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Topic: Writing the Right Word
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Aug 10, 2005 09:41PM)
Sometimes I go off on a tear about a problem that plagues the internet, especially forums like this one. This is the problem of words that people commonly misspell, which can change the meaning of what the writer is trying to say. Usually, this occurs with "homonyms" -- words that sound the same, but mean different things. This is particularly tough on foreign people who are trying to learn English.

In almost any other language that uses the Roman alphabet, or its cousins the Greek and Cyrillic alphabets, words are pronounced the way they look. In English, that's not the case. Well, it is sort of the case. The problem is that when we don't have an English word, we pinch it from another language. And the language we take it from may pronounce familiar-looking letters differently than we do. Or we may have another word that sounds similar to it, but means something completely different.

Let's take a look at four words -- right, write, rite and wright. Right can mean a direction, a political tendency, a side or a legal claim. There are a couple of other meanings as well, but this gives you an idea of what it means. Write refers to the action of putting letters on paper or some other surface. Rite means a ritual. Wright means a person who makes something (or half of the people who invented the airplane.) Is there any wonder that people who speak other languages have a problem learning ours?

Now, one common error I run into on web sites and in the forum is people who refer to "copy write" or "copy writing something." Or they will state that something they have written is "copywritten." That's not the right word. The word refers to the right to produce copies of your work. The correct word is "copyright." And the correct statement is that your work is "copyrighted." Got it? Right!

Another is the confusion over the word "to." "To" is a preposition. It means "toward," or "in the direction of." It can be used in the sense of "he gave that to me." "Too," on the other hand, means "also" or it can emphasize a word -- too much, too expensive, too cheap. "Two" is, of course, a number.

George Bernard Shaw once said that there is a sentence that anyone can say, but nobody can write correctly. Any guesses?

Okay. It is "There are three ___ in the English language -- too, to and two." The problem with the sentence is that you have to pick one of the three words to fit into the blank, and you can't do it without making an error. If you use Shaw's phonetic alphabet, you can get by, but that isn't acceptable writing style.

Why is this important? It may not be to you. But people cannot help but form a judgment of you by the way you write. If you consistently misspell common words, and you are a native English speaker, they will surmise that you are not as intelligent as someone who does not misspell them. This is probably a false assumption. Some of the most intelligent people in the world have trouble spelling.

But it also does not mean that you should intentionally misspell words, just to make people think you are smart!

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between "lightning" and a "lightning bug." -- Mark Twain
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Aug 11, 2005 12:57AM)
Lee Alex reminded me of a problem that plagues magic forums, essays and other writings. So I'll respond to it here.

"Slight" of hand is incorrect, unless you are referring to someone who has small hands or is missing something. "Slight" means small or thin, or it can mean to treat someone in such a way as to make them feel small. A secret move is called a "sleight." So the correct phrase is "sleight of hand."

How can we respect the practitioners of an art if they can't even spell the terms?

Maybe you are wondering why this is important to me. Perhaps it goes back to one of the classes I had in music. Our instructor was an extremely retentive fellow who drilled one thing into our heads -- "Most of you in this class are majoring in music. If your major is music, and you misspell the name of ANY composer on an exam or an essay, you will automatically get an F. If you are playing music for a living, at least have enough respect for the art to learn how to spell the names of its creators correctly. And the same goes for the compositions."

We were motivated!

When the time came to study the Russian composers, he was in an interesting position. There were several different ways of spelling the names of the various composers. For example, the composer of "The Nutcracker" could be spelled Tschaikowsky (the German transliteration of the name), Tchaikovsky (the French transliteration of the name), or Chaikovskii (the approved Library of Congress transliteration of the name). His rule with Russian composers was that you had to be consistent with the spelling. You couldn't do the first half of the name with one transliteration and the second half with another. Then he made his error -- he said "As long as you use any correct spelling consistently, it will be counted as correct." Little did he know that I'd taken two years of Russian at my previous university.

So, when we had a composition by Stravinsky, I spelled the name in Cyrillic characters, I also spelled the composition in Cyrillic characters. He was NOT a happy camper! My father was on the faculty at the time, and the instructor in question went to him and said, "Your son took me at my word about spelling Russian names. I had to go over to the library to make sure he had spelled the words correctly."

My father answered, "He did, of course!" This irritated the instructor to no end, but he was right.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Aug 13, 2005 10:08PM)
Okay. Here's another one. If you can't spell the trick, how can you perform it?

Houdini escaped from a STRAITjacket, not a "straight" jacket. What would the opposite of a "straight" jacket be, anyway? HMMMM?

This is not a secret word, folks.

And there are lay people out there who know the difference. This kind of thing can cost you work.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Aug 21, 2005 08:04PM)
The subject for today is magicians. Yep! That's it. There are lots of different words for "magician."

If you go to http://www.thesaurus.com, you will find the following synonyms:
"archimage, astrologer, augurer, charmer, clairvoyant, conjurer, conjuror, diabolist, diviner, enchanter, enchantress, exorciser, exorcist, fortune-teller, hypnotist, genie, genius, illusionist, magus, marvel, medicine man, medium, miracle worker, necromancer, occultist, palmist, prophet, satanist, seer, shaman, siren, soothsayer, sorcerer, spellbinder, thaumaturge, theurgist, trickster, virtuoso, voodoo, warlock, witch, witch doctor, wizard."

I have combined the entries from two different sources to give you various synonyms for magician. Now, these terms are not interchangeable. For example, if you know Biblical studies, you know that Samuel was a prophet, but he was not a satanist, a siren, a spellbinder, a charmer, a trickster, a warlock, a witch, a witch doctor or a wizard. So these are not perfect synonyms for one another.

Let's take a look at another word we hear everyday -- doctor.
The word has many synonyms, depending on how it is used:
"bones, butcher, croaker, cardiologist, doc, enterologist, expert, general practitioner, gynecologist, healer, intern, MD, medic, medical man, medicine man, medico, neurologist, oncologist, physician, professor, proctologist, quack, sawbones, scientist, specialist, surgeon."

I don't believe I need to explore this list in depth to explain the differences between the various terms of doctor.

However, many magicians have odd ideas about what certain words they bandy about actually mean. So let's look at a few of them.

"Conjurer or conjuror:" Conjurer is the preferred spelling. Conjuror is the old one. This is used in the UK to mean a person who does magic shows -- most of us on this list are conjurers. If you read much of the British literature, you will see this term used more often than "magician" for our version of the art. In the US, the term has more of an occult meaning in certain circles. In the Ozarks, a "conjer man" is a person who practices folk magic.

"Mage" is an archaic term for a wizard. "Magus" has the same basic meaning. This is a person who has knowledge or wisdom. The word "wizard" goes back to the old German word "wissen" which means "to know." (an Archimage is a very powerful mage.)

"Magi" is plural of "Magus." The Magi were wise men -- wizards -- from the East. "Magi" is sometimes erroneously used as a contraction of "magician." My personal feeling is that it comes from some kind of misguided intention to put an "in" tone to one's writing.

"Necromancer" is a person who communicates with the dead, with the intent of getting them to somehow aid in the cause of magic. A conjurer might pretend to be a necromancer, but I don't think that is wise. What happens if you call upon the dead ... and they answer? MWAH ha ha!

A "theurgist" is a person who calls upon beneficent spirits to produce magical results.

A "thaumaturgist" is a wonder worker. That's a good one!

The words "witch" and "warlock" are also quite often misused. Nowadays, a "witch" can be a person who practices witchcraft or a person who is a member of the Church of Wicca. My friends who are Wiccans tell me that they do not use the word "warlock" to mean a male witch. To them the word "warlock" has a meaning of "oath-breaker." This is not just a recently acquired meaning.

I believe most of you reading this realize that medicine man, shaman, diabolist, satanist, exorciser, exorcist, fortune-teller, astrologer, palmist and some of the other words do not apply to the kinds of magic that most of us practice.

If you don't know what a word you call yourself means, look it up. But don't just go to http://www.dictionary.com to find out what it means. Go to a real library and look at the [i]Oxford English Dictionary[/i] the big one. See what the nuances of these words are. And read some of the occult material as well. You don't have to become indoctrinated, just informed.

Then you won't make the mistake of saying things like, "Hi, Kids! I'm Wizzo the great, I'm a Necromancer, and I'm going to do some real magic for you!"
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Jul 19, 2006 12:52AM)
And let's not forget to get the names right.

It is Robert-Houdin, not Houdin.

It is Hofzinser, not Hofzinger.

And it is Buatier, not Bautier.

It is Dai Vernon, not Dia Vernon.

Let's give these giants of magic, upon whose shoulders we all stand, the respect they deserve.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Aug 2, 2006 12:40PM)
Here is a problem that has recently surfaced. It is the confusion of two words that can sound the same in certain regional dialects, but which have absolutely different meanings.

The first one is:
Amateur: Literally, someone who does something out of love for it. However, a look at the history of the use of the word is interesting.

Synonyms: amateur, dabbler, dilettante
These nouns mean one engaging in a pursuit but lacking professional skill: a musician who is a gifted amateur, not a professional; a dabbler in the stock market; a sculptor but a mere dilettante.
Antonyms: professional
Word History: When Mrs. T.W. Atkinson remarked in her 1863 Recollections of the Tartar Steppes and their Inhabitants, “I am no amateur of these melons,” she used amateur in a sense unfamiliar to us. That sense, “a lover, an admirer,” is, however, clearly descended from the senses of the word's ultimate Latin source, amtor, “lover, devoted friend, devotee, enthusiastic pursuer of an objective,” and from its Latin-derived French source, amateur, with a similar range of meanings. First recorded in English in 1784 with the sense in which Mrs. Atkinson used it, amateur is found in 1786 with a meaning more familiar to us, “a person who engages in an art, for example, as a pastime rather than as a profession,” a sense that had already developed in French. Given the limitations of doing something as an amateur, it is not surprising that the word is soon after recorded in the disparaging sense we still use to refer to someone who lacks professional skill or ease in performance.

The other is

1) Electricity.
The rotating part of a dynamo, consisting essentially of copper wire wound around an iron core.
The moving part of an electromagnetic device such as a relay, buzzer, or loudspeaker.
A piece of soft iron connecting the poles of a magnet.

2) Biology. A protective covering, structure, or organ of an animal or a plant, such as teeth, claws, thorns, or the shell of a turtle.

3) A framework serving as a supporting core for clay sculpture.

I have never seen a armature magician. I have seen people refer to them in posts, though.