Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mahatma Blagojevich

My delusional governor (there are those who think that his media tour indicates mental instability; I don't know about that, but, even if there is calculation to it, I think he's addled if he thinks he'll get anything out of it) has begun comparing his ordeal to those of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Mohandas Gandhi.

Yes, I'm certain that Mandela's greatest concern was figuring out which jogging suit to pull out of the closet each morning.

But I don't want to talk about that today. I find the topic kind of depressing, as these clowns are supposed to be representing us instead of posturing for the cameras (and that is not limited to Blago; why the Cook County clerk is getting news time for her opposition to the new Chicago schools CEO, I can't imagine).

No, I'd rather talk about how this story has brought to life one of the most egregious misspellings in the language, namely, the oft-written variants of the name of Gandhi. Most of them get the letters right, but the 'h' seems to bother people if properly placed after the 'd.' So we frequently see "Ghandi," and I mean often.

There seems to be some aversion to putting 'h' after 'd,' probably because it's quite uncommon (though not in Indian languages that have been Romanized; in Sanskrit, the voiced aspirates are spelled gh, jh, dh, and bh). "Gh" may seem more common, though it's really not when placed at the beginning of the word. Perhaps "spaghetti" has inured us to this combination.

Which reminds me, of course, of the famous "ghoti," pronounced as "fish." This is often attributed to Bernard Shaw, which is almost certainly incorrect. But I won't delve into this, as you can find a good discussion here, though I would be remiss if I didn't mention "ghoughpteighbteau," pronounced, quite obviously, "potato."

Naturally, given the ways of the Internet, I'm not the first to be disturbed by this, there are all kinds of results from a Google search of "gandhi spelling." One of the more interesting sites that discusses this is that of Paul Brians of Washington State University. There are quite a few common English errors chronicled here.

You may have noticed that there's no link in the paragraph above. That's because there is a remarkable page at this site that has some very specific requirements about how and where to link. Remarkable to me, because this site has apparently been so successful that Brians can get picky as to the specific link he expects people to use (rather than being pleased that anyone wants to). But I'll go along, take his word for the contention that wrong links cause him problems, so here is the preferred link.

[Note: not surprisingly, Language Log discussed the Gandhi thing already, back in 2004. The discussion isn't particularly deep, but there are some good links, so it's worth reading.]

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