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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Monday, June 13, 2011

When REALLY not to use "u" after "q"

The capital of one of Canada's northern Territories, Nunavut, goes by the euphonious name Iqaluit (it used to be called Frobisher Bay, much less musical). In Inuktitut, Iqaluit means "many fish". Unfortunately English spelling has a habit of putting a "u" after the letter "q", so English speakers commonly misspell Iqaluit as Iqualuit (in fact I just saw that spelling in yesterday's Ottawa Citizen). Indeed, in September 2009 the Prime Minister's Office used this misspelling repeatedly in a press release, causing a great brouhaha when the Nunavut Language Commissioner pointed out that "iqualuit" means "people with large unwiped bums" (that's bums in the "buttocks" sense, for any American readers who are confused). DEFINITELY a mistake you don't want to make.
Another Inuktitut borrowing into English with a "q" not followed by "u" is qiviut, or the fine underbelly hair of a muskox. There's a bit of trivia to impress your friends with.

1 comment:

  1. My goodness...I will be sure to avoid this little one. Thanks for sharing, I'm sure that I've done this more than once!

    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.