Why correct spelling and usage is sometimes just a matter of opinion - and fashion


A very amusing little scoop from the Guardian today: Morrisons supermarket has had to withdraw its alphabet building blocks for babies because of spelling mistakes. The toys went out to 382 stores before a customer pointed out that Y is not for Yahct nor U for Umberlla.

And let’s not get started on X, which is not for X’mas Tree and certainly not with that apostrophe.

In ye olden days, we used regularly to receive letters addressed to Yahcting World. Email servers are unforgiving recipients, schoolmarmishly refusing to deliver until the sender gets the address absolutely right.

To help writers and sub-editors avoid yahct moments, YW has its own handed-down house style book setting out the correct spelling and usage of various nautical terms.

For example, an anchor may be weighed with the assistance of a gipsy, as distinct from the strapping Romany on the foredeck spelt with a second ‘y’. Foc’s’le must be apostrophised thus. Reefing lines are to be referred to and spelt pendant, though pronounced pennant. (The YW style book was not above a few elocution hints as well.)

There was no arguing with the style book, it was like a tablet of stone delivered from the very hands of Moses. Variance in custom and habit eventually creep in along the edges, however, so some of the dictates now seem fustily out of date and read like peevish judgements of rectitude.

How many people say afterpeak while decrying lazarette or aft locker? Or prefer aft pulpit to pushpit? Does anyone still insist joiner work is correct but joinery infra dig?

Did sheer plans quietly die out? When did team-work and up-date and sea-level lose their hyphens? Why was keelband one word but keel bolt two? Who decided that sail plan should be two words when referring to drawings but one ‘in physical aspect’?

The internet has make a bit of nonsense of these nettlesome distinctions. If you get even the basics wrong Google will just ask: ‘Did you mean yacht?’ Ooh yes, I did. ‘Did you mean Yachting World?’ 😉 TYVM, gr8, LOL.