Friends of Semantic Compositions

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February 20, 2004


PZ Myers

Is there more to your objection than a subjective dislike?

I dislike it for the esthetic shortcomings: "whizzywig" just sounds stupid. I despise the word "blog" for the same reason. Do linguists get to dismiss utilitarian words because they don't live up to their standards of beauty?


While I didn't think it would make it into the dictionary so quickly I have no problems accepting it as a word. It may be awkward sounding, but people do know what it is, especially if they do any sort of web design.

It's not really any different than NASA, which sounds nicer but is still an acronym that a great many people do not even know what the individual words are.

Semantic Compositions

No, PZ, linguists don't get to dismiss words on aesthetic grounds. But I would caution you that:

1) the definition of "word" is subject to a good deal more controversy in linguistics than you might think, and

2) WYSIWYG violates a lot of the conventions (at least as I perceive them) about acronyms that make it into wordhood. I don't pretend to have an exhaustive list of criteria, but OS and HD are similar abbreviations that I don't see Merriam-Webster calling words yet (I checked their online dictionary; both are listed as abbreviations for things other than "operating system" and "hard drive", but not for those items). I can't think of another commonly accepted word which is printed almost exclusively in all capital letters; not too many words carry explicit instructions to disregard English orthography (and the company Qualcomm's pretentious insistence on capitalizing their entire name in their letterhead isn't a counterexample in my mind -- most news organizations disregard that). And as far as I can determine, after checking Webster's for instances of "wyg", it's the only word in English to include that particular string. If it's used like a word, then empirically, it is a word, but aside from being aesthetically ugly, it's very exceptional in spelling and pronunciation and that's what bugs me about it.

As for "blog", it's certainly not going to win any prizes for sounding beautiful, but at least its spelling corresponds to other, existing sequences of letters, and the derivation of its pronunciation comes from fairly obvious phonological rules (I mean that empirically, not as a matter of anyone prescribing usage). Getting "whizzy" out of WYSI seems to me to be a good deal less transparent.

language hat

The only thing I find objectionable about it is the spelling, which is indeed rebarbative. I predict that if the word comes into general use it will get spelled "wizziwig," which is straightforward and (to my eye) quite charming, slighly reminiscent of the word "wayzgoose" (printers' annual dinner or excursion), a longstanding favorite of mine.

As for "d'oh," of course it's a word! It's used every day by millions of people, everyone knows what it means, how could it not be?

Rethabile Masilo

But OS and HD are similar abbreviations that I don't see Merriam-Webster calling words yet.

Hello everyone. I think that's because we tend to say "operating system" as often as, if not more than, "OS". We hardly ever say wysiwyg in full. If "Radio Detection And Ranging" was used more often than "radar", then the latter would not have been considered a word.

Semantic Compositions

I'm not sure that "d'oh" is a word. It's an interjection that communicates a specific thought, and it's well understood, but so are "um", "uh", and "er".

Of course, we're all playing fast and loose with the definition of "word". If the standard is "a freestanding morpheme with understandable usage", then practically every string ever uttered is a word. But if we expect a compositional semantic interpretation, or even a well-defined part of speech, I think "d'oh" falls a bit shy. Not, however, that I intend to stop using it!

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