March 15, 2005

The moose who chose to lose whose nose?

Arnold Zwicky remarked in the first version of this post that lose is the only English word with /uz/ spelled <ose>. [The remark is not there now, because he's thoroughly on the ball, and corrected himself just a few hours later, while I was writing this one. We tussle like this all the time at Language Log Plaza. They say that in the corporate world it's dog eat dog. Well, at Language Log it's exactly the reverse.] ’Tisn't true [as he now says in the corrected version]: there is also whose (which he might perhaps have initially missed because it's an inflected form, not a citation form of a lexeme). But the temporary slip only underlines his point about the orthographic minefield of English words ending in /uz/ and /us/ (likewise /eiz/ as in phrase and /eis/ as in base, and so on). If I had talent as a poet I would attempt to write poems about it for the bemusement (one can scarcely say amusement) of children:

If a moose should choose to lose his nose,
His does, I s'pose, would get morose.
A nose does have use for a moose on the loose:
It's his nose he would use when close to a rose,
For roses aren't food a loose moose would choose
(Whose moose would choose a dose of rose?)...
[etc. etc., approx. 165 stanzas]

But first, I have no talent as a poet (my stuff is right down there with mortgage company poetry); and second, confusing poems aren't going to help the little mites with their spelling problems, are they? Best to use old-fashioned methods: if you spell lose as loose or choose as chose you will be punished. We are Language Log, and we will brook no ilittera illitter illiteracy. Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at March 15, 2005 12:11 PM