Singular ‘They’ OK at WaPo.

Arika Okrent reports on a development I welcome with unalloyed pleasure:

Now, in the most recent update to The Washington Post style guide, singular they has been given official approval. Post copy editor Bill Walsh explains that he personally accepted singular they many years ago, but had stopped short of allowing it in the paper. He finally decided to endorse it in house style after coming to the conclusion that it is “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun.”

Other institutions are sure to follow suit. Professional associations of copy editors have been chafing at the restriction against it for years, and now that a major publication has approved it, it won’t be long before more do the same. The news of the acceptance of singular they may cause a little stir, but nobody will notice the change in action, as Walsh says, “I suspect that the singular they will go largely unnoticed even by those who oppose it on principle. We’ve used it before, if inadvertently, and I’ve never heard a complaint.”

Other changes to the style guide are “website” for “Web site,” of which I approve; “mic” for “mike,” to which I am indifferent; and “email” for “e-mail,” which I deprecate (not that my displeasure has any relevance outside my own head). There is ongoing discussion of all this at Mark Liberman’s Log post. (Also, I don’t like Arika’s “update to The Washington Post style guide”; in such a construction, “the” should be treated as part of the sentence, not the name of the paper: “update to the Washington Post style guide.”)

Comments

  1. Hurrah! Walsh has said it, we believe it, that settles it.

    Mic is all right except that it leads to miced, micing, which are actively awful.

    What’s wrong with email other than Kids Today? It’s not actively misleading, it is the OED’s spelling, and actually exists as a word, though with a different sense, an obsolete synonym for enamel.

    The Washington Post, like The New York Times, insists that its name includes The Article.

  2. John, if you’re going to include the article from the name, it would have to be “update to the The Washington Post style guide” (which is horrible). Then again, people seem to have gotten used to “Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol” rather than “Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol” (maybe a bad example, since it could trigger a discussion of possessive forms for names ending in s).

  3. Oskar Sigvardsson says:

    @Keith Ivey: There’s a comedy skit I once saw about two men arguing about how to introduce bands that have a “the” in the title of the band. Do you say “And now, the Beatles!”, “And now, The Beatles!”, or “And now, the The Beatles“?

    The punchline was along the lines of realizing that the British musical group “The The” should be introduced with “And now, the The The!”

    It was funnier than it sounds…

  4. Yes, and there’s Keynes’s[*] The Economic Consequences of the Peace, which without its first article would fail to state what it is: a roundup of all the consequences, not just some. Per contra, Shippey’s Author of the Century with an article would suggest that its subject was the sole significant author of his century (the 20th): many reviewers missed this subtlety and accused Shippey of arrogance.

    [*] Me, I actually go with Strunk & White on possessives: singular nouns get apostrophe-ess unless they are Biblical or Classical. Other people can do what they please.

  5. @Oskar: That reminds me of when Christopher Lee introduced Meat Loaf on Saturday Night Live: “Ladies and gentlemen, meet… Loaf!”

  6. and actually exists as a word, though with a different sense

    …And right there’s your problem. Differentiation is a Good Thing. (Though, to be honest, my problem is confusion with the French word for ‘enamel,’ which of course is not a problem for English-speakers at large.)

    The Washington Post, like The New York Times, insists that its name includes The Article.

    What Keith Ivey said, plus I don’t know why anyone who doesn’t work for the paper should care what it insists on. They’re not the boss of us.

  7. Well, I suppose it’s all of a piece with your inconsistent strategy about names: names of persons are what they say, names of places are what we say.

    Here’s Mencken on newspapers vs. diacritics:

    [Charles Fitzhugh Talman] gives an amusing account [in the Atlantic Monthly, 1915] of the struggles of American newspapers with thè [sic] dansant. He says:

    Put this through the hopper of the typesetting machine, and it comes forth, “the the dansant” — which even Oshkosh finds intolerable. The thing was, however, often attempted when thes dansants came into fashion, and with various results. Generally the proof-reader eliminates one of the the’s, making dansant a quasi-noun [and indeed the OED lists it as such], and to this day one reads of people giving or attending dansants. Latterly the public taste seems to favor dansante, which doubtless has a Frenchier appearance, provided you are sufficiently ignorant of the Gallic tongue [the OED cites soirée dansante as also in use in English]. Two other solutions of the difficulty may be noted:

            Among those present at the “the dansant”;
            Among those present at the the-dansant;

    that is, either a hyphen or quotation marks set off the exotic phrase.

  8. I’ve seen mic’d and mic’ing. Ugly, but no confusion with mouses.

  9. Well, I suppose it’s all of a piece with your inconsistent strategy about names

    You call it inconsistent, I call it only reasonable. But then I don’t believe places have the rights and privileges of people any more than corporations, and bother the Supreme Court.

  10. Hat, can you remove one level of blockquoting from the Mencken quotation? I always forget how abominable nested blockquote looks on this site.

  11. AP likes to call itself The Associated Press; at least some of its members accept this style when giving its name in full; I think it’s silly. Cf Toronto Dominion Bank vs. Toronto-Dominion Centre.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    enamel / émail

    I must have seen the word enamel dozens if not hundreds of times, but never email in an English text. If I saw émail among English words I would assume that the writer was trying to show off their erudition. I don’t see any reason for an English-language writer to use the French word unless perhaps in a historical context (as in recounting the rediscovery of the process), using the word once before switching to enamel.

    thé dansant

    I suppose that a translation as “dancing tea” would sound utterly ridiculous. Is this phrase ever used?

    To me thé dansant suggests a period between the two world wars, when resort hotels put on prim and proper afternoon dances for their guests, with no alcohol allowed. Tea in France has never been nearly as popular as in England, and was associated with genteel behaviour, with ladies of leisure, while red-blooded ordinary people drank coffee. I am not familiar with a typical soirée dansante but it sounds to me like something similar, except in the evening.

    (the(the(the ….

    I suppose the first the would have a schwa, what about the other ones?

  13. marie-lucie says:

    mic

    How is one supposed to pronounce this? Mike or Mick? And indeed micing reminds me of mincing mice, which is at least unfortunate.

  14. Mike.

  15. Hat, can you remove one level of blockquoting from the Mencken quotation?

    Done.

  16. Micing presents the same problem as syncing (which can be avoided if you spell the verb synch).

  17. There’s also the verb sic (to attack, as of a dog), though the inflected forms of that one are spelled sicc- or sick-.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    But to sic is pronounced like “sick”, not “syke”. Miced pronounced like “miked” doesn’t make sense.

  19. To say that an aspect of English spelling doesn’t make sense is faint condemnation indeed.

  20. The sequence nc between vowels is (I think) always /ŋk/, whereas micing is plainly the gerund-participle of the verb *mice (as distinct from the well-established verb mouse).

  21. the well-established verb mouse

    Well, well-established in a certain sense that is compatible with hardly ever being used; I was well into adulthood before I learned that the -s- was voiced (as in “to house”), and thus learned that I’d been saying “Gray Mouser” wrong all along.

  22. Walsh agrees with you, marie-lucie (though he could not stand against the tide):

    Still, mic is an aberration. Words like that aren’t pronounced like that. A bicycle is a bike, not a bic. Bic, as in the pens, rhymes with Mick. So do hic and Nic and pic and Ric and sic and tic and Vic. That’s how short forms work: They’re intended to be pronounced, and so they’re spelled phonetically. You don’t just start subtracting letters until you’re left with something approximate. A refrigerator is a fridge; frig is a mild curse word that rhymes with pig.

  23. “English spelling has the consistency of diarrhea.” — Stanislaw Lem

  24. Which begs the question, hw did mic come to be? My guess is that it comes from the abbreviation that appears (or appeared) next to microphone sockets on audio equipment. This in contrast to bike etc., which derive directly from the spoken form.

  25. (the(the(the ….

    I suppose the first the would have a schwa, what about the other ones?

    I bought one of its* cds at Tower Records on W4th Street in the mid-1980s but I have never known how to pronounce the The even though I’m sure I’ve been told more than once. It seemed to me to be a fundamental error to have a name that no one could pronounce, but I was an old fart even back then.

    *Is this correct American usage? I would call a pop group ‘they’ and an orchestra ‘it’.

  26. I was well into adulthood before I learned that the -s- was voiced (as in “to house”), and thus learned that I’d been saying “Gray Mouser” wrong all along.

    I am fast approaching Medicare age and this is the first I’ve heard of this…

  27. I think my first exposure to the verb form “mouse” was watching the TV special Garfield on the Town when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure that Garfield’s mother described herself and the result of her family as “mousers” with an unvoiced s, but it was a long time ago. I’m not sure when I realized that was not the standard pronunciation, but I do remember later seeing an interview with Fritz Leiber where he used the standard, voiced pronunciation. I think the difference in pronunciation may actually have been alluded to in the story “Stardock,” when the Mouser’s latest paramour switches to calling him “Mouse,” as his true love Ivrian had when they were young. (I know of no recordings of Harry Fischer talking about the Gray Mouser, but I would imagine that he and Leiber were agreed on the pronunciations of the names.)

  28. @AJP Crown: I’m an American, and I would refer to any musical group as “they,” never “it.”

  29. I’m another American agreeing with Brett. The same with sports teams, companies (often), and so on.

    I might use a singular verb with the group name, though, if it wasn’t a plural noun phrase.

  30. I do remember later seeing an interview with Fritz Leiber where he used the standard, voiced pronunciation.

    And how did he say Fafhrd? I say “FAFF-erd” in my head, but with no certainty.

  31. Mouse and mouser don’t necessarily match.

    OED3 (2003) prefers /s/ to /z/ in both words, for both BrE and AmE.

    AHD5 is AmE-only and prefers /z/ to /s/ in both words.

    ODO for both BrE and AmE gives only /z/ for mouse (but I bet mouse over, the computer term, is /s/ anyway), only /s/ for mouser.

    m-w.com, which is basically AmE-, gives only /z/ for mouse and prefers /s/ to /z/ for mouser but lists /z/ as BrE.

    RHD is AmE-only and gives /z/ for both words.

    So the facts are that you can say what you like, and I will stick with /s/ in both words, including Grey Mouser.

  32. The Fafhrd spelling bothers me, but less than Yyrkoon or the innumerable gratuitous apostrophes in fantasy literature.

  33. So the facts are that you can say what you like, and I will stick with /s/ in both words, including Grey Mouser.

    You can, of course, always say what you like, but I like traditional pronunciations, and the author’s own usage clinches it for me.

  34. On singular they: like I said in the Language Log thread, I’m curious whether the style guide’s acceptance extends as far as themself. (Though if I had to guess, I’d wager that it hasn’t.) It seems that people have been slower in adopting that one: Oxford, for example, says that you should avoid it in formal contexts and advises you to write, for example, “This is the first step in helping someone to help themselves.”

    My own intuition is muddled: I’ve devoted enough conscious thought to the question that I’m not sure which form feels more natural to me. But themself definitely has the appeal of logic: to accept singular they while insisting on singular themselves seems like such a self-consciously transitional state of affairs, as if we’re in the 17th century and we’ve just accepted singular you but still insist on singular yourselves.

  35. Wikipedia tells me, “Singular themself is used systematically in Canadian federal legislative texts in opposition to the plural themselves.” Way to go, Canada!

  36. George Gibbard says:

    The True North strong and free!
    (and damn the False North, such as Ecuador.)

  37. George Gibbard says:

    Don’t anyone get offended, I quite like Canada Terre de mes aïeux, and would have voted for Trudeau, I was just trying to be funny.

  38. A little nostalgia. There was a time when usage was the measure of meaning. If there happened to be a sign in a cafeteria “Everyone must bus his own tray” and only boys and men bussed their trays, we would know that ‘his’ meant boys and men. But if also girls and women bussed their trays in response to the sign, then we would know that ‘his’ meant both sexes. This was all that was needed, and books like Robert Hall’s Leave Your Language Alone! (1950) were linguistic orthodoxy. But now, we tinker – but only with our own languages. In the field, usage is still the measure of meaning. I like singular ‘they’ and it has plenty of support from (formerly substandard) usage. But it looks like meaning in the Kalahari is not meaning in New York.

  39. Eh. It looks that way because by then everyone had long ago stopped using “Christian” to mean ‘human being’.

  40. Ken:

    If there happened to be a sign in a cafeteria “Everyone must bus his own tray” and only boys and men bussed their trays, we would know that ‘his’ meant boys and men. But if also girls and women bussed their trays in response to the sign, then we would know that ‘his’ meant both sexes. This was all that was needed […]

    You’d have needed more than that. You’d have to try the experiment in a convent. If the nuns didn’t do a mental double-take at “Everyone must bus his own tray”, then yes, you could conclude that “his” in general meant both sexes, as distinct from being tolerated in certain contexts as a loose or conventional usage.

    I’m pretty sure the nuns would find it odd (at first sight anyhow). From which I’d conclude that “he” is inherently masculine in the Sprachgefühl of native speakers, and it’s the use of a masculine pronoun to refer to people of both sexes that amounts to tinkering, however widely the convention was formerly used and accommodated.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    The Fafhrd spelling bothers me, but less than Yyrkoon or the innumerable gratuitous apostrophes in fantasy literature.

    Yeah. Fafhrd is just /ˈfafhr̩d/, and Cthulhu is just /ˈkθuɬu/ (the lh has got to mean something, right?), and Grignr is just /ˈgrign̩r̩/ (three syllables), and the Wookiee* planet of Kashyyyk is just /kaˈʃɨːːk/ with some kind of strangled overlong vowel. Yyrkoon is really ambiguous.

    On apostrophes I’m with Lesson 10.

    * Actually spelled Wookie in the book of the first movie.

  42. Coming back to ‘they’ as a gender-neutral singular, would someone tell me whether one would use ‘they is/was/walks’ or ‘they are/were/walk’? And presumably ‘they’ changes to ‘them’ and to ‘their’. It may seem a daft question, but I’m a native speaker of English who knows next to nothing about the language and I can perfectly well imagine the former being admissible, sometime in the future if not now. I may live a sheltered life, but I do know of someone whose partner, ‘gender-nonconforming’, is a ‘they’, i.e. insists on being so referred to. I haven’t met ‘them’ yet, and could certainly ask ‘them’ direct when that happens, if it does.

  43. usage was the measure of meaning

    That is the mark of a high-context culture in Robert A. Hall’s sense, one where most things are implicit and irregularities are taken for granted, needing no spelling-out. Historically Americans are pretty low-context, but the South was much higher; Canada is even lower-context than the U.S. (but not as much as Germany); the UK and France and Australia are mostly high-context. Originally all cultures are high-context, and low-context cultures arise from cultural mixing, I think (Hall doesn’t discuss the diachronic side). What is happening now in the U.S. is that subcultures, hitherto isolated and very high-context themselves, have become increasingly integrated into the rest of society, with the result that the context of the revised society is even lower than before.

  44. It’s pretty clear (though I don’t have the evidence to hand) that h in Lovecraftese is [h] even in clusters. However, Cthulhu is almost certainly [t͡ɬuɬu]; in some contexts it is transcribed Tulu.

  45. But if also girls and women bussed their trays in response to the sign, then we would know that ‘his’ meant both sexes. This was all that was needed

    This is an argument (and/or form of nostalgia) I only hear from men. I wonder why that might be?

  46. Ugh, yes, I had forgotten about Wookiee.

    Yyrkoon would be OK if it were supposed to be [yːrkoːn] or something, but I’m pretty sure it’s intended to start with [j] and have [uː] in the last syllable.

  47. @languagehat: From “Ill Met in Lankhmar”:

    Fafhrd stopped, again wiped right hand on robe, and held it out. “Name’s Fafhrd. Ef ay ef aitch ar dee.”

    Again the Mouser shook it. “Gray Mouser,” he said defiantly, as if challenging anyone to laugh at the sobriquet. “Excuse me, but how exactly do you pronounce that? Faf-hrud?”

    “Just Faf-erd.”

    “Thank-you.” They walked on.

    That doesn’t nail down the stress, but I’m pretty sure Leiber said it with initial stress.

  48. @ John Cowan

    That is the mark of a high-context culture in Robert A. Hall’s sense

    You mean Edward T. Hall.

    What is happening now in the U.S. is that subcultures, hitherto isolated and very high-context themselves, have become increasingly integrated into the rest of society, with the result that the context of the revised society is even lower than before.

    That makes sense to me.

  49. “Just Faf-erd.”

    Ah, so that’s where I got my pronunciation; I definitely read “Ill Met in Lankhmar” when it came out in F&SF in 1970.

  50. I believe when Walsh states “simply allowing they for a gender-nonconforming person is a no-brainer” he could not be more wrong (actually I’m wondering whether he is just being muddle-headed here and hasn’t thought things through). That’s because singular they is only used with general, not specific identities. Look what happens when I take:

    “Well, if you talk to any doctor, they’ll tell you not to take that sort of supplement.”

    and substitute “my doctor”:

    “Well, if you talk to my doctor, they’ll tell you not to take that sort of supplement.”

    The singular they no longer “works” because I know my GP is a she.

    In other words, using they specifically for a “gender-nonconforming person” is not a no-brainer at all. It’s an entirely new usage for singular they with no guarantee of widespread acceptance because it contravenes the longstanding and well-embedded “rules” for its use.

  51. I see the evolution from e-mail to email as part of the usual pattern of dispensing with a hyphen as a kind of lexical bar mitzvah. However, I recognise that email is unusual: among the few a-foo words where the initial vowel might be pronounced the same without the reinforcement of a hyphen, none of the others seem in practice to dispense with it: ebook and ecommerce don’t seem to have caught on; abomb and uboat are barely recognisable. (The nonexistent uturn and oring are less analogous since the U- or O- is a standalone letter rather than an initial).
    “The sequence nc between vowels is (I think) always /ŋk/” — you think no such thing. This very thread has mincing and dancing
    To avoid hilarious consequences, mouser ought not to sound like Mauser .
    “Thou thyself art” changed to “you yourself are”, not “you yourselves are”, nor “you yourself art”. Therefore, “he himself is” should change to “they themself are”. Except there’s no “therefore” about it, because language.

    “Name’s Fafhrd. Ef ay ef aitch ar dee.”… “Excuse me, but how exactly do you pronounce that?”

    this is realistic. Fafhrd showed Mouser how to pronounce it before telling him how to spell it; but the spelling made Mouser forget the pronunciation. For many monoglots, telling them how to spell your exotic name actually makes it harder for them to pronounce it.
    I find I hate mic less than I used to. I tolerate it in headlinese, not in running prose.

  52. Notice how mollymooly casually speaks of “a kind of lexical bar mitzvah” when she obviously meant “bar/bat mitzvah”. We’ve a long way to go, friends.

  53. J. W. Brewer says:

    I think I’d always pronounced “Grey Mouser” with an /s/; with a /z/ – I agree that the latter evokes “Mauser.” And Faf-erd (with first-syllable stress and the TRAP vowel).

  54. “Well, if you talk to my doctor, they’ll tell you not to take that sort of supplement.”

    The singular they no longer “works” because I know my GP is a she.

    Doesn’t work for you, but that’s because you’re not used to it. When singular “you” came along, I’m sure it didn’t work for lots of people. Time and language march on, and rules are made to be broken.

    To avoid hilarious consequences, mouser ought not to sound like Mauser .

    Huh? The homophony has no consequences whatever as far as I can see. In what context could it cause problems? I remind you that English is rife with homophones.

  55. “I must have seen the word enamel dozens if not hundreds of times, but never email in an English text. If I saw émail among English words I would assume that the writer was trying to show off their erudition. ”

    M-L, I have seen it in design magazines where it occurs along with terms like “vermeil” that almost no one knows. And that’s the point. It’s not about showing off your erudition in French (which might put a big-ego, rich customer off) but about showing off your design snobbery.

    “OED3 (2003) prefers /s/ to /z/ in both words, for both BrE and AmE.”

    John, I agree with this first dictionary. Mouser =/= Mauser.

  56. J. W. Brewer says:

    Of course neither Fafhrd nor the Gray Mouser spoke English, and I doubt any of the languages they did speak are standardly written in Latin script . . .

  57. “To avoid hilarious consequences, mouser ought not to sound like Mauser .

    Huh? The homophony has no consequences whatever as far as I can see. In what context could it cause problems? ”

    As in “How many mousers/Mausers do you have?” “Seven or eight. They keep the hay barn cleaned out.”

  58. Edward T. Hall

    Yes, of course; a brain fart on my part. They were almost exact contemporaries, as it happens.

    entirely new usage for singular they

    Not entirely new. There has been a steady progression from “indefinite” to “definite, gender known” to “definite, gender hidden/indeterminate”. I’m with you in my own usage, only “indefinite”, but the trend is certainly to go further and I recognize that.

    usual pattern of dispensing with a hyphen

    Absolutely. My favorite example is base ball > base-ball > baseball, though it took The New-York (Daily) Times half a century to drop its hyphen.

    email

    I think part of the acceptance of the hyphenless form is that it is a count noun as well as a mass noun, which is not the case for mail; you can get a hundred emails as well as a lot of email every day. E-book doesn’t contrast with book in this way; a little e-book can only mean a short one, not a small number of them, so it is still plainly a shortened form of electronic book.

    she obviously meant

    Mollymooly is male, though there is no reason you should know that a priori (welcome to very-low-context culture!)

  59. For Yyrkoon I’m going with [jɨrku:n].

  60. Various websites say that Mauser originated as the occupational name for a mouse catcher. Does it still have that meaning in German?

    (Myself, I have trouble distinguishing them from javelins.)

  61. As in “How many mousers/Mausers do you have?”

    That’s exactly the sort of strained example people come up with when complaining about allegedly confusing facets of English. The probability of such a sentence turning up in real life in a context where it was not clear which was meant is vanishingly low.

  62. To avoid hilarious consequences, mouser ought not to sound like Mauser.

    Huh?

    I agree about the strainedness of examples. I did not realise that “hilarious consequences” is a Briticism

  63. J. W. Brewer says:

    Did I miss the part in this thread where it was actually established that the /z/ variant of “mouser” was more traditional, or more standard, or more anything than the /s/ variant? We have a second-hand account that Leiber (at least on one occasion) used the /z/ variant, although I can’t see why that matters — e.g. I don’t feel the need to pronounce a fictional character’s name non-rhotically just because the author happens to do so. Now, if we had reason to believe that Leiber used the /s/ variant when talking generically about cats and so on and deliberately chose the /z/ variant for this particular character for some specific aesthetic purpose, maybe that would be meaningful, but that seems far-fetched. On the one hand, a shift from word-final /s/ to intervocalic /z/ in this sort of context seems pretty standard (e.g. “louse” v. “lousy” or “spouse” v. “spousal”) but if there’s a common variant of “mouser” that *doesn’t* follow that pattern, which there pretty clearly is, that seems interesting/significant in its own right.

  64. @Ken Miner,

    the interesting question is why the name for the institution that gentiles have picked up is the male-gendered one.

    I was blithely unaware that girls even had bat mitzvahs, much less that the term was different, until my daughter’s friends started having them. As far as Danes used to know, Jewish boys had Bar Mitzvahs, and that was it. Of course that can be a case of not wanting to know more, but visibility might have something to do with it as well.

    @JC, surely the Hattery is a universe of high context. Dziebel.

  65. I agree about the strainedness of examples. I did not realise that “hilarious consequences” is a Briticism

    Dammit, I’ve shown myself once again to be a feckless colonial! Thanks for clarifying.

  66. Did I miss the part in this thread where it was actually established that the /z/ variant of “mouser” was more traditional, or more standard, or more anything than the /s/ variant?

    Try looking in a dictionary, which is how I learned it. For a handy source of traditional pronunciations, I usually reach for Daniel Jones’s Pronouncing Dictionary, which has, yes, the voiced variant.

  67. Did I miss the part in this thread where it was actually established that the /z/ variant of “mouser” was more traditional, or more standard, or more anything than the /s/ variant?

    No, it’s just that I apparently fat-fingered the OED1 entry in my report on the dictionary search. It should have read “OED1 (1908) lists only /z/ in both words.” The OED2 pronunciations, available online, are just the OED1’s retranscribed into IPA.

    The interesting question is why the name for the institution that gentiles have picked up is the male-gendered one.

    Because that was the only name until recently, because it was solely a ceremony for boys until 1922, and bat mitzvahs don’t exist in Orthodox Judaism even now.

    Anecdote of the season:

    Yielding to the pressure of the children, a young American Jewish couple decides to go ahead and put up a Christmas tree — of an entirely secular character, of course. But feeling vaguely guilty about it, they decide to find a rabbi who’ll give it a brocheh ‘blessing’.

    The first rabbi they find turns out to be Orthodox, and he orders them out of the house. The next rabbi is Conservative, and he shakes his head sadly and says “I’m sorry.” The third rabbi is Reform, and says, “Sure, no problem! Uh — What’s a brocheh?”

        —Leo Rosten (from memory)

    Dziebel

    Soon enough he’ll be forgotten, even by some of the direct participants.

  68. J. W. Brewer says:

    Bat mitzvahs have become a common thing comparatively recently (like last 40-50 years max?), well after “bar mitzvah” had become somewhat known as a lexical term to Gentile speakers of AmEng. Can’t speak for Danish.

    I think some Jewish speakers of AmEng use “b’nai mitzvah” to generically lump together bar + bat, but a) that’s pretty opaque to those with no acquaintance with Hebrew so is less likely to catch on in the wider community; and b) I believe “b’nai” is historically the masc plural in Hebrew — so it’s like “alumni” where the masc plural gets used for a mixed-sex group and the fem plural (the equiv of “alumnae” may be “b’not mitzvah”) is either used for female-only groups or just get discarded as fussy/archaic-sounding.

  69. J. W. Brewer says:

    But the dictionaries do not all agree on /s/ v. /z/. Even if Jones is unusually accurate for what it is/was, what variety of English was a British academic trying to document in 1917? When variant pronunciations were extant did Jones consistently include both?

  70. When variant pronunciations were extant did Jones consistently include both?

    Yes. I’m using the 13th (1967) edition of Jones, which includes the voiceless forms in brackets (meaning “less frequent”).

  71. J. W. Brewer says:

    I see now that I have used both “Gray Mouser” and “Grey Mouser” in this thread, and on that one will default to the author’s preference (well, at least his publishers’ preference) when I can remember it while reserving the right to not stop and double-check if the gravity of the occasion does not seem to call for it.

  72. Murray, who was a Border Scot, was very careful to use RP (what would now be called Conservative RP) in the OED1 pronunciations. Indeed, he claimed his status as a non-speaker was actually helpful in that he was never tempted to appeal to his own intuition. I think we can take it as written that /s/ in mouse(r) is innovative and analogical, like /s/ in all those plural nouns in -ses (excepting houses, which seems to still be /z/ everywhere), and /θ/ in with.

  73. J. W. Brewer says:

    “Less frequent” worldwide or just in BrEng? And there’s no particular reason to believe that the variant that is more frequent as of 1967 is the more traditional one, is there? (Not saying that it isn’t, just saying you need diachronic data to resolve the issue one way or the other.)

  74. Ian Press:

    ‘they is/was/walks’ or ‘they are/were/walk’

    ‘They are’, even for non-binary folk. At least that’s the usage I’ve always heard/seen. I can’t guarantee that no one uses ‘they is’.

  75. J. W. Brewer says:

    “Is” sometimes agrees with “they” (even for they with a clearly plural referent) in certain historically-stigmatized varieties of English (including AAVE). I expect that association is probably sufficient to block it among most of those standard AmEng speakers with a self-conscious interest in adopting innovative usage for gender-politics reasons.

  76. Given the satisfying confusion that exists, I am going to stick with unvoiced mouser (on top of which I do not have the acquaintance of Gray/Gray Mouser and the far-fetched Fahfrd, so that aspect of the discussion went over my head).

    On the other hand, I have occasionally — OK, just one guy I used to work with — heard ‘houses’ (plural noun) pronounced with an unvoiced s.

  77. I recall reading ‘eddress’ (repeat ‘eddress’) meaning ‘electronic address’ in a fairly thick sf novel — Downbelow Station? I adopted it, but I haven’t seen anyone else use it.

  78. “This is an argument (and/or form of nostalgia) I only hear from men. I wonder why that might be?”

    Very clearly because, in 1950 and not just in convents, women largely didn’t give a gender-hysteric, second thought to what was meant when they read the sign.

  79. bar + bat

    Since the first is Aramaic and the second Hebrew, it’s not clear what ought to be the properly inclusive term anyway.

    you need diachronic data

    I think that the 1908 all-/z/ should be definitive, especially as it likely reflects a pronunciation from around 1850, the approximate beginning of RP-as-such. (All BrE dictionaries give only RP pronunciations, except for a few that provide AmE pronunciations as well, generally rather abstract ones.) For mouse it fits the general (though no longer productive) pattern of unvoiced stem-final fricatives in nouns, voiced ones in verbs.

    By the way, I was wrong to speak of voicing alternation in -ses plural nouns other than houses; I was thinking of /ð/ in baths, oaths, etc., which is still current in at least some RP but not in my accent at all.

    they is

    In the 18C there was a firm distinction in the written standards of both BrE and AmE between singular you was and plural you were, which has now been leveled in favor of the latter.

  80. OK, 1922 is a bit longer than most cases of somebody being called an unreformed overbearing reactionary patriarchal chauvinist because they didn’t get the memo on the current preferred term.

    But maybe words do have orthodox leanings when they celebrate the loss of their hyphen.

    In re Danorum: We do generally believe that we have an open and accepting relation with the Jewish community (especially in Copenhagen). Look, we even have a play by a Jewish playwright about a Jewish family in the official Danish Cultural Canon! (Which is a thing, sadly). I haven’t however had occasion to ask a member of that community about how it looks from their side, but in the nature of these things their view might not be as rosy.

    And said play didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah in it, so Danes in general didn’t need to know what it was.

  81. And there’s no particular reason to believe that the variant that is more frequent as of 1967 is the more traditional one, is there? (Not saying that it isn’t, just saying you need diachronic data to resolve the issue one way or the other.)

    I’m not sure why you’re digging in on this, but as JC says, the fact that the first-edition OED gives only the voiced form should be pretty convincing, if you weren’t already convinced by the fact that such verbs are historically voiced (cf. house/house).

  82. Here’s the old pron./forms/etym. section for mouser:

    (ˈmaʊzə(r)) Forms: 5 mowsare, 6– mouser. [f. mouse v. + –er1.]

    In other words, there is no confusion historically, only in the minds of present-day people trying to untangle the history.

  83. I’m actually not sure how I’d pluralize bar mitsva in Hebrew — most likely bar mitsvot. As a plural for the ceremony*, bnei mitsva is definitely, comically wrong, for a similar reason as flew out to left field (but more so since that phrase is acceptable to some English speakers): it’s undergone lexical derivation and no longer has access to the internal morphology of its components.

    * as opposed to the, um, bar-mitzvees themselves. Two thirteen-year-olds mumbling their haftarot might be referred to as bnei mitsva.

  84. It helps that mouser rhymes with bowzer.

  85. David Marjanović says:

    The third rabbi is Reform, and says, “Sure, no problem! Uh — What’s a brocheh?”

    The version I saw once had “she says”, which must be part of the joke…

    Soon enough he’ll be forgotten, even by some of the direct participants.

    Not by me, because I’m still trying to make sense of his name. First, it reminds me of German Zwiebel, “onion”, but that can’t be it. Other than that, I’d say it looks Polish; but he spells it Дзибель, with и, in his Russian works…

    Various websites say that Mauser originated as the occupational name for a mouse catcher. Does it still have that meaning in German?

    I’ve encountered a proverb Der Kater lässt das Mausen nicht in reading: “the tomcat won’t give up mousing”, “boys will be boys”, “behavior is unchangeable”.

    If you’re having too much life in your apartment, you call a Kammerjäger, “chamber hunter”. I don’t know any synonyms for that.

  86. TR: Agreed on bnei mitzva / bar mitzvot. Compare shana tova ‘(a) good year’, i.e. ‘happy new year’, its technically grammatical plural shanim tovot ‘good years’, and its practically correct but technically wrong plural shanot tovot ‘new year’s greeting cards’.

    That said, barei mitzva sounds OK for plural bar mitzvees (thanks for that.)

    JC: the plural construct of (Talmudic) Aramaic bar is bnei, same as in Hebrew.

  87. J. W. Brewer says:

    “Mouser” is a verb? But other than house/house, how productive versus exception-laden is the voicing pattern when an /s/-final noun gets verbed w/o any suffixation? Some dictionaries give both /s/- and /z/-final pronunciations for “grease” as verb, although I can’t say I recall hearing the latter, and the /z/ version of “greasy” generally comes off in modern AmEng, at least, as regional/rustic/stigmatized.

    But if the sorta kinda regular historical process by which “mouser” gets a /z/ requires first a change of “mouse” from noun to verb and then suffixation with -er of the verb rather than that derived word being formed directly from the noun, maybe the obscurity of the verb makes that opaque, and the pronunciation accordingly unintuitive.

  88. (excepting houses, which seems to still be /z/ everywhere)

    You’d be surprised. I use /z/ as well, but I have heard some people use /s/ there. Of the five people who’ve pronounced it at Forvo, all North American, one uses /s/, and another has evidently heard it enough to be perturbed by it.

  89. Historically, fricative-voizing roots in verbs and plurals is just a special case of general intervocalic voizing, because verbs and plurals had endings beginning in a vowel. So it doesn’t matter phonologically whether mouser < the verb mouse or the noun mouse; the last is immemorially old, whereas the first two don’t surface until the 15C. Semantically, though, a mouser is something that mouses, suggesting mouser < verb < noun.

    sorta kinda regular

    The process was entirely regular in OE, which had voiced fricatives only as allophones of the voiceless fricatives f, s, þ. When French borrowings caused v to be contrastive, most of the variations were leveled out until only a few handfuls are left. So what we have is an analogical process that is almost complete.

  90. … and Greco-Latin and plain Greek borrowings caused z to be contrastive too …

  91. J. W. Brewer says:

    Oh, I take your point: if mouse got verbed early enough that the verb would have been “mousen” rather than “to mouse,” the word-final /s/ would have become intervocalic /z/.

  92. J. W. Brewer says:

    Whereas by contrast maybe the verb “to rice” and “ricer” in the sense of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potato_ricer didn’t develop until well after the demise of Middle English, so there’s no historical constituency for a /z/ there?

  93. I definitely associate “mouser” with being a human occupation. Obviously, a cat can be a mouser, but until it was spelled out explicitly in “The Jewels in the Forest,” I did not realize that by the Gray Mouser’s sobriquet he was referring to himself as a cat. (I read the stories in the order they take place, rather than the order they were published, so while “The Jewels in the Forest” was the first story published, it doesn’t appear until the second anthology volume.)

    Also, to me “b’nei mitzvah” is an unremarkable gender-nonspecific plural, but can only be used for the children being called to the Torah involved, not the ceremony.

  94. marie-lucie says:

    If I saw émail among English words I would assume that the writer was trying to show off their erudition.
    – Jim: It’s not about showing off your erudition in French (which might put a big-ego, rich customer off) but about showing off your design snobbery.

    Actually that’s what I meant but could not think of a suitable word or phrase.

    AJP: I would call a pop group ‘they’ and an orchestra ‘it’.

    So would I. A pop group usually consists of a small number of performers, each with a specific role (voice, instrument), and often known by name to fans. A classical orchestra consists of a larger (sometimes very large) group of performers, in which the roles are often held by more than one person (there can be 20 or more violins, for instance), and the players’ identities are usually unknown to the public at large. Only the conductor and (if used) the soloist(s) are identified as individuals who will make a difference to the quality of the performance. Otherwise the whole orchestra works as the conductor’s “instrument”. Similarly for a choir.

    David: /ˈkθuɬu/ (the lh has got to mean something, right?

    I am glad to see a phonetic clue to the pronunciation of Cthulhu but it seems that yours is not the only one used. Did the author leave such a clue too, or are readers left to their own devices? Or did the author just add letters to a simple name (like Tulu) just to make it seem exotic?

  95. But if the sorta kinda regular historical process by which “mouser” gets a /z/ requires first a change of “mouse” from noun to verb and then suffixation with -er of the verb rather than that derived word being formed directly from the noun, maybe the obscurity of the verb makes that opaque, and the pronunciation accordingly unintuitive.

    Well, sure, which is why pretty much everybody says “mouser” with /s/ unless they learn the historic/traditional pronunciation via bookishness, like me. But I thought we were talking about the historic/traditional pronunciation; I certainly wouldn’t insist anyone use it, it’s just a quirk of mine.

  96. Indeed, the Middle English Dictionary does list mousen, musen with the expected semantics.

    The Lovecraftian S. T. Joshi goes for [(k)ʟ̝̊ʊlʔɬuː], based on Lovecraft’s rather intederminate hints, but some of them contradict one another.

  97. Oh, all this time I’d been thinking that the Grey Mouser is a cat, or at least a feline character, like Puss in Boots.

    Mouser, in my vocabulary, is a long-established word for a barn cat that catches mice, which is why such cats are employed in barns.

  98. What David said. When I first heard the Grey Mouser mentioned, I pictured him as an anthropomorphic cat.

  99. George Gibbard says:

    Cthulhu is almost ‘kill him’ in Arabic: ʔuqtulhu, but the ʔu- is just epenthesis to prevent an utterance beginning with more than one consonant, and is not present in wa-qtulhu ‘and kill him’. And the t is somewhat aspirated and/or affricated while the q is neither.

  100. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you GG. That makes a lot of sense!

  101. David: There’s some Slovak name called Dzibela, might be the same thing.

    While we are at names, *high context wink*, there really is a Saint Athenogenes, which explains the name of a Hatter.

  102. Luveh-Keraphf’s grasp of Arabic wasn’t too good, or he wouldn’t have named his “mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred, with two consecutive articles. I doubt he had any such etymology in mind. (Still, what is not a source may still be an analogue.)

  103. George Gibbard says:

    One could know a thing or two about Arabic without knowing ten things about Arabic. But anyway, at least in Sudan, ʕabdaḷḷa forms the nickname <ʕabdūḷ and “Diminutiv: /ʕibēdūḷ/!” (Reichmuth 1983, sub “Affektive Namensformen” p.154). “Alhazred” would involve an unusual quadriliteral form, though I can’t rule it out, but it could be based on Turkish hazret-i (prefix of respect) < Arabic ḥaḍra(t-) ‘presence’, used in the Persianate izafe(t?) construction.

    The most correct pronunciation of Arabic ḥaḍra(t-) ‘presence’ is supposed to be [ħaɮʶɾʶah], but almost all dialects (barring one or two in Yemen) merge /ɮʶ/ into /ðʶ/, which may further become /dʶ/. The prescriptive distinction between (*ɮʶ >) /dʶ/ and /ðʶ/ ~ /zʶ/ in, say, Egypt is artificial, and does not necessarily correspond to the usual pronunciation: /dʶ/ is used in vernacular words, and /zʶ/ is used in some borrowings from the classical language for both *ðʶ and *ɮʶ.

  104. David Marjanović says:

    Thank you GG. That makes a lot of sense!

    It does!

  105. Kate Bunting says:

    Marie-Lucie – Surely the English for “Thé dansant” is “tea-dance”?

  106. marie-lucie says:

    Kate, perhaps! I am not familiar with that term.

  107. there really is a Saint Athenogenes, which explains the name of a Hatter.

    Yup, Greek Αθηνογένης became Russian Афиноген [Afinogén] (popular form Финоген, with nicknames Гена and Фина), hence the surname Афиногенов (Afinogenov). Greg’s grandfather (I believe) was the playwright Alexander Afinogenov.

  108. “All BrE dictionaries give only RP pronunciations, except for a few that provide AmE pronunciations as well, generally rather abstract ones.”

    Chambers Dictionary’s pronunciation uses respelling rather than IPA and includes r and horse-hoarse. It is compatible with RP but also with Chambers’ Edinburgh home.

  109. Гена

    As the crocodile! Wonderful.

  110. Indeed, the OED has an entry for tea-dance s.v. tea and the AHD has a separate entry for tea dance.

  111. AJP: I would call a pop group ‘they’ and an orchestra ‘it’.

    M-L: So would I. A pop group usually consists of a small number of performers…

    Yes, that’s how I would think about it too. I had understood that US English speakers don’t use ‘they’ if ‘it’ is possible, so the passengers would be ‘they’, whereas the group of passengers would be ‘it’. I find this consistency strangely attractive and I’ve been trying to follow it myself, but perhaps there are limits. Is French il/elle or ils decided on a case-by-case basis, as in Britain?

  112. Гена

    As the crocodile! Wonderful.

    Well, Гена is a nickname for a number of given names, of which Евгений is far more common and thus more likely to be the croc’s name (I don’t know if he has a canonical one).

  113. marie-lucie says:

    Is French il/elle or ils decided on a case-by-case basis, as in Britain?

    AJP: No, the pronoun has to agree with the noun. If you need to refer more than once to a group, after the first time you will probably use a plural noun specifying the membership of the group. For instance, if talking about a class of students, you will say la classe, but later you will probably use les élèves, as in: Le prof a emmené la classe de seconde au théâtre voir une comédie de Molière. Les élèves ont beaucoup ri . (The teacher took the grade 10 class to the theatre to see a Molière comedy. The students laughed a lot). Elle a beaucoup ri does not seem right, because while all the students laughed, each student had an individual laughing reaction (and there could have been one or a few who didn’t actually laugh). On the other hand, if the class was singing as a choir, I could say La classe … Elle a chanté … because in this case the singing is done as a group. But in any case you could never use a plural verb after la classe, or use a plural pronoun referring to this singular noun.

  114. Logique, quoi!

  115. The proper pronunciation of Cthulhu appears to be impossible for humans and may not even be possible with any sound waves. The physics of R’lyeh are (*is ?) not the physics of the normal world.

    Hieroglyphics had covered the walls and pillars, and from some undetermined point below had come a voice that was not a voice; a chaotic sensation which only fancy could transmute into sound, but which he attempted to render by the almost unpronounceable jumble of letters, “Cthulhu fhtagn”.

    A later passage in “The Call of Cthulhu” indicates that there were notable pronunciation differences between different groups of cultists in Greenland and Louisiana.

    @AJP Crown: American English tends to construe collectives with nominally singular referents as grammatically singular. So I would say, “The group of passengers is…” or, “The government is….” However, that does not imply that we would refer to the group as “it” rather than “they.” A group is just a collection of people, so it gets a plural pronoun. On the other hand, the government is an entity in its own right, not merely a collection of people. (It includes all civil service and other offices through which the country is governed; this seems to be an additional terminological difference in the way the word “government” is used between American and anglophone countries with parliamentary systems.) So “the government” could be referred to as “it,” although even that could sound a bit strange.

  116. marie-lucie says:

    Surely the government, like corporations, is people.

  117. Though sometimes one wonders.

  118. marie-lucie says:

    That’s why I made the comparison.

  119. A group is just a collection Right. Of people, elephants, numbers, hair follicles… so it gets a plural pronoun Hmm, I don’t see any logic there. I don’t find it the slightest bit strange to refer to a group of passengers or a corporation (Apple, say) as ‘it’. I would find it very odd to give it a plural verb ending, though. Many countries use a local equivalent of the state for that broad usage of government (England uses both ‘the state’ and ‘the government’ for it). That doesn’t work in the United States where state has a different meaning.

    Thanks, M-L. One less mistake for me to make in French.

  120. @AJP Crown: There’s no logic to it, except that if I point to a group of passengers, I can say either, “Do you see them? They look upset,” or, “Do you see that group of people? They look upset.” The prior reference to the nominally singular group does not block my using the plural to refer to them later. In essence the referent of “they” is not the singular “the group” but its plurality of constituents.

    Only if the grouping has an organized structure—a social organization, a corporation, a junta—does American English generally allows(but not require) it to be considered as a singular “it.” That is the key difference between a random group of passengers (who have no cohesiveness except having opted for the same mode of transportation) and something like Apple or the privy counsel.

  121. marie-lucie says:

    Brett, this seems to agree with what I wrote about “pop group” and “orchestra”, one being a collection of individuals capable of independent action, the other an organized group where the individual member is subordinated to the group and can be replaced, as for instance the US Senate. Where US and UK usages differ is that UK English would (presumably) say either “The Senate/It is …” or “The Senate/They are …”.

  122. Brett, a good example, and more flexible than I’d understood. I think I’ve got it. Thanks! I’d still attempt “That group over there looks upset.” I like the US construction best.

    M-L, I think that’s right. In Britain you might use either, depending on whether [members of] the group could have been inserted.

  123. Good on “they.”

    But how on earth can “mic” be pronounced “mike”??
    The abbreviation ought to be spelled mike. Mic is mick, and that’s it.

    Thanks for distracting me from politics.

  124. That’s one of the functions of LH.

  125. The privy counsel being, I suppose, the lawyer you keep in your bathroom/toilet for convenient reference in times of uncertainty?

    Dr. Google informs me that Charles Williams wrote something called “The Epistle of Privy Counsel”, from which this wondrous quotation is drawn: “Unless the shape of his Manhood be withdrawn from our bodily eyes, the love of his Godhead may not fasten in our ghostly eyes.” Sometimes the man was a complete innocent.

    Tolkien, it seems, once received a letter from America (addressed only to “any Professor of English Language”; one wonders how many professors had sent it back as wrongly delivered) asking whether “a number of walls” took singular or plural agreement. He replied, of course, that you can say what you like.

  126. David Marjanović says:

    The abbreviation ought to be spelled mike.

    Sometimes it is.

  127. Thanks, Will. My latest observation of usage seems to indicate that ‘they’ is also the ‘object’ form. I guess it’s a question of emphasis sometimes. Anything goes, more or less. I confess I think I’d start a question by saying ‘Is… they…?’

  128. marie-lucie says:

    IP: My latest observation of usage seems to indicate that ‘they’ is also the ‘object’ form.

    Example?

  129. @David Marjanović

    My surname is Prussian (dates back to the1740s at least as a German lineage engaged into regular marriages into neighboring Polish families, e.g., Baranowski, etc.). In the mid-19th century a few related families with this surname lived around modern Kosakowo, Poland.

    @Cowan

    “Soon enough he’ll be forgotten, even by some of the direct participants.”

    With your plebeian last name, you don’t even get to vote. 🙂

  130. marie-lucie says:

    (about “Everyone should bus his own tray”)

    Hozo: in 1950 and not just in convents, women largely didn’t give a gender-hysteric, second thought to what was meant when they read the sign.

    Having come to the US in the 60’s, after studying both English and American literature, I got used to “generic” he, him, his, in American texts and was not bothered by it (in French of course, “gender” goes with the noun, whether animate or inanimate, so it is not so closely linked to the identity of a person). But once writers of non-literary prose such as in household magazines started to alternate he/him/his with she/her when referring to the average reader or citizen, or their children, I realized that the masculine pronouns kept me at a distance from the topic, while the feminine ones drew me closer to whatever the topic was. I am sure that male readers would feel the opposite: sentences with she/her are not meant to apply to them. So they/them/their is the obvious choice for including everyone at a neutral distance, even if it does not feel so personal.

  131. My ancestors were kings in the Island of Doctors and Saints, as a matter of fact.

  132. Cowan is a Milesian.

  133. Yes, Freud described children who dreamed of descending from parents of imaginary high-class pedigrees. Great material! 🙂

  134. I don’t mean that I traceably descend from Brian Boru, High King of All Ireland, though untraceable descent is a near-certainty, in the same way that all Europeans are descended from Charlemagne. But Ireland had hundreds of kingdoms and royal lines in a population (in Brian’s day, 941?-1014) of half a million or so, so the chances that I have no royal ancestors is practically nil.

  135. January First-of-May says:

    For Yyrkoon I’m going with [jɨrku:n].

    When reading the comment it originally came up in, I automatically read it as [jɨrku:n], and proceeded to do a double-take once I figured out why it wasn’t obvious in the first place.
    (The clearly distinct capital letter probably helped.)

  136. No, Freud did not describe this case. The noble-parentage fantasies have gotten very intricate over the past 100 years. A notable development is that science has become part of the fantasy, not just a tool to study it.

  137. If Yyrkoon appears, I don’t pronounce his name. I just skip to the next story.

  138. David Marjanović says:

    The Wookiees come from a planet called Kashyyyk. Just saying.

  139. Perhaps their language (or the language used by humans to name them) has overlong vowels.

  140. A bit late, but: Charles Williams may have quoted the Epistle of Privy Counsel (it’s the sort of thing he’d do), but it was written by the author of The Cloud of Unknowing. The quote does sound weirdly like a snippet of Williams’ prose, I must say.

  141. If they depend on scientific results, they are truths, not fantasies. Fantasies of flying are probably as old as humanity, but when we fly today, we actually do fly.

    By the way, Brian Boru has traceable descendants (the Queen among others), so he is not one of those who is the ancestor of nobody rather than everybody in Europe.

    Rodger C.: Thanks. Yes, it reads very like Williams when modernized, though this snippet of the original does not (so much):

    For rudeness in thi goostly felyng, therefore, I late thee climbe therto by degree […] For thof al I bid thee in the biginnyng, because of thi boistouste & thi goostly rudeness, lappe and clothe the felyng of thi God in the felyng of thiself.

    Note thof, which is modern though in a dialect where /x/ > /f/ more commonly than in the East Midland dialect that became Standard English, where it was lost except in rough, enough, tough, cough, trough, duff (pudding, where it is a doublet of dough), and perhaps a few others.

  142. Also laugh, laughter and ghoti.

  143. Bram Stoker in Dracula mentions the word “through-stones,” pronounced “thruff-steans” in the dialect around Whitby (Yorkshire).

  144. Piotr Gąsiorowski says:

    Interestingly, OED lists the following pronunciations for sough, as in “The wind soughed in the pine-trees.”

    Brit. /saʊ/, /sʌf/, /suːx/, U.S. /səf/, /saʊ/

    In OED online there are recordings of all these pronunciations including /suːx/ (surely Scottish, but why don’t they say so?).

    OED also has another sough v., meaning (a) to face or build up (a ditch) with stone, etc., (b) to make drains in (land); to drain by constructing proper channels. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered it before.

    Brit. /saʊ/, /sʌf/, U.S. /səf/, /saʊ/

    There’s also slough /slʌf/ ‘snakeskin’ (shed after molting), which I’m familiar with only from lists of words in which gh is pronounced /f/. Clough ‘ravine’ may be both /klʌf/ and /klaʊ/ according to dictionaries (thoff I think I’ve only heard the former).

  145. Trond Engen says:

    The two soughs could plausibly be different semantic developments of the same word as No. suge “suck”. I assume English ‘suck’ was formed as a frequentative.

    Added: Except, of course, it isn’t, per Etymonline.

  146. @Cowan

    Planes evolved from flying carpets and dinosaurs from dragons. “There’s a thin line separating madness from genius, hence genius originated from madness,” a madman so said. “There’s a thin line separating madness from genius, hence fantasy often preys on science,” a genius said.

  147. David Marjanović says:

    There’s also slough /slʌf/ ‘snakeskin’ (shed after molting), which I’m familiar with only from lists of words in which gh is pronounced /f/.

    I’ve long wondered how it’s pronounced! It comes up pretty often – as a verb; haven’t seen it as a noun – in descriptions of shedding skin, shedding a tail or decomposing.

  148. I know it in actual use mainly from the phrase “sloughed off” (which I suppose as a child I thought was spelled “sluffed off”).

  149. As indeed it can be in AmE, per several dictionaries.

  150. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    In the game of contract bridge, I believe it’s usually spelled “sluff” (i.e., to discard a non-trump card), and in the technique “ruff and sluff”.

  151. Man, that dredges up really old memories, from when I was a kid and my parents played bridge with friends—I remember my mom talking about “sluffing.”

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