Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Wachet auf!

Ploughing on with my book of lists (how self-referential can you get? - a Harmless Drudgery post about harmless drudgery), I have just reached  'reawaken'. With a knee-jerk reaction, hearing in my mind's ear the question 'What's the difference between "reawaken' and "rewaken"?', I went to my corpus of choice, Google; (well, not so much 'of choice', more 'of laziness' - it's huge, but there's no quality control; it says what words are being used, regardless of who's using them. It's just readily to hand [to mouse?]). And Google, confusingly, offered me 12,500 instances of  'rewaken' and in the next breath [hmmm - dubious metaphor] asked 'Do you mean "reawaken"?' [See how many -ea- words there are? - reawaken reaction hearing ear and breath in that one paragraph; and four distinct sounds in only five words!]

I turned next to the British National Corpus which had a paltry 13 instances of 'reawaken' and none of 'rewaken'; not much to go on. Now Google's first hit was Merriam-Webster Online, which suggested to me that this was an American English option; so I went to COCA. COCA had 90  'reawaken's, which gave me high hopes for 'rewaken'; but again there was none. (I suppose that makes sense: Google has over 1,000,000 'reawaken's - over 400 times as many as 'rewaken's; so a mere 90  hits for 'reawaken'  don't even suggest a milli-hit for 'rewaken)'.

Merriam Webster puts the first recorded use of 'rewaken' at 1638, and the first recorded use of 'reawaken' goes unrecorded amongst all the other 're-' words. For what it's worth. the Online Etymological Dictionary dates 're-' to c. 1200. Anyway, 'rewaken' seems to be going out of fashion (like many of the poor relations in such pairs, dealt with by David Crystal in The Story of English in 100 Words under the headword 'Yogurt' - which isn't a member of a pair so much as a gaggle:
The first recorded usage [early 17th century] is yoghurd. Then we get yogourt, then yahourt, yaghourt, yogurd, yoghourt, yooghort, yughard, yughurt and yohourth. In the 19th century, there was a trend to simplify, and yogurt emerged as the front runner.
'Front runner' maybe, but I believe when yogurt was first introduced onto the main-stream English menu in the late '50s/early '60s ('Eden Vale yoghourt is the young idea/Eden Vale yoghourt is a-swingin' here/ It does you good', it treats you right/ It's the natural food with the extra bite...') the 'yoghourt' spelling prevailed. And I can't check in the Eden Vale archives (if they even exist), because TV advertisements are quick to throw off the shackles of linguistic history: when the Milky Bar Kid first appeared - about the same time - the last line of the jingle was 'Nestle's Milky Bar' (without the "é" used today).

Some words just have poor relations, much less common and with a different spelling. And for all the attempts of the cognoscenti to make distinctions - the dear old OUP insists in the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors that an enquiry is just a question and an inquiry is an institution formed to ask and investigate a particular line of questioning ('a polite enquiry'  but 'a public inquiry') - those distinctions are largely ephemeral.

Which reminds me: -ise and -ize... But that will have to wait for another time. Some more harmless drudgery calls - Now where had I got to:  'reawaken, recreate, rectilinear...'

+ various updates to the footer, the most recent being on 2013.10.06.12:05

 Mammon (When Vowels Get Together V4.0: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs – AA-AU, EA-EU, and  IA-IU, and – new for V4.0 – OA-OU.  If you buy it, contact  @WVGTbook on Twitter and I'll alert you to free downloads of the forthcoming volumes; or click the Following button at the foot of this page.)
And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: nearly 32,400 views**,  and  4,400 downloads to date. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with 1570 views/700 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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