or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Rot, Ruin, and Vice

I don't pay much attention to the home-renovation shows (except Debbie Travis' Facelift), but Jim likes them so they sneak in under my radar. As he mentioned to me yesterday with delight, from time to time he hears people, usually the subjects but sometimes the designers, speak of "rod iron".

How does that happen? Looking solely at pronunciation, the spelled form "rot iron" would be more logical (and an aunt of mine would refer to the stuff jovially as "rotten iron"), but somehow people must have decided that it's made out of iron rods, so it must be rod iron.

It isn't. It's "wrought iron", "wrought" being an antique past participle of "work". It's worked iron, that's all; rather than being made out of iron bars that are cut and then soldered together, it's made of iron that's beaten into fanciful curlicues while it's still hot. This unexpectedly fascinating web page will tell you quite a bit about the physical properties of the iron and why it's "wrought" and not "rod".

While we're on the subject, I might as well admit that once upon a time before I became so smart, I got it into my head that "wrought" was the past participle of "wreak". Well, doesn't it feel as if it ought to be? (It lends a whole new meaning to "What hath God wrought", for one thing.) But it isn't, and never was. I might as well have decided that "fraught" was the past tense of "freak".


Games Magazine isn't what it used to be, but I still buy it fairly often. Ten years ago, it probably wouldn't have let slip the error found in the May 2005 issue, in which a game's elements were referred to as "ruin stones".

Dare I say it for the million-and-first time? It wouldn't have happened if the writer had seen the word "rune" in print instead of merely hearing it, if a skilled copy editor had vetted the piece, and if a spell-checker hadn't been entrusted to the copy editor's job. It's time to give the phenomenon a name, I think, or at least an acronym: perhaps Another Spell-Check-Enabled Error, or ASCEE.


From this Friday's Ask the Pilot column in Salon.com:

"Sting's greatest hits aren't any more palatable through ear buds...than they were through those old-style stethoscopic head vices."

Haven't I been through this already? Don't people know that there's a collection of words in which "-ise" has one meaning and "-ice" has another? (And it isn't as if the man's a bad writer; in the same column, he used the word "minima", which alone is enough to make me love him.)

Let's take a look at the two words in question, shall we? "Vice" comes from the Latin "vitium", "a fault", and it means a bad thing. It's related to "vitiate" and--this should be the clue--"vicious". "Vise" comes from an entirely different Latin word, "vitis", meaning "vine", because a vise has a screw mechanism to open and close it and the screw calls to mind a twining vine. They are not the same word. They are not interchangeable. They are not hard to tell apart.

And one more time: ASCEE.


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