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  • Writer's picturethebrinkof


It’s l-ementary.

Pairing or paring the l

In certain words, the double l is required. In others, depending on whether the language is British English or American English, a single l suffices. For example, cancelled is the British form, and it’s canceled in America. However, I ask for a cancellation of my reservation whether in the UK or the U.S. In British, a person is well-travelled, but in the United States he or she traveled a long distance.

Americans may know their p’s and q’s, but they seem to have difficulty with their l’s. The local newspaper in my area in South Florida featured a residential complex and zeroed in on a family. The subhead for the story read: “The peaceful tranquility of Smithbrooke draws, keeps residents like the Johnstons.”                                                                                                                          

Roots of Tranquillity

Several problems pop out here.  The theme of this discussion is the difficulty Americans have with the letter l, so we’ll tackle that one first. Tranquillity has two l’s, not one. The percentage of people who get that right is small. Oh sure, some, and maybe all, dictionaries list tranquility as a second choice, but that’s only because it’s so frequently spelled, or rather, misspelled, that way as to become part of the language.

Disturbing the peace

The second problem with the sentence is the phrase “peaceful tranquility.” Peaceful and tranquil mean pretty much the same thing. Tranquillity, however you choose to spell it, can’t be much other than peaceful, which is redundant here.

Problem number three: Space was abundant for this subhead, so an economy of words was unnecessary. The tranquillity “draws, keeps residents like the Johnstons.” Why not “draws and keeps … ?”

Spelling mishap

One can be highly educated and still stumble when it comes to spelling. In a promotion for some supplement, a prominent neurologist wrote about an incident in his firm’s lab: “A young and clumsy intern had accidently dropped some Cesium into a vile of water.” Another lapse involving an l. The word is accidentally. In this case, however, an entire syllable, al, is omitted.

But guess what: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate allows accidently as a second choice. Why? I’d wager a tidy sum that it’s because most people (including yours truly) mispronounce the word out of laziness or a wish not to seem formal, and some have mistakenly assumed the word was spelled the way they heard it pronounced. Someone as highly educated as a physician specialist should know better.

The graduate

Not quite, but somewhat, related to overuse or underuse of the letter l is the growing tendency folks have of dropping words when the meaning is clear without them. A prime example is the omission of from in discourse concerning graduation. This is in a newsletter from Michelle Obama: “Anthony Mendez overcame every obstacle put in his way to become the first member of his family to graduate high school.” Now that is one heck of an achievement: The kid didn’t just graduate from high school. He graduated the whole darned school. Whatever high school it was must have a deep sense of indebtedness to this amazing youth.

Oh, wait. Maybe Ms. Obama was just texting.        

Michelle Obama

#British #accidentally #SouthFlorida #English #graduatehighschool #UK #tranquillity #American

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