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Smarter words.




witenagemot, the historical term referring to the Anglo-Saxon council of nobles and officials who advised the king on administrative and judicial matters, has been predominantly so spelled since about 1800. The variant spelling *witenagemote flourished for a time in the 18th century but hasn’t been widely used in print sources since then. Whatever the spelling, the word is pronounced /wit-әn-ә-gә-moht/ or


     To complicate spelling matters, a member of this council was called a witan, from the Old English verb of the same spelling (witan = to know). Note that the fourth character is an a, not an e as in the longer compound. Hence the council term was also sometimes spelled *witanagemot, but this form of the word never became standard.


Quotation of the Day: "A civil tongue . . . means to me a language that is not bogged down in jargon, not puffed up with false dignity, not studded with trick phrases that have lost their meaning. It is not falsely exciting, is not patronizing, does not conceal the smallness and triteness of ideas by clothing them in language ever more grandiose, does not seek out increasingly complicated constructions, does not weigh us down with gelatinous verbiage of Washington and the social sciences. It treats errors in spelling and usage with a decent tolerance but does not take them lightly. It does not consider ‘We're there because that's where it's at' the height of cleverness. It is not merely a stream of sound that disk jockeys produce, in which what is said does not matter so long as it is said without pause. It is direct, specific, concrete, vigorous, colorful, subtle, and imaginative when it should be, and as lucid and eloquent as we are able to make it. It is something to revel in and enjoy.” 

—Edwin Newman,

A Civil Tongue 6 (1976).


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