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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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Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Wordlady gets salacious

Have a good look at the poster above.

I was quite surprised to see this ad for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on the subway a couple of weeks ago.


I did not attack it with a felt marker to change it to the correct "salacious". 

When you see what seem to be flagrant mistakes like this from sources that should know better, there are a number of possible reasons.
  1. Young People Today have created a new word by blending "salacious" and "delicious".  There seems to be little evidence of such a  phenomenon, however. (And judging by my frequent visits to TSO concerts, Young People Today are not their major market, to put it mildly). If it does indeed exist and you are more hip than I, please let me know.
  2. The mistake may be intentional to grab the viewers' attention. Indeed, some cunning person at the TSO publicity office was perhaps thinking, "If we misspell "salacious" (or invent a blend of "salacious" and "delicious"), some pedant will take a picture of it and post it on their Facebook feed or write a blog post about it and therefore give us more publicity for our concert than if we spelled it properly!" When advertisers intentionally misspell words, though, they usually pick on more common ones than "salacious", so that people will know the mistake is intentional.
  3. They really didn't know any better, had only ever heard "salacious" spoken, never seen it written, had NEVER HEARD OF A DICTIONARY, and spelled it the way it sounded to them. I assume the TSO's ads have to be approved by several people, so I find it amazing that no one noticed this.
Which do you think is the correct explanation?

"Salacious" is now used mostly of written or spoken accounts that are titillating and risqué, focusing on the sexual. Originally, when borrowed into English  in the 1600s, it described lecherous people (as well as the apparently notoriously lecherous pigeons, poultry, and sparrows, who knew). 

The word is derived from Latin salax (lascivious, lecherous) from salire (to jump, leap). According to the Trésor de la langue francaise, this was because one of the meanings of salire was "(of an animal) to mount another animal in mating". 

But I wouldn't put it past those ancient Romans to have also spoken of "jumping someone's bones"!

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.