Printable Version
Pronunciation: kæ-kah-grê-fi Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: 1. Bad handwriting, chicken scratch, scrawl, scribbling. 2. Bad spelling, misspelling.

Notes: The meaning of today's word should come as no surprise to all those who read cacodemon. It comes with a set of derivatives parallel to all words ending on -graphy: cacographic, cacographical, and cacographically. People guilty of cacography are known as cacographers (compare photographer and its family).

In Play: Doctors are often accused of cacography in the first sense: "Dr. Lance Boyle's prescriptions are so cacographical not even the most practiced pharmacist can read them." There is evidence all over the web of cacography in the second sense. Receive spelled recieve appears more than 8 million times on the web. I wrote a Language Blog entry last October about a movie containing a TV ad concerning "marshal law". Go here for a larger sampling.

Word History: This word is a compound of caco- "bad" + graphia "writing". We learned all about caco- from cacodemon. What about graphia? This word comes from Greek graphein "to write", originally "to draw" and, beyond that, "to scratch". It goes back to a Proto-Indo-European word, gerbh- "scratch, carve", that evolved into many English words, both natural and borrowed. First it came directly to English through its Germanic ancestors as Old English ceorfan "to cut", which is carve today. The R and the vowel preceding it switched places early on, resulting in crebiz, ancestor of today's crab. Old French borrowed crebiz from Germanic, replacing the B with V, resulting in crevice "crayfish" (today écrevisse). At that time, English had no word for "crayfish", so it borrowed the French word back as crevice, which ultimately became crayfish by folk etymology. Ping-pong anyone?

Dr. Goodword,

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