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Orthography in paradise

October 20, 2011 - Harry Eagar
The other day, I walked into the room where Tricia was working on her computer, and she asked, “What's logmein?”

“I dunno. How is it spelled?”


“Never heard of it. What's the context?”

“I keep getting a prompt on the screen that says logmein.”

“Oh. That's log me in.”

It isn't surprising that someone living in the land of chow mein and drymein would read logmein as logmein. We are, even the bad spellers, more affected by the appearance of written words than perhaps many people realize.

H.L. Mencken said that up to about 1930, Santa in Santa Claus was universally pronounced Santy. Nowadays, nobody says Santy unless being jocular. Mencken did not say, but I doubt people in the Roaring Twenties said they were going to Santy Catalina. I'm guessing the pronunciation Santy derived from the way Americans of varied backgrounds heard the Dutch say Sinter Klaas, although that coesn't explain why John Q. Public said Santy Claus and not Santy Class.

If you have an uncommon name, living in Hawaii can create amusing mishearings. News Editor Lee Imada and I have short, vowel-rich surnames that are not too common.

Lee gets mail and email addressed to Emada, Emata, Amada, Yamada etc., just about everything but Imada.

Eagar is usually heard over the phone, at least by locals, as Higa or occasionally Ige. People hear what they are accustomed to hearing, and unless you are from northeast Arizona, where a very distant cousin founded a ski resort town called Eagar, very few people have encountered an Eagar before.

It's Gaelic and pronounced like the English adjective eager. But not spelled that way. An awful lot of email gets addressed to, even if I am careful to emphasize the spelling.

This has its pros and its cons. If somebody offers to send me email that I am not particularly interested in receiving, I rattle off my email address, in a fair expectation that I'll never hear from them again. If I stop and emphasize the second A in my name, that means I was paying attention to what you said and want to get your message.


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