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Doubling up on Consonants

David Myer wrote the following from somewhere, I take it, out in Australia:

“So, what is a gammy leg? Usually used in Australia (and in UK as far as I can remember) to indicate a leg affliction that causes a limp.”

This one is easy for a while. Gammy is a mispronunciation of gamy, an extention of game, as in a game leg. Hobos in the 30s mispronounced it and expanded its meaning to include anything that is bad: gammy smell, gammy ride, gammy food. Notice that doubling the M in this word led to a different, though predictable, change in the pronunciation which provides the perfect segue to your next, more complex, question:

“Also interested in your US dropping of the double consonant when adding ing or ed. ‘focused’ or ‘targeted’ (assuming you actually deign to use such a word as a noun).”

“For me, the rule is simple. You select the spelling that is easiest to read. Focussed is likely to be instantly recognised and pronounced in only one way. The single s in focused can lead the quick reader to pronounce it as a z. The emphasis would then fall on the second syllable so you might read focused as in accused. Double s is infinitely preferable in my book.”

I totally agree with you on doubling the consonants—it and the ‘silent’ E are the only consistent means of distinguishing long and short vowels in English. I’m not sure which editorial committee decided that we in the US should husband our consonants or for what reason but the single consonant in these words implies the removal of a silent E, e.g. bated vs. batted, coned vs. conned, pining vs. pinning, not to mention gamy vs. gammy, an excellent example of the mischief confusing the two can lead to. We actually aren’t even consistent in our spelling as these examples demonstrate, since the US rule applies only to multisyllabled words.

I do hope that you appreciate the fact that I use British punctuation when it comes to the placement of quotation marks. It irks many of our US readers but, again, the British system is logical and consistent: if the quotes logically belong inside the period or comma, you place them inside the period or comma. If the period or comma is a part of the quotations, they go inside the quotes.

Sometimes I marvel that we still speak to each other, two peoples, as Winston Churchill put it, “divided by a common language”.

One Response to “Doubling up on Consonants”

  1. Stargzer Says:

    “I do hope that you appreciate the fact that I use British punctuation when it comes to the placement of quotation marks. It irks many of our US readers but, again, the British system is logical and consistent: if the quotes logically belong inside the period or comma, you place them inside the period or comma. If the period or comma is a part of the quotations, they go inside the quotes.”

    The American usage never made sense to me, either, but I found a reprieve during my freshman year of college: computer programming (which I refuse to spell with a single “m”). Commas are used to separate parameters in many computer languages; in this case it was FORTRAN. Quotation marks, single or double depending on the language, are used to enclose a group of characters that form a “string.” One day, our professor distributed a quiz which his secretary had typed but that he hadn’t proofread. She had instinctively corrected his “syntactical errors” by putting the commas inside the double-quotes. In a way, it was a lesson for us about the value of sight-checking our code before submitting our card decks. (Yes, it was THAT long ago!)

    Using a single consonant instead of a double may have its origins in printing, saving on type, ink, and space over a longer document.

    A similar situation is the practice of choosing whether to put a slash through the number “zero” (0) or the letter “oh” (O) to distinquish the two. In computer use that varies by location and by whether the data is primarily numeric or alphabetic. During orientation many years ago at the US Social Security Administration I was told they elected to put a slash through the letter instead of the number since they used numbers more than letters, thus saving time over the long run when entering data on forms and into paper records. Computers as we know them didn’t exist when the Social Security Administration started back in the 1930s.

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