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?