the Latin and the English bit having
the same meaning -
"Anger? 'Tis safe never. Bar it! Use love!
Evoles ut ira breve nefas sit; regna!"
Enough about playing with your language. Next time I'll delve
deeper into pangrams, and perhaps into some more normal bits like
alliteration and any other general craziness of language.
I would like to close down this part of the "Quest For The
Purification Of The English Language" by quoting some stuff taken
from InterNet that apparently reflects the use of English as done
by various people abroad - precisely against which this entire
column is aimed.
In a Tokyo Hotel: Is forbitten to steal hotel towels
please. If you are not person to do such thing is please
not to read notis.
In another Japanese hotel room: Please to bathe inside the
In a Bucharest hotel lobby: The lift is being fixed for the
next day. During that time we regret that you will be
In a Leipzig elevator: Do not enter the lift backwards, and
only when lit up.
In a Belgrade hotel elevator: To move the cabin, push button
for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons,
each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is
then going alphabetically by national order.
In a Paris hotel elevator: Please leave your values at the
In a hotel in Athens: Visitors are expected to complain at
the office between the hours of 9 and 11 A.M. daily.
In a Yugoslavian hotel: The flattening of underwear with
pleasure is the job of the chambermaid.
In a Japanese hotel: You are invited to take advantage of
In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian
Orthodox monastery: You are welcome to visit the cemetery
where famous Russian and Soviet composers, artists, and
writers are buried daily except Thursday.
In an Austrian hotel catering to skiers: Not to perambulate
the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of
On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: Our wines leave you
nothing to hope for.
On the menu of a Polish hotel: Salad a firm's own make;
limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a
finger; roasted duck let loose; beef rashers beaten up in
the country people's fashion.
In a Hong Kong supermarket: For your convenience, we
recommend courteous, efficient self-service.
Outside a Hong Kong tailor shop: Ladies may have a fit
In a Rhodes tailor shop: Order your summers suit. Because
is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.
Similarly, from the Soviet Weekly: There will be a Moscow
Exhibition of Aets by 15,000 Soviet Republic painters and
sculptors. These were executed over the past two years.
In an East African newspaper: A new swimming pool is
rapidly taking shape since the contractors have thrown in
the bulk of their workers.
In a Vienna hotel: In case of fire, do your utmost to alarm
the hotel porter.
A sign posted in Germany's Black Forest: It is strictly
forbidden on our black forest camping site that people of
different sex, for instance, men and women, live together in
one tent unless they are married with each other for that
In a Zurich hotel: Because of the impropriety of
entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it
is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.
In an advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist: Teeth extracted
by the latest Methodists.
A translated sentence from a Russian chess book: A lot of
water has been passed under the bridge since this variation
has been played.
In a Rome laundry: Ladies, leave your clothes here and
spend the afternoon having a good time.
In a Czechoslovakian tourist agency: Take one of our horse-
driven city tours -- we guarantee no miscarriages.
Advertisement for donkey rides in Thailand: Would you like
to ride on your own ass?
On the faucet in a Finnish washroom: To stop the drip, turn
cock to right.
In the window of a Swedish furrier: Fur coats made for
ladies from their own skin.
On the box of a clockwork toy made in Hong Kong: Guaranteed
to work throughout its useful life.
Detour sign in Kyushi, Japan: Stop: Drive Sideways.
In a Swiss mountain inn: Special today -- no ice cream.
In a Bangkok temple: It is forbidden to enter a woman even a
foreigner if dressed as a man.
In a Tokyo bar: Special cocktails for the ladies with nuts.
In a Copenhagen airline ticket office: We take your bags
and send them in all directions.
On the door of a Moscow hotel room: If this is your first
visit to the USSR, you are welcome to it.
In a Norwegian cocktail lounge: Ladies are requested not to
have children in the bar.
At a Budapest zoo: Please do not feed the animals. If you
have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.
In the office of a Roman doctor: Specialist in women and
In an Acapulco hotel: The manager has personally passed all
the water served here.
In a Tokyo shop: Our nylons cost more than common, but
you'll find they are best in the long run.
From a Japanese information booklet about using a hotel air
conditioner: Cooles and Heates: If you want just condition
of warm in your room, please control yourself.
From a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo: When
passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet
him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your
passage then tootle him with vigor.
Two signs from a Majorcan shop entrance:
- English well talking.
- Here speeching American.
I hope to get even more hot feedback to this column next time,
and I surely hope I will have helped some of you out there to use
English better (even though it's probably only a little bit).
For further reading on creative and/or humorous (or is it
humourous?) use of English, I would like to advise you to check
out the books below.
"Crazy English", by Richard Lederer. Pocket Books, USA.
For Dutch speakers only:
"Opperlandse Taal & Letterkunde", by Battus. Querido, NL.
If you have any other books lying around that I should read for
the benefit of this column (especially the latter bit of it) I
would appreciate title, author and, if known, ISBN number.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.