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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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Thursday, December 23, 2010

More reasons not to trust your spellchecker

Frequent readers of Wordlady know that I love to dance, and yesterday I saw something in the paper that suggested a new Terpsichorean possibility for me: "They went to Spain for flamingo lessons". I can see myself in a hot pink tutu standing on one leg with the other bent backwards at the knee. Presumably the people in question were really taking flamenco lessons. Two words I wouldn't have thought anyone would confuse, but yet another reason not to trust your spellchecker.

Flamingo was borrowed into English from the Portuguese word flamengo when the Portuguese started exploring the New World and discovering flocks of this exotic fauna in the Caribbean and South America. Flamengo came from the Latin word flamma (flame), because of the bird's bright pink and red colouring (flamingo trivia: this is due to carotene in its diet, sometimes supplemented in zoos by food colouring!).

Interestingly, though, in Spanish, the word flamenco is used for both the pink birds and the stirring music and dance style originated by gypsies. Although the origin of flamenco is uncertain, it is also the word for "Flemish" in Spanish, and it is thought may have been used indiscriminately by Spaniards for anyone they deemed "foreign".

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  1. Lovely post. In return, I can do no better than to point you to a Sesame Street excerpt featuring ... don't get ahead of me here ... Placido Flamingo.


  2. as always "Lady Katherine"....a delight; i just invited my parents to join....maybe some "NEWFIE" slang would delight us all!!

  3. The Pullet Surprise Poem


    Have you seen this? Looking forward to meeting you at our PD Day Jan 14.


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.