This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Nuts and Bolts: silence!

The detective thoughtfully hummed the opening of the 119th psalm as he regarded the receipt that lay on the cupboard. So the poison had been injected into the raspberries, and not the ptarmigan, after all. 

Hey, that's not a bad fragment of a story.

I don't suppose you noticed anything especially odd about it, except for a slight worry about the safety of any raspberries you might be planning to eat.

(I'd better say here that I've no idea whether you can actually inject poison effectively into raspberries. But if anyone could, it was probably the psychopathic butler.)

So what was peculiar about that passage? Well, as with so many murder mysteries, it was the silence. In particular, the silence of the letter p.

Receipt, cupboard, raspberry, ptarmigan, psalm.

To which I might add corps, coup, and pterodactyl.

Ptomaine (which was, of course, the poison which was injected into the raspberries). And psychopathic.

These p s are all historical left-overs and they serve no purpose at all, really, except to make spelling harder. The Portuguese have recently done away with such foolishnesses as silent letters, and there are many who say English would be better purged in a similar way.

I don't know, though. Those silent p s may be awkward and useless, but, gosh, the world would be a duller place without things that are awkward and useless.

Word To Use Today: one with a silent p. Words starting pt are usually originally Greek. A cupboard used to be a board to put your cups on. Coup and corps are French, and the French hardly ever think a word is complete without at least one silent letter. Receipt comes from the Latin recipere, to receive, and raspberries used to be raspis.

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