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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, December 12, 2011

Seasonal Spelling Slip-up

The word "poinsettia" is a spelling trap for the unwary, especially as most of us pronounce it "poinSETTA" (or in fact, in North America, "poinSEDDA"). But don't forget it has that -ia ending so common in plant names: dahlia, petunia, gardenia etc. 

Not to mention "fuchsia", where we don't pronounce the ending ee-ah either, though one irate correspondent to the dictionary berated me for giving the pronunciation as "FYOOSHA" instead of what she considered the "correct" pronunciation: FOOKseeah (FOOK rhyming with BOOK). I was sorely tempted to write back saying that I would never do anything that would lead some poor innocent to engage in a conversation at a garden centre starting with the statement, "I wanna FOOKSya"!
You might also be tempted to add a superfluous "t" to poinsettia: pointsettia, but the flower is named after J.R. Poinsett, the first US Minister to Mexico and an amateur botanist, who came across the flower while there in the 1830s. Poinsettias are pointless, you might say (I've never been a fan of them).

Wondering what to give your word-loving friends and relations? Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to do with Pigs and Only in Canada, You Say  make great gifts, both available from amazon.ca. Click here to order.


  1. Hello,

    I was stunned to read that anybody would dare "berate" the author ...

    Well, my apologies, if I ever added to the undignified behavior!

  2. Thank you! This issue "drives me nuts." Every time I decide that I have it sorted out and fixed in my mind, I come across a variant usage in a seemingly authoritative printed source; then i lose my grip on it again.

  3. Katherine, I get the point, and have settled in to enjoy your column!


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.