February 07, 2006

How to countr orthographic offendrs

David Giacalone of f/k/a takes a break from his efforts to eradicate the word "blawg" to alert us to a new linguistic menace: the creeping conversion of the agentive suffix "-er" to "-r" in trendy online usage. Microsoft's Robert Scoble was the first to complain, after noticing that the popular photo-sharing site Flickr had seemingly infected several other "geek projects" like the screenshot utility Grabbr. The new tech-gossip blog Valleywag was next to pick up on Scoble's peeve, adding retrievr, gtalkr, talkr, flagr, Bloggr, gabbr and Frappr to the rogues' gallery of malefactrs. Digerati queen Esther Dyson is a particularly egregious "-r" user, at least on her Flickr feed where she calls herself "Esthr" and peppers her comments with words like "investr" and "dinnr".

Giacalone echoes Valleywag's urgent call to "donate 'e's to needy trendoids":

To help those who are particularly impervious to subtle gestures, we suggest that you dig out any old, unused Scrabble games and remove the 12 "e" tiles. Then, send one each to the dozen trendoids you know who most need a reminder of how our language operates (perhaps with instructions).

It's a funny suggestion, though not exactly a novel one. Spiritual predecessors include the "Vowels for Wales" campaign of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and the much-circulated Onion article, "Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia."

[Update: See Polyglot Conspiracy on the related transformation of "-er"/"-or" to "-r" in the names of Motorola cellphones such as RAZR, ROKR, and SLVR.]

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at February 7, 2006 04:12 PM