Reading the NY Times Magazine story “The Lessons of Classroom 506” by Lisa Belkin, I was taken aback by this: “As a kindergartner, Valente was the only disabled child in her grade…” (my emphasis). It would never have occurred to me to say anything but “kindergartener,” but I looked it up in Webster’s Collegiate and sure enough, the one preserving German morphology is the preferred spelling. So I present this as a public service for those in my former condition of ignorance, and while I’m at it I’ll mention that someone who runs a restaurant is a restaurateur, something that always seems to flummox people. (He’s a “restorator” because he runs a place that does the restoring.)

While I’m at it, another fun fact I learned not so long ago is that the word for the art of being a midwife, “midwifery,” is normatively pronounced with a short second i: mid-WIFF-(e)ry. (It’s the same process that shortens the vowels in “Christmas” and “Michaelmas.”) There, now you’re fully equipped for whatever life throws at you.


  1. “Midwifery” was already in my vocabulary, and with the other two I would personally not worry very much about respecting the donor language’s morphology. Although I do also tend to say “hippopotami”: I hold that the pluralising rule -us -> -i for words marked [+classical] is perfectly good English morphology, and I quite like the sound of other persons’ teeth grinding.

  2. I read Belkin’s original article in Sunday’s Times magazine and must admit I started out not liking the disabled kids’ parents. Who can quit their job to volunteer full-time at their kid’s school? Why did the father have to insist what he was doing be made into some kind of a blue print? And of course, does inclusion as a model best address that individual child’s rather considerable needs? After reading the article, I was won over by the parents’ dedication. I also saw how inclusion was benefical to both the child with disabilities and the other typically developing students. The young man profiled (ok, that’s Ebonics where boy and girl seem to be avoided and substituted with young man and young lady even for toddlers) really seemed to have an excellent school year.

  3. Sometimes these irregular constructions can be used as shibolleths. I once knew a flutist who used to avoid people if they called her a flautist.

  4. I thought the only difference between a flautist and a flutist is the pay.

  5. Briefly, and between lectures — There is an organization based in Istanbul called “Restaurateurs sans frontieres” (sorry about the lack of diacritics, I have no idea what they should be). When I heard that they were going into Afghanistan after the US attacks to provide assistance to the Afghans, I thought, “That’s just what the world needs. Peace and prosperity through really excellent food.” But in fact they are an international corps of volunteer conservationists who come in and help restore national treasures after war or natural disasters have taken their toll. (As an art historian, I should have known this, but in fact I am reluctant to give up on the idea of International Chefs for Peace.)

  6. How little pay does a “fluter” get?

  7. My favorite plural is “Mesdemoiselles”.

  8. Flautist? Fluter? You effete dandies! Why can’t you just use the term “songtubeteer” like everyone else?

  9. A small remark. In German, the words Kindergärtner (masc.) and Kindergärtnerin (fem.) refer to job of a pre-school teacher or educator. (These are the inofficial job titles, bureaucracy calls them Erzieher/in.)

  10. One hippopotami
    Cannot get on a bus,
    Because one hippopotami is…
    Two hippopotamus.

  11. re. “Mesdemoiselles”, I think the plural of “Mr.” is “Messrs.” which would not be an abbreviation of “Misters” — I think it abbreviates “Messieurs”. This is a little stranger even than “Madame” / “Mesdemoiselles”. OTOH it is based on two conjectures on my part.

  12. Car hole!
    Pie hole!

  13. To Jeremy Osner:
    “Mesdamoiselles” is plural of “Madamoiselle”, not “Madame”.
    The plural of “Madame” is “Mesdames”.
    In French you often hear the phrase “Mesdames et Messieurs” (ie, “Ladies and Gentlemen”

  14. Marie-Louise says

    “Damoiselle” with an A is pretty old, and as a French I’ve only read that word. The masculine was damoiseau/damoiseaux (not used at all either nowadays). In modern French, it’s mademoiselle/mesdemoiselles. Another fun plural for Cryptic Ned: plural of “monseigneur” can be “messeigneurs” or “nosseigneurs”.
    For fun, “Monsieur” should be abbreviated as “M.” in French, but you see more and more the English abbreviation “Mr.” And the French “Messieurs” should be shortened as “MM.”
    And yes, “restaurateur” has both meanings in French, restaurateur and restaurator, although you’d often say “restaurateur d’art/de tableaux/de meubles…” when it’s not about food.

  15. “we see a lot of Lexi nowadays…”
    /Alan Partridge

  16. So it’s pronounced “midwhiffery”? Sounds vaguely erotic.

  17. Marie-Louise: Does the use of “Mr.” instead of “M.” have anything to do with the fact that the title “M.” can’t be distinguished from an initial? “M. Clouseau” could be Monsieur Clouseau or Marie Clouseau.
    And the other meaning in English would normally be expressed by “restorer”.

  18. Doug Sundseth says

    Sigivald: “How little pay does a ‘fluter’ get?”
    I think that experienced machinists only make around $15-$20/hour.

  19. My favourite plurals are irides – for iris – and clitorides, similarly formed (lexically if not anatomically). I think it was David Crystal who noted the latter with the wry aside “if you’re fortunate enough to need to know”.

  20. *looks confused, pokes his head in*
    If I remember my high school French, isn’t Madame’s abbreviation “Mme.”? I think that’s what I was taught, although I gave it up to pursue other linguistic interests when I graduated.

  21. Yes, it is.

  22. Somehow, the word Kindergärtner suggests the idea that babies do originate in cabbages, and must be harvested.

Speak Your Mind