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Saturday, December 11, 2010

English spelling: a cross we have to bear

Misspelling across with two c's is surprisingly common. Remind yourself that it is in fact related to the word cross; originally, in the Middle Ages, across meant "in the shape of a cross", that is, with one (often shorter line) intersecting a longer line at right angles. So you could hold your arms "across" your body. Then it started to have the sense of "from one side to the other of something", when the longer side was being traversed. Nowadays, when we go "across", something, it doesn't matter if we're using the shorter axis or the longer; we're just getting from one side to the other. In fact, if I say "I cut across the park", I'm likely to be doing it diagonally, which is the longest axis of all. But if you remember the image of a cross, it will perhaps help you to avoid that incorrect double-c spelling.

1 comment:

  1. OK.

    Could you perhaps also say at some point how is the apostrophe justified in making plurals of "words" that don't quite have a (regular) plural, such as the "c's" ?

    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete

About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.