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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, July 14, 2016


Because I am always planning group ballet trips (more on those here), I spend a lot of time reading reviews on tripadvisor.com, and am often entertained by the spelling mistakes and malapropisms I find there.

My favourite so far has been "All we got for breakfast was ONE BEAGLE!!!"

 But I recently came across another one:

"The service is implacable while friendly (including when one travels with kids)"

What they meant (I hope!) was "impeccable."

"Impeccable" comes from the late Latin impeccābilis,  from the negative prefix im- + peccāre to sin. The word originally meant "incapable of sinning", but has been weakened to "faultless; in accordance with the highest standards". 

"Implacable", on the other hand, comes from the same word that gave us "placate" and means "Unable to be appeased or placated" or "Unable to be stopped; relentless". The words that are found most frequently with "implacable" are very rarely positive: enemy (overwhelmingly most frequent), foe, hatred, hostility, and so on. 

Of course, I suppose the service in a hotel COULD be described as implacable, but only if you have the misfortune to turn up at this hotel:


You may be surprised to learn that the original pronunciation of "implacable" was "im PLAY ka bull". But this gradually shifted to "im PLACKA bull". Vestiges of these pronunciation shifts can be seen in the root word "placate".

In British English it is pronounced "pluh KATE"

In the US it is pronounced "PLAY kate" or "PLACK ate". 

In Canada, typically, we have all three pronunciations, in the following order of frequency, according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary:

"pluh KATE",  "PLAY kate", "PLACK ate"

I am not aware of ever having heard "PLACK ate", but some people in our pronunciation surveys must have said it or it wouldn't be there.

What do you say? 

For another entertaining malapropism, see this post:
  Not a big ballet fan but like to travel? Why not check out my "Wine, food, sightseeing, and a bit of ballet trip to Bordeaux and Toulouse" in July 2017. I promise our hotels are not like Fawlty Towers! More info here:

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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.