From Africa to Baltimore: The long path to education for a Hopkins star

Short and sweet

The Baltimore Sun

A while back, I coined the word peeververein to identify the noisy tribe of grammar cranks: peever, for a querulous and quarrelsome person; verein, the German word for "association."* It has found some favor amid the little circle of readers here.

The other day, when Barrie England praised this blog at Caxton, he used the word peeverein. Jan Freeman of Throw Grammar From the Train pounced on that and brought a charge of haplology against Mr. England.

Haplology (and it's a grand day when one can add a new word to the ranks of the familiar ones) is the elimination of a syllable in a word, particularly when two similar ones are adjacent.** The British have long been adept at this. When Americans alter the word library, they turn it into liberry, keeping the same number of syllables, but the British cut it to libry.

This, you notice, is in speech. Dropping syllables in text is haplography, which I suppose would be the more appropriate term for what Mr. England did. In the comments at the Caxton post, John Cowan leveled the charge of haplogy, himself committing haplography.

Challenged, Mr. England responded, "Then I have formed my own portmanteau word." Just so. And though I coined the original, once a coinage gets into circulation, it goes its own way. Peeverein is more compact and easier to pronounce, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if, granting that the term survives at all, it would become the dominant form, blurring the etymological origin. What say you, Peter Sokolowski and Kory Stamper?

Incidentally, if shortening words goes against the grain, you might want to practice tmesis (pronounced TMEE-sis), in which words or syllables are inserted into the middle of a word. If you are in the custom of saying "abso-bloody-lutely" or the like, you have been practicing tmesis unawares.


*You might well think that I latched on to verein from reading Mencken, who salted his articles with Teutonic words and phrases; but actually, I had, before encountering Mencken, read Don Marquis's Archy and Mehitabel stories, in one of which I discovered a reference to an association called the Worms Turnverein.

**The word was coined by the linguist Maurice Bloomfield in 1895 from the Greek haplo, "single" and logy, "word," "speech."


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