Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Strange spellings and usages: yet another occasional series

In my daily trundlings round the blogosphere I've noticed that more and more people seem to be writing the phrase 'a lot' as one word: 'alot'.

Given that 'lot' is a perfectly ordinary noun like any other, and is qualified approximately as often as any other perfectly ordinary noun by the very common indefinite article 'a' -- a cot, a dot, a jot, a pot, a tot; you get the picture -- can anyone tell me what the logic is? Do those who favour 'alot' also write 'abreast', as in 'She had abreast peeking out of her lacy low-cut blouse', or 'alight', as in 'Do you have alight?', or 'abound' as in 'With abound he was free'?

Or 'alittle', as in 'I'm alittle weirded out by your spelling'?

19 comments:

Mark Bahnisch said...

Hmmm, I've been known to do this. Not sure why.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

A most delightful spot - in cam alot

Susoz said...

I haven't noticed a lot of alots but I have been extremely irked by 'anymore' for the past two or more years. Why do Australians think this is one word? It isn't. I'm not sure if this has been mimicked from Americans (or even the Brits) or is all our own work.

Kathleen said...

Ever since I pointed this out to my sister, she has stubbornly insisted on "alot", "abit", and all other possible variants. I know she's only doing it to annoy me now but - it annoys me.

As do student essays that use "lead" as the past participle of the verb "to lead". Spellchecker's not going to pick that one up for you.

bK said...

"alright".

It's alwrong.

TimT said...

At my job I've been trained to separate a number of words that I had previously been accustomed to keep together. 'Alright' becomes 'all right', 'thankyou' becomes 'thank you'. I had previously made 'no one' two words, but was made to join it together with a hyphen, so: 'no-one'. I've since seen the spelling 'noone' round the traps at least once! I assume some of the above examples, at least, are Americanisms.

Noone should use the spelling 'alot' a lot, alright? Thankyouverymuch!

Mindy said...

'Alot' irritates the bejesus out of me. Thank goodness that there are still right thinking people out there!

(goes back to sobbing in relief and gratitude that she's not the only one).

Cozalcoatl said...

I use alot all the time, and it always comes back with a red line under it.
But then I get confused which is correct because this American computer tells me I spell 'colour' wrong as well. So I never know what to trust. I just typed 'aswell' and it red lines it....
Ehh I know I can't spell and my grammar is crap...life is too short.

CFQ said...

I'm a spelling/punctuation nerd and I've noticed 'alot' jumping out at me more recently.

Susoz, the Macquarie dictionary has 'anymore' as its spelling for its temporal use - "People just don't know how to spell anymore!" - but its other use is still two words, i.e. "I don't want any more chocolate." If someone ever actually said that.

I work for a company that does work for the Oz, US and UK markets, and we're forever changing around our spelling and, sometimes, punctuation to suit the differences. For example, we use 'alright' for Oz, and 'all right' for the UK, and the extra serial comma for the US. But we don't use 'alot' at all!

lucy tartan said...

alot bothers me, too.

I think Alright is fine. It's a very oral / informal sort of word so it seems a bit pedantic to forbid wiriting it out in any but a more stilted manner.

In my perfect world lots fo alternate spellings would flourish but each one would capture a different delicate shade of meaning, and everyone would recognise and agree about them.

lucy tartan said...

Typos and general verbal unclarity may be put down to the fact that I am currently writing a little piece of Language Log-bait titled "spelling, grammar and punctuation: some common mistakes"

ocky said...

sorry Lucy, but the use of 'alternate' instead of 'alternative' is one of those errors that bugs me. And it is an error, because they are not interchangable. Two different words, two different meanings.

Another one is "momentarily" which is often used in error.

(goes back in box, fumes quietly, muttering to self)

Pavlov's Cat said...

Yes, these 'errors that drive me bonkers' posts are perennially popular and always push a range of other people's hot language buttons. I've actually had my consciousness raised about being a spelling and grammar Nazi since I took up blogging (there are still many things that drive me bonkers but I try hard to whine about them less), and I'm now much more interested simply in finding outwhy people do things with language that appear to make no sense to me. 'Alot' is particularly odd because it isn't something people can't ever have seen in print anywhere, and its logic is exactly the same as 'a little', 'a bit', 'a meerkat' and so on, as I've said. I was genuinely looking for enlightenment here, rather than trying to be a smartarse.

BK and Susoz -- I think we're fighting a rearguard action on alright and anymore, and even, Kathleen, on 'lead' when they mean 'led'. TimT, the 'no-one' spelling is the one my eye/brain co-ordination (see what I did there?) processes quickest so that's the one I prefer.

CFQ, that 'temporal' business is very interesting. I'd never write 'anymore' as one word myself, but the Macquarie's has the same logic about temporality as the difference between 'every day' (meaning Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and every other day) and 'everyday' meaning ordinary, humdrum, mundane, boring or normal.

I have now decided I think this is definitely about so-called 'whole language' techniques of teaching reading, to which I am now deeply opposed. Like fuzzy maths, it seems to work on the principle that near enough is good enough, and (more importantly) seems to completely leave out the logic of written language -- which means that people tend to understand much less clearly how they're putting words and sentences together or what the underlying principles and structures are. And most of all because one of the things this resulted in was teachers telling kids that these things didn't matter and the most important thing was to "be creative".

*gags*

I saw the light about this the day I read a story in the Adders Advertiser about some university exam that had had to be delayed (picture the scene: hundreds of utterly freaked out students, for a start) because the courier delivering the package of exam papers saw the "whole word" Wayville in the address (it's an inner suburb of Adelaide, in which there was a public building, recently demolished, in which university exams used to be held) and without looking any closer confidently sent them to Whyalla, which is a provincial city something like 200 kms north of Adelaide. Hey, a capital W, a y, two l's, why quibble about little details.

Two things about this before fanatics start piling on and yelling at me: (a) I think the 'phonics v. whole language' debate is a baby/bathwater thing and a false dichotomy, and (b) I think the politicisation (read: allocation of the various arguments to simplistic left/right ideological bundles) of this issue, like the equivalent politicisation of much else, is mostly rubbish. Not rubbish to politicise it at all, but rubbish to politicise it like that.

*runs away*

Caroline said...

I did wonder about this once. Not a lot, just the once. And the erroneous conclusion I reached was in thinking that alot was a perfectly legitimate word and that if one were to separate it into a (i.e, one) and lot (which could mean a parcel of land or an article at an auction). It would mean something entirely different. One lot, as compared to many, many lots. Lot? Hmmm, as a stand alone odd word in relation to a meaning of many its a bit odd. What does it mean, other than an article at an auction or a parcel of land, I'm wondering all over a gain. I thought there must be 'some' reason why these words had been conjoined.

Thank you for your clarification. I won't do it again or not a lot anyway.

Chris said...

I think, perhaps, that you may be getting worked up over nothing. Not because I don't agree with you about the bastardisation of a perfectly good (OK, hopelessly contrary) written language, but because you is readings all this on teh interwebs. A lot of the time, it's probably a typo. I don't know about anyone else, but many of my typos involve keys pressed with different hands. "A" and "L" are far apart on the keyboard, and co-ordinating the space bar as well can be a bit too much to ask :)

Oh, and if you think spelling standards are slipping in schools, I've had 2nd-year students reach for the calculators to multiply by factors of ten...

Caroline said...

In the local newspaper a picture of Beryl, Gladys, Norma and Pat, who meet at the Bowling Club of a Tuesday night. Such a high brow rag the local Aggravate, they only take on people with degrees in Communication.

Mummy/Crit said...

Chris has made a valid point about the typo nature of "a lot" - in fact I just typed it as alot, and had to correct it, there is something about how it flows from the fingers. I know I type it accidentally quite often, and if i don't proof read, it sneaks through.

I'm not going to get into the literacy teaching debate there, but as the mother of a 7 year old who is not finding reading easy or enjoyable, I hope someone thinks of something new soon!

Zoe said...

Ew! Pav! I just read "I have the right away!" on a North American blog.

Can just hear it, can't ya?

lucy tartan said...

Caroline's comment about Lots helps a bit doesn't it? Allotments are sold at auction as Lots. Someone allots our allotments to us. There are a lot of allotments, too, which is another factor. They all sound like 'alot'. English is a very difficult, irrational language.

Ocky - Sure, ALTERNATE nad ALTERNATIVE are two different words, but what's this about two different meanings? The OED gives sixteen senses for ALTERNATIVE (excluding a late influx of alt.country type words), one of which (8) is a link to ALTERNATE, sense 3. ALTERNATE in its turn has nine distinct senses.

I wonder how you knew I didn't actually intend to write 'alternate', given that it's not actually spelled wrong and it's not used incoherently or erroneously. It's quite an impressive party trick, though, however it's achieved.