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Friday, September 26, 2014

Finding one's elf

Back in my dictionary editing days, my colleagues used to have a game that would help us get through the tedium of proofreading 1700 large pages of tiny type. (What, you say, lexicography can be less than a non-stop barrel of laughs?)

As you can imagine, the word "oneself" is used a lot in defining verbs used reflexively. Sometimes the typesetter would break it incorrectly at the end of a line, so that instead of getting "help one
self: serve one
self with food"
We would get
"help ones
elf: serve ones
elf with food"
We found elves like this all over the dictionary. (If you find any that made it past our eagle eyes, please.... I don't care.)

OK, so were desperate for something, ANYTHING, to provide some distraction. My point, and I do have one, is that "oneself" is one word. In the past little while I've seen people write "one's self". "One's self" is wrong; the word is "oneself", just like "itself".


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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.