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Rosie Right

Our language and how it works.


Fierce or Askew?

A friend who writes has come upon a word she had not seen before. She asks, What is cattywampus? This is not a simple question — first because there is not any agreement about how to spell the word. The Oxford English Dictionary told me the editors did not recognize cattywampus, but under catawampous there is the following entry: "Fierce, unsparing, destructive. Also, askew, awry" There is also catawampus, which OED defines as "a bogy fierce imaginary animal."

According to the Word Detective Web site, one of the troubles with the term is that there is "no standard spelling of kattywampus, which is also often rendered as cattywampus, caddywompous and catawampus."

I think I will stick with askew and fierce animal. That should be easier than explaining the meaning of a word for which we cannot even agree on the spelling. As for bogy, let's leave that for another time.

Keep the rules:

For those who are interested in the various forms of the English language and who were trained strictly in what is called standard English, David Crystal's book "The Stories of English" is the opening of a window.

Professor Crystal says that speakers of the nonstandard forms of English probably far outnumber those who speak only in "grammatically correct" form. This is not a new development. To prove this, he cites an 1871 version of the Ten Commandments in Queensland Kanaka Pidgin:

1. Man take one fellow God; no more.

2. Man like him God first time, everything else behind.

3. Man no swear.

4. Man keep Sunday good fellow day belong big fellow master.

5. Man be good fellow longa father mother belonga him.

6. Man no kill.

7. Man no take him Mary belong another fellow man.

8. Man no steal.

9. Man no tell lie bout another fellow man.

10. Spose man see good fellow something belong another fellow man, he no want him all the time.

The world would be a better place if we all followed these rules regardless of how they are expressed.Rosie would, however, like to see women included in the commandments. S

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