Wednesday 19 September 2012

On Fifty Shades of Grey, or is it Gray?

The correspondents corresponded with vitality yesterday. A 5-minute interview with Jim Naughtie on the Today programme on Radio 4 about my new book, Spell It Out: the Singular Story of English Spelling, led later in the day to an extraordinary outpouring, almost confessional at times, from listeners about their problems with spelling. And this started at 7.20 in the morning. Whoever would have thought it?

As the day wore on, the pace increased. Lunchtime saw another interview, 10 minutes (I was told) on the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2. It became nearly half an hour, as the volume of texts, emails, and phone calls caused the editors to keep the item going. Only the 1 o’clock news stopped it.

And then BBC News Online, wanting a comment about the new abbreviation Ebacc (for English baccalaureate). I do deal with the spelling of abbreviations in the book, though this one is too new to get a mention. The reporter wanted to know what I thought about the reaction that the abbreviation sounds like a disease. I’m not surprised. New abbreviations inevitably echo their ancestors. For ‘e’, there are three chief echoes: e-coli, e-mail, and e-numbers. The first is fairly negative; the second fairly positive; and the third (for Europe) mixed. But as bac is already an abbreviation for bacillus, that’s the one most likely to come to mind. The association won’t last for long. Familiarity with abbreviations soon breeds content, and in a few months time, I predict, the medical associations will have been forgotten.

But, back to Spell it Out, which during the day crept up the Amazon charts. By the evening it was Number 4 in the best-selling list, ahead of Fifty Shades of Grey and its friends, and just behind Gordon Ramsay. Maybe I should have called the book Fifty Shades of Grey, or is it Gray?: the Singular Story of English Spelling.

Spelling competing with cooking and sex. I say again, whoever would have thought it?


Annie said...

I knew a blog post on the Grey matter was just meant to appear here at some point, Professor! LOL

Mike Church said...

Congratulations, Professor! I'm definitely buying this one, and I'm delighted to see you're still flying high in the charts. I'm also rather bemused to see that the hardback costs *less* than the paperback (on Amazon, at least); and rather disappointed to see no Kindle version is available as yet? In any case, these are very minor quibbles.

Mike Church, author of "fifty shades of Spain" - zero sales to date!

Mike Church said...

Oops, sorry! In my previous comment, I said that I could see no Kindle version. I've just found it.

Ϯ Lady MacbethϮ said...

I am reading 'Spell It Out' at the moment. A point (or 3):
on the use of the 'z' sound in 'houses' as opposed to the 's' in house, my American daughter-in-law has a sibilant 's' in 'houses'. She is from Rhode Island.

'Learned' and 'learned' still has the alternative spelling of 'learnt' to distinguish the one from the other.

You also quote 'sew' and 'sow' - but I read the second as a female pig till I had adjusted to the context.

I also pronounce paws/pause differently from pours and pores.

I love English!

Unknown said...

I plan to recommend your book to all my students... it is a longer and more informed version of what I have been telling them for a long time when they ask me about spelling. There is always a reason. The way of British spelling is paved with good intentions and (un)fortunate accidents. As you say in the book, knowing what happened, how and why helps a lot. I have just started reading it and I love it because I have been looking for it a long time.