Going through my Facebook feed, I was struck by this John Emerson post showing the cover of the book Nudibranchs, by T. E. Thompson — not because of the unremarkable design but because of the title. “Shouldn’t it be Nudibranches?” thought I… and then realized I must have been mentally pronouncing it wrong all along. Sure enough, a quick trip to Wiktionary told me that it was /ˈn(j)uːdɪˌbɹæŋk/ (NUDE-i-brank), from Latin nudus ‘naked’ + branchia ‘gills.’ Which made perfect sense, and I had obviously been subconsciously seduced by the totally unrelated word branch. It’s the converse of the “conches” discovery described in this post.


  1. converse of the “conches” discovery

    And orthogonal to my preference for etymologically clear synch over phonetically clear sync

  2. It’s funny, I can’t detect a preference for one over the other when I consult my inner peever. They both seem OK.

  3. My argument is that synched/-ing is better than sync(k)ed/-ing. No Worries If Not.

  4. And a good argument it is! But peevery, as we know, is not affected by rational argument. I just don’t seem to have developed any internal grumpiness either way, possibly because I don’t use the word in real life.

  5. Jen in Edinburgh says

    What about mic or mike?

  6. Same thing — I’d probably write “mike” if I had occasion to, but I’m used to seeing “mic” and it doesn’t bother me.

  7. J.W. Brewer says

    I thought I used “synch” rather than “sync” but then became worried that I was not a reliable source of data about my own usage. Fortunately a search of my email “sent mails” folder revealed evidence of both “in synch” and “out of synch” under my signature.

  8. J.W. Brewer says

    Note that of course etymologically the “syn” and the “ch” are from different morphemes and at least originally different syllables, but somehow via clipping a new English monosyllable “synch” (homophonous with long-standing “sink”) was forged.

  9. I prefer “mike” as the verb so that we can simply write “miked” instead of “mic’d”, “mic’ed” or some other variation. I’ve become used to seeing “mic” as the noun, but it still gives me a momentary pause – especially when pluralized as “mics” or “mic’s”. I personally would write “mike” for the noun as well.

  10. Or “micced”.

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    One wants to pronounce “micced” as “micked.” That’s in fact the motivation for the older clipping of microphone to “mike” – to correctly give the orthographic cue for the PRICE vowel rather than the KIT vowel. Akin to “bike” from “bicycle,” where “Bic” (the brand name) is pronounced like “bick,” thus the rhyme in “to flick ones Bic.”

  12. Yeah, “micced” is as wrong as it can get in English spelling. Doubling a consonant before “-ed” specifically serves to indicate that the preceding vowel is short.

  13. “Synch” is pragmatically better than “sync” anyway, because it forms “synched” and “synching”, which look right. By contrast, the best you can do with “sync” is “syncked” and “syncking” (like panicked and panicking), which look wrong because “ck” in English is usually preceded by a vowel.

    I hate “mic” but this goes deeper than a mere preference. However long “mic” had been in use as a technical term, the general public were already familiar with “mike”. The problem isn’t just that the inflections of “mic” look wrong, but a combo of that and the fact that “mike” already exists, so the new spelling “mic” wasn’t needed.

  14. J.W. Brewer says

    But the “y” in “sync” is a vowel, so that can’t be the problem. If “syncked” looks funny, it’s because y-as-a-vowel in first syllables is heavily correlated in English with words with Greek etyma, and the “ck” combo is extremely rare in English words with Greek etyma. And it seems at least possible that many normal people who know nothing of etymology will feel like something about the combo of the “y” and the “ck” is off, even if they can’t articulate why.

    I wonder if the reason that the usual nickname for “Cynthia” is “Cindy” is something parallel, with the “y” not matching up (in terms of usual orthographic patterning that people have subconsciously picked up on) with “nd” nearly as cromulently as it does with “nth.”

  15. But the “y” in “sync” is a vowel, so that can’t be the problem.

    Dude, look again. What is the letter immediately preceding the c(h)?

  16. J.W. Brewer says

    Dude, I had apparently failed to interpret “preceded” as “immediately preceded,” which in hindsight may have been a mistake on my part. There’s at a minimum a surname exception to the claim, e.g. Pinckney and Hinckley from the standard English stock, to say nothing of non-British-origin surnames like Schenck, Franck, and Zinck. But maybe more to the point is the evidence of the google ngram viewer that “syncing” has in some recent years been more common than “synching,” with “syncking” not in contention. So the problem is the unexplained insistence that “sync” must somehow yield the participle “syncking,” with actually-extant “syncing” somehow being assumed to be blocked or otherwise unavailable. And I say that as a partisan of “synching.”

  17. Yeah, the whole sytuation is weyrd.

  18. David Marjanović says

    the general public were already familiar with “mike”

    I was even taught it in school.

    Schenck, Franck, and Zinck

    BTW, these are decidedly pre-orthographic in German, too, for the same reason.

  19. Yeah, “micced” is as wrong as it can get in English spelling.

    well, historically true, but i think in the process of changing. spellings with “cc” replacing “ck” have been pretty common in online spaces where obscenity filters make “fuck”, “suck”, and “dick” untenable for some time now – starting with those words, but not remaining limited to them. i can’t remember for certain whether i’ve seen “micced/miccd”, but i think i may have. it’s an orthographic move that i know i first saw appear as pretty specifically black online written english, but that’s been a major source of innovation in u.s. english more broadly for a while, so i expect it to keep spreading.

  20. thicc as a polysemoheterograph of thick

  21. well, historically true, but i think in the process of changing. spellings with “cc” replacing “ck” have been pretty common in online spaces where obscenity filters make “fuck”, “suck”, and “dick” untenable for some time now

    I think you’re missing the point, which is not that “cc” is impossible but that it implies a “short” preceding vowel — cf. your own examples.

  22. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    ck is just a prettier way of writing kk innit. At least in languages like German and Swedish that have geminate stops, and wasn’t it the same idea in English? (As Danes, we ignore such petty bourgeois ideas and happily spell kk [which is not now a geminate, just a device to show vowel length] without a worry in the world).

    Going all the way to cc makes no sense from that perspective, but English orthography need not be beholden to historical facts about German.

    (As it turns out, mik is one of the few loan words from Greenlandic in Danish, maybe the only one that’s not international like kajak or anorak. Reportedly a morpheme in an older pidgin meaning ‘with,’ so that kaffemik is a party where coffee is served, dansemik is an occasion with dancing. I have not been able to find the morpheme in the Kalaallisut materials that were linked the other week, so possibly this is a reduced form of some sort. Definite form mikken, obvs. [The written indefinite form doesn’t show if it has a long vowel, but it doesn’t]).

  23. David Eddyshaw says

    I wonder if it’s the Greenlandic instrumental singular suffix -mik?

  24. David Marjanović says

    languages like German and Swedish that have geminate stops

    Swedish and southern German do; central and northern German no longer do. While ck unfailingly indicates a short vowel and used to be separated k-k (Decke: Dek-ke), the reform of 1998–2005 changed that into -ck (De-cke).

  25. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    @DM: The relevant issue is whether there were geminate stops in the variety of German that the orthography is based on. It looks like that. It might make more sense for a hypothetical north-central German orthography to use double wovel letters instead. (Ditto Danish).

    @DE: That would suit the sense. certainly. And if there really was such a pidgin there would no longer be a noun declension for it to belong to, so it would just be a noun-noun derivation that the Danish users might well internalize as a compound.

    I have no details about that pidgin (probably this one) except for a mention s.v. Mik in the ODS:

    På pidgin-grønlandsk betyder “mik” selskab eller komsammen. Der findes mange slags mik, dansemik, kaffemik .. og endnu en slags mik, hvori dog i reglen kun to deltager, men til gengæld med stor interesse.

    That’s the euphemism of the week. (‘Another kind of mik where usually only two participate, however with great interest.’ If you know what I mean and I think you do, nudge, nudge. The instrumentalization of carnal relations, sadly not a new thing in the world).

    The word used in Kalaallisut for the coffee drinking occasion now seems to be kaffillerneq, and there are claims that Danish kaffemik is a direct loan from that; I think the explanation in the ODS is more likely.

  26. akh, you’re right as ever, hat – my overly quick reading! apologies, Brett!

  27. I’ve become used to seeing “mic” as the noun,

    Meaning what? Abbreviation of “microphone”? Strikes me as completely bizarre. I have only ever seen “mike” as far as I can remember, or at least when I hear the word my mind automatically spells it “mike”. “Mic” doesn’t even mean anything to me other than perhaps a derogatory slur against the Irish.

  28. J.W. Brewer says

    @Vanya, the rise of “mic” in AmEng outside specialist circles is a phenomenon of the last maybe three decades. To avoid interference by the given-nickname sense of “Mike” it’s best to do a google ngram comparison of phrases (“into the mike/mic” or “open mike/mic”) to see what the trendlines look like. The phenomenon was widespread enough by 2010 to be addressed in the N.Y. Times by Ben Zimmer, in The Column That Was Formerly Known As Safire’s. Here’s a wayback machine link to that column:

    I stick with “mike” myself.

  29. Meaning what? Abbreviation of “microphone”?

    Yes, and it’s frequently spelled that way, whether it strikes you as bizarre or not.

  30. Stu Clayton says
  31. What, is that song already almost 30 years old?

  32. Stu Clayton says

    So you too have noticed that the past gets out of sync !

  33. In the other direction, to me it seems like it’s at least thirty years since I forgot that song even existed!

  34. Stu Clayton says

    I has forgotten about it until suddenly “bizarre” morphed into a madeleine

  35. it’s frequently spelled that way, whether it strikes you as bizarre or not.

    I appreciate J.W.’s answer. I don’t appreciate this kind of condescension. Since I don’t spend a lot of time in hip/hop or professional recording circles it is apparently not at all surprising I haven’t come across this spelling.

  36. Sorry, didn’t mean to be condescending.

  37. Stu Clayton says

    I am often entertained by the high-minded vocabulary people here use in spates of irritation with each other. I myself felt that hat’s remark was merely slightly bitchy. In my book “condescension” starts from several floors higher up. Too many stairs for me to climb.

    Novels are grander than real life.

  38. David Eddyshaw says

    I don’t spend a lot of time in hip/hop or professional recording circles either, yet I was aware of this sense of “mic.”

    I can only suppose that this is in some way a consequence of my natural cool.

  39. J.W. Brewer says

    Well, you would also be aware of that sense of “mic” if you never missed a story or column in the New York Times (and didn’t subsequently forget what you’d read there). Which would make you extremely uncool.

  40. David Marjanović says

    Both mic drop and mike drop are Google suggestions, but the latter mostly finds the former.

    I learned about that gesture when Obama performed it.

  41. J.W. Brewer says

    More relevantly, Vanya has lived in Foreign Parts for much/most of the last several decades, so some patchiness in exposure to recent-ish innovations in AmEng usage is to be expected although maybe it’s hard to predict when and where that will manifest. And of course a change that is solely in orthography won’t be apparent in whatever continuing exposure he might have to US-origin TV/films/etc. I’m not sure if the prevalence of the “mic” spelling arose earlier in BrEng but maybe. Long ago I was intrigued by the possibility that a Mott the Hoople song might use that variant but idiosyncratically pronounce it like “mick,” but upon further inquiry it turned out they were using the British expression “to take the mick,”* which did not mean in context “grab the microphone,” even if it happens in the context of Top of the Pops.

    *I don’t remember when I was first exposed to that expression, but it was definitely before you could quickly learn via googling that the relevant sense of “mick” was clipped Cockney rhyming slang for “piss.”

  42. Stu Clayton says

    So that’s what “mic drop” refers to !

  43. So you too have noticed that the past gets out of sync !
    Oh yes. The past is out of sync; O cursed spite! / That ever I was born to drop the mic!

  44. Stu Clayton says

    <* applause *>

  45. ktschwarz says

    A pic (pronounced “pick”) is the lance wielded by a picador; if you use “pic” as a verb, ‘to perform as a picador in bullfighting, to spear (a bull) with a pic’, how are you going to inflect it? This is not a question that authorities have addressed — these senses of “pic” aren’t in any dictionaries besides the OED, as far as I’ve found — so everyone who uses it in writing just wings it. Hemingway wrote “pic-ing” and “pic-ed”, with a hyphen; the OED records “pic’ed” and “picced” from later writers, and they also have the headword “piccing”, the gerund. However, “piced” and “picing” are definitely also out there in published books, and even seem to be more common. I guess people who are familiar with the verb “pic” don’t have a problem decoding those spellings, and aren’t distracted by wondering if they rhyme with “iced” and “icing”.

  46. J.W. Brewer says

    In our post-Hemingway age, bullfighting seems more culturally marginal in Anglophone discourse than hip-hop. At least based on three or four minutes’ googling, it appears to be possible but uncertain whether the “pic” in “picador” is cognate with English “pike” (in the sense “stick/rod with a sharp pointy thing at the end”). The phrase “could be a borrowing or parallel formation” appears in connection with comparing the likely Vulgar Latin etymon of one to the likely Proto-Germanic etymon of the other. Within English, “pike” and “pick” (which also has a sharp-pointy-thing sense) may have common ancestry manifested in different vowels.

  47. not to be confused, despite the potentially similar destination, with a PICC line (which i don’t know whether ever gets verbed).

  48. Given the spelling “mic”, the contenders would be the mispronounceable micced and the mispronounceable and misinterpretable miced. The less bad option won.

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