Spelt vs. Spelled: Duking it out in the Dictionary

Not my mountain

There are other mountains to die on. Choose your grammar battles with care.

I recently got into an argument over the use of the word ‘spelt’ and a colleague insisted, quite heatedly, that there was no such word. In turn, I insisted, gently albeit pointedly (it was one of my ‘up-aboves’), that we look up the word in a dictionary. She was emphatic that ‘spelt’ was incorrect, and paraphrased one of our chronic letter writers who had at some point chewed my colleague out for misspelling ‘spelled.’

– I should note here that the letter writer had self-imposed themselves to be a bastion of proper grammar and syntax relative to my line of work, and almost exclusively wrote in acronyms. Taking any grammatical advice from them, even via a third-party, was tenuous at best. –

Dutifully, I looked up ‘spelt‘ on Dictionary.com, my favourite reference site. Aside from being an ancient wheat variety, ‘spelt’ is a variant of ‘spelled.’ I looked at my colleague triumphantly…in a humble way of course, no use lording it over her. She shook her head. “No, it’s not right.”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the dictionary was accused of being incorrect. Now I am the first person who will admit that there is no perfection in life save for Buddha and Jesus; however, the dictionary is a running second to those two deities.

Higher pay scales than mine dictated the moment, and ‘spelt’ was promptly swapped out for ‘spelled.’

The lesson in all this, aside from restraining one’s self from saying, “I told you so,” was that there is no such thing as infallibility when it comes to definitions, and it is always best to check, just in case you have been using a word, or spelling a word, incorrectly all these years.

…which I hadn’t been, just for the record.


Animal Thoughts Part 2

A limpet sat and contemplated its positionLimpet Limbo at Low Tide
Aside a rock,
Its resolve in attrition.

For many a year
It had attached here.
Perfectly comfortable
The sea a quasi-distant burble.
Occasionally lashed by an incontinent storm,
Or picked at by little fingers on a pre-school morn.

Happy, content, and fat

Yet a niggling feeling started to develop,
Whenever the waves would it envelop.
The limpet began to dream of distant shores,
And started to wish its rock had oars.
Even a distant atoll appeared exotic
When, with a red tide, the limpet went miotic.

And, yet, though its thoughts drifted with the currents,
It no more could leave the rock
Than be the English heir apparent.
For when it tried to twitch a muscle,
The only reaction was, to such an action,
Not even a shell-shuddered rustle.

For, as every schoolchild knows,
A limpet, once attached, never any movement shows.


See the eagle flying high?
Such a magnificent addition to the sky.
As though God himself,
Thought what the hell,
Let’s make this swell,
And let the bird ride high and free.
Now, son, take a careful aim,
So the sun isn’t in your eyes a-framed,
And let’s bag another.


Over a garbage bin,
Three bears sat down to din’,
Goldilocks came out,
Heaving swill with a shout,
And the bears found the feast a rapture.

UK faces ‘significant’ land shortage

UK faces ‘significant’ land shortage http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28003435

I came across this article this morning,  and although Canada has no such land shortage on its horizon, the fact that there is not enough arable land to go about in the world to deal with the rising global population is alarming. 

Yet few policy makers are even broaching this subject, and focus on the topics du jour such as energy and the environment (these all dovetail together though).

And at the deep crux of the whole matter is something policy makers don’t even want to touch with a ten foot pole: soon there will be too many people in world. Then what?

Bi- Versus Semi-

Bifurcating Grammar

The God of Grammatical Bifurcation

It came up in conversation the other day about an argument one of my colleagues had with one of our Communications managers over the difference (or similarity, as she argued) between bi- and semi-. The context was some sort of miscellaneous report that needed to be put out twice a year. My colleague argued that “biannual” meant every two years, and the Communications manager argued that “biannual” meant twice per year, the same as “semiannual”. Apparently the discussion was quite heated, and my colleague, being in Finance, deferred to the vast knowledge of our Communications Department (keeping in mind these are the same people who have introduced CP to our organization and have thus added a sticky layer of ambiguity to all corporate copy).

I agreed with my colleague: biannual meant every two years, and semiannual meant twice per year.

Yet I felt compelled to check, as I tend to when confronted with some information that may prove my grammatical instinct wrong. I came across the following site: Grammarbook.com, and the following exchange, which I wanted to share with you. The strong emotions expressed by these commentators are not unlike my feelings on the Oxford comma and capitalization; I can appreciate having a violent reaction to grammatical abuse.

This quandry also suggests that given that bi- and semi- are often confused, it might be best to avoid these two prefixes (in this context), be less ambiguous, and specify to what you are referring (twice per year or every two years, etc…).

In the meanwhile, enjoy:

  1. Eric Havaby says:

    Anyone who actually says “I visit my aunt semimonthly.” should be taken out and shot!

    • Dante Picchioni says:

      That is a little extreme. Instead of shooting them, perhaps we could just torture them for a few hours, and then let them go.

      • Jeannette Jones says:

        Or perhaps just force them to read poor grammar or go to the mall and listen to people “conversate”!

        • Mark Harder says:

          Evolution of grammar is always to be expected. Some changes are trivial (“pleaded” now instead of “pled”). Others are offensive to value systems. The increasingly frequent use of “that” as the beginning of adjectival phrases referring to people (people “who”) as objects. The usage of “that” applied to people almost always stands out from the written page, an ugly unwanted interruption in my reading, to say the least.
          The confusion between bi- and semi- periodic could cause a potentially serious lapse in communication if, for example, one were to expect arrival on Thus. of an item that won’t be delivered until the week after next.

      • David Negley says:

        Tortured with cattle prods semi-hourly, no doubt. Every half hour on the dot.

The Invisble Man

My aunt had invited me to her place to celebrate my uncle’s sixty-eight birthday, which fell on Victoria Day this year (why we are still celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday is a bit peculiar but Canada is all about ensuring at least one stat holiday a month, or at least attempt this record with some success); it was a big family luncheon, for those of us still in Vancouver.

“Big” is being ironic; the remaining family here constitutes my aunt and uncle, my gran, my mum and dad, and myself. Everyone else has either flown the coop (to Calgary, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco, respectively), or has died. There were never very many of us, just my grandparents (who immigrated from Venezuela, though they were from Poland originally, and had met en route to a UNRRA camp in Germany after the end of the Second World War); my aunt and uncle, and my two cousins; my mum and dad, my dad’s mum, my brother, and myself. We did have additions of my brother’s wife a few years ago, and a year ago, the little one, and the girlfriends of the cousins, but it’s never been more than an apostolic twelve around the table.

My aunt always jokes that I can’t leave Vancouver, as it’s on my shoulders to take care of them and my parents when they turn into doddering seniors. I think she is only half joking. The positive side of that is that my gran just turned 95 at the end of May and is still as sharp as a tack, so I am hoping those good genes passed on to my mum and to my uncle, to save me the eventual and painful decision of when to put them in a care home once the changing of the diapers kicks in (I jest; I will try to keep them independent for as long as possible).

The lunch was nice; my uncle cracking inappropriate jokes, and my mum and I picking up on random double entendres throughout the conversation. Dirty minds are apparently genetic.

So it was with satiated appetite and good humour on the mind that I came back home. There was a fellow in the parking garage lobby, who was also waiting for the elevator. We started chatting, as one does with one’s neighbours. He mentioned that he had been out walking twice that day, as the weather was so nice. I asked him how the rest of the weekend had passed and he said that he had gone cycling out to UBC, taking the long route over the Second Narrows rather than over Lions Gate Bridge. He asked if I cycled; I said no, and said that I preferred to go for walks. He introduced himself to me, asked me my name, then he got out on the second floor, I think, and I kept on to the eighth. I like the people in my building; they’re all quite friendly.

This innocuous tête-à-tête took place on Monday.

My morning routine during the week tends to be quite regimented, and I’ve gotten it down to a comfortable pace, as I hate rushing in the mornings), so that I almost always am out the door by 7:50am. This morning I was a bit ahead of schedule, so left at 7:45am, and saw my neighbour, Bezhad, an engineer, by the elevators, as I pulled out my keys to lock the door. I called out to him to hold the elevator, and he asked me something which I took to be if I was catching the same elevator – Bezhad has a thick Persian accent, bless him, so I wasn’t one hundred percent sure of what I’d heard. But no, as I walked over, he asked again, “Did you see this envelope? It’s got your name on it. It’s been here since last night.”

I confessed that I hadn’t, but there it was, a white envelope taped to the elevator button console, with ‘ALEX’ written on it in large block letters. I opened it, not sure what to expect. Bezhad joked that I should be careful of opening strange envelopes in case there was poison inside; I think Bezhad takes the news too seriously. Inside was a business card, for the fellow from the elevator. On the back he’d written, “Perhaps you’d like to go for a walk sometime?”

I smiled, flattered.

Bezhad looked at me. “I wasn’t sure of your apartment number,” he said. “Oh, it’s just the first one on your left over there,” I gestured down the hall.

I’ll be honest, the little card made my morning, as that has never happened to me before. The worst thing is, however, that I can’t even remember what the fellow looked like. I have a vague recollection that he might have looked a bit like John Hannah, and probably the same age – so likely almost 20 years my senior – and Persian, but that was it. How terrible. I felt a bit guilty about the whole thing, because it was a bit bold to do something like this. I thought that I should at least email him to decline, as he was simply not my type, but the girls at works said not to, as that would just open the proverbial door for him. I tossed the envelope and card the next day.

Like it had never happened.

The whole episode is a happy thought; I just hope that when (notice, not ‘if’) this happens next time, the man will not remain invisible in my mind.



I sit on the corner of my bed,
A thousand images racing through my head.Imploding
Knees tucked up against my chest,
Arms clasped around my legs.
The air vibrating against my skin,
Clothing me in waves from the wake of the Leviathan.

I sit on the bed as though I were about to row
To distant, far flung shores,
Wending through exotic spaces,
Striving to reach foreign places.
The air vibrates against my skin,
Clothing me in waves from the wake of the Leviathan.

The room is lit with evening’s glow.
My eyes accustomed to such sombre tones.
The hum of the water, in the air, hangs motionless;
The people call out to each other, voiceless.
The air vibrated against my skin,
Clothing me in waves from the wake of the Leviathan.

As that air does me compress,
Embalmed by the touch of a mother’s caress,
My heart and mind dovetail
And meet halfway beneath a sail.And in that twilight of heart’s delight,
My skin makes the air vibrate into the night.