We can be forgiven for confusing discrete and discreet., but they're two words that should always make us pause and think if we're copyediting a document. Both derive from a Latin word, discretus, which means separate. The discrete spelling keeps that sense; the discreet spelling means quiet and cautious.
I keep them straight in my mind by remembering that the island of Crete is a discrete part of Greece.
I’ve never thought of myself as a Halloween enthusiast. A quick look at the posts I’ve written for Copyediting over the last couple of years, however, reveals the truth. I’m a sucker for fantasy, phantasmagoria, and even a good old-fashioned frightening now and then. The proof:
I have a fondness for words that are associated by sound and use but not parentage. Words can come from disparate locations and family trees and be brought together by association. The process is called folk etymology, meaning that while the etymologies of two words are unrelated, their similarities influence how they are used. And in language, what the folks decide is what counts.
With 60 million readers worldwide, National Geographic celebrates its 125th year this month. The first issue, published in October 1888, was a modest brown pamphlet that did not yet sport the iconic yellow-bordered cover or include any photographs.
A Google search for a nonstandard spelling of a chiefly regional word yields 13.2 million hits. That’s for ya’ll (in quotation marks). The y’all spelling, preferred in all my dictionaries and usage guides, gets 38.6 million Google hits.
I tweeted about the preferred spelling yesterday evening, and it struck a nerve:
The contraction is for “you all” (not “ya all”), so it’s “y’all,” not “ya’ll.”