Last week I covered the needless confusion between they’re, there, and their, so it seems only natural to focus on a similarly confused set of homophones: you’re and your. At least this time there are only two of them!
Once again, it comes down to the same thing: people are trying to figure out how to write the sound /jʊəɹ/ instead of spelling the word that means “belonging to you” or the one that means “you are.” There’s no confusion about which word one actually wants, so using the correct one in writing is simply a matter of learning how to spell that word, and not caring in the least what it sounds like.
I hope everyone had a happy holiday, whatever their preferred holidays might be. And there we have the theme of this post. No, not holidays — they’re not what this blog is about. Words: their, there, and they’re.
So, we’ve got this sound /ðɛɚ/ and we need to figure out which spelling is correct, right? Actually, if you look at it in terms of deciding which word to use in the sentence, ignoring how it’s pronounced, you won’t have any problems at all. The word isn’t just a transcription of a sound — it means something. Once you know which meaning you need, it’s easy.
The case of “aloud” and “allowed” is a perfect example of the problem caused by people being taught only to pronounce words, not understand them, and of them thinking written words are merely transcriptions of sounds rather than having inherent meanings. Both words (at least in the primary dialects of English) are pronounced the same. Their meanings, on the other hand, are totally different. If you’re only trying to figure out how to write down the sound /ʌˈlaʊd/ the odds are 50/50 you’ll get it wrong. But if you know what the words mean, not a chance.
So let’s look at those two words: aloud and allowed.
As I mentioned, I’m a Minecraft Forum moderator. This leads to me having to read a lot of thread titles that make me wince. (that’s one of the reasons I started this blog) I suppose in some cases, autocorrect is to blame. It’s very easy to just let it replace what you wrote with what it thinks you meant. (there’s at least one website highlighting some of the more hilarious results) I’ve nearly thrown a mobile device across the room more than once because of its insistence on putting in what it thinks I should be writing; autocorrect systems are definitely not in sync with my vocabulary. But knowing that your software is trying to sabotage you should be more reason to keep a close eye on what you’re actually posting. Of course, this means you have to know what the words are all about to begin with.
Today’s example is a simple one: server. In the online world, this is an extremely common word. Offline, too, for that matter; it’s sometimes met with in the context of restaurants. And yet I could look at the multiplayer forum for any of the areas I moderate and find at least one instance, in the first page or two, of “sever” where the poster meant “server.”
People keep telling me “You ought to start a blog!” Okay, people, you win. It’s here, and it’s a blog.
I’m a word geek. As long as I can remember, I’ve loved words. I love how words go together, why this word instead of that one means a particular thing, and how the nuances of meaning differ between words. A lot of what I know of languages other than English comes from following parts of words back to where they came from.
In particular, I love the written word. I was lucky in that my teachers taught reading in terms of understanding what a word meant, rather than just how to pronounce it, in the hopes that one would then recognize it from having heard it. Now, it seems, that has changed; it’s become all about treating written words as though they are only transcriptions of sounds, and reading as knowing how to reproduce those sounds. That makes for good recitation, but does nothing for understanding. If you were to give me a page of Italian, I could read it off to you perfectly (Italian is a very phonetic language). But the only word of Italian I know is “ciao.” I wouldn’t understand a single thing of what I just said, despite how accurately I said it. The ability to turn words into sounds only reveals their meaning if they’re words that are part of one’s normal speaking vocabulary, and does nothing at all for the reverse — the ability to turn sounds into words.
So, I’m going to be nattering on here about what written words actually mean, rather than just how they sound, and why they are what they are. Why are their, there, and they’re different words, anyway, and how do you know which one to use in a given sentence? What the heck does apotheosis mean, and how can you tell? And why did I have a giant “4/5” built in cobblestone outside of my base on a multiplayer Minecraft server?