Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Siphon or Syphon

The source of this word is Latin siphon, which is itself derived from Greek σίϕων ‘pipe’ or ‘tube’; the English word should therefore be spelled siphon.  But it’s not quite that simple.  This is because, during the 17th century, it began to be spelled syphon in an attempt to reflect its Greek etymology more closely.  This was part of a general move to classicize English spelling, which saw pigmy change to pygmy, fisik change to physic, and stile to style.  This last example was a change too far, however, since the word stile is actually from Latin stilus ‘writing instrument’ and has nothing to do with Greek στλος, which means ‘column’.  The shift from siphon to syphon was similarly misguided, since the Greek word from which it derives was spelled with iota rather than upsilon.  Etymologically, therefore, the spelling should be siphon; however the incorrect syphon spelling is now widely accepted and frequently features as a variant spelling in dictionaries. Discussion forums record opposing views, with some claiming that syphon is the British equivalent of US siphon, and others preferring syphon on aesthetic grounds.  Both spellings are common on Twitter, with only a handful of people chastising those who use syphon; since one of these tweets under the Twitter handle @slyphon, he could be accused of having a vested interest.

Monday, 2 June 2014

UKIP or Ukip?

Since their shock victory at the European elections, one issue that has continued to frustrate Ukip supporters is the spelling of the party’s name in the media.  The party itself spells its name UKIP, but newspapers tend to use just the single capital: Ukip.  This is not a question of political allegiance, since it appears this way in both The Guardian and The Telegraph newspapers; it is rather an issue of House Style.  Both newspaper Style Guides make a distinction between acronyms, where the individual letters are pronounced as a single word, eg Nato, Nasa, and initialisms, pronounced as a series of initials, eg BBC, UK.  Since Ukip is an acronym rather than an initialism, the issue is straightforward.  Tom Chivers, writing in The Telegraph, suspected that Ukip supporters object because it emphasizes the word ‘kip’, which invokes images of kippers and snoozes.  Admitting to chuckling to himself every time he types Ukip, Chivers’s article attracted 1568 comments, many of them from angry Ukip supporters defending the UKIP spelling and viewing Ukip as a deliberate attempt to belittle the party and its views.  But while the paper's policy seems clear enough, there are some inconsistencies: LOL is generally spelled in uppercase even though most people now pronounce it ‘lol’ rather than ‘L-O-L’, while VAT can be pronounced either as a single word or a series of initials.
            But while Ukip supporters might bemoan the papers’ misspelling of their party’s name, their representatives are similarly prone to unfortunate spelling slips. A tweet sent from the party’s official Twitter account during the debate between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg called on voters to take control of our ‘boarders’ – either a spelling mistake or a change of policy designed to target rogue landlords.  Frank Maloney, Ukip candidate for Barking, launched his poster campaign with the slogan: ‘Frank Maloney - Fighting for Barking and Fighting for Britian’.  When challenged on his spelling of Britain, Maloney claimed it was a deliberate ploy to get people talking about him.  Well, it certainly achieved that goal. According to an article in the Sunday Telegraph, Ukip’s founder, Professor Alan Sked, once tried to oust Nigel Farage from the party because of his poor spelling and grammar, including the heinous crime of being unable to distinguish its and it’s.  But since politicians are renowned for their spelling gaffes – think of Tony Blair’s toomorrow, Michael Gove’s bureuacracy and Dan Quayle’s potatoe – perhaps it is no surprise that Ukip is on the rise.
Spelling Trouble rallies the electorate