Monday, October 15, 2007

Was Björn Borg born bored?

Recently on another blog I read a comment offering a few typical observations and almost interesting comparisons of online networks. Then the commenter alerted the post writer to a spelling error with the following admission: "It's actually the reason I'm writing this now."

It's a shame to see a conversation about interesting ideas turns into a prosaic editing session. And the spelling error in this case is actually an interesting example of a reduplicative coda. The spelling of smorgasbord as smorgasborg is relatively common. Below I list the Google™ hit results for "smorgasbord" and several misspellings


The 4th spelling above is even attested in the OED as an erroneous spelling--reasonably related to smørrebrød/smørbrød/smorbrodt: Danish and Norwegian for a type of sandwich.

Does the g occur more commonly or naturally as a coda? Certainly -org would not be more common than -ord -ort -orn or -ork. Tho I'm not going to take the time to count right now. The -g spelling even gets almost 40 times as many hits as the pretty obvious and completely homophonous spelling pun smorgasbored. And if a 'fingerslip' typo is at work here a much more common spelling string like -ore would probably show up more than just 6 times. There's even a January 1964 review in Time Magazine the 1963 film The Prize with the headline/title Smorgasbore (less than enthusiastic).

I'll go so far as to say that it isn't really a typo. I've heard this as a pronunciation as well and this pattern in the orthography looks like a reflection of the pattern in the phonology.

An interesting result: schmorgasborg gets 2,210 hits--more than schmorgasbord which gets 1630; and shmorgasborg (522) gets almost as many as shmorgasbord (682).

Is it contamination by the cybernetic organism⇒ cyborg ⇒ borg compression? Not likely.

The best explanation seems to be an echo in the final syllable. [Update: A better term of course is reduplication. See Neal's comment for a link to Kie Zuraw's paper on "aggressive reduplication".)]--perhaps combined with an impression of -org as a Scandinavian syllable. But then why do we only find 33 hits for smorgasbjord? Wait. Only 33 hits? That actually seems like pretty good evidence of the Scandinavian effect. I wish I had the time to investigate how often smorgasborg occurs in use by people who have followed tennis since the mid seventies.


A bit of a digressive epilogue: The commenter I mentioned tacks the common complaint onto his spiel: "p.s. one of my pet peeves is the misuse of 'your' and 'you're'... how is it that people can't figure out when to use each one???" (peevologist is really so appropriate a term).

People do know how to "figure" it out. People know the rule. They know the difference between the words. But spelling is closely tied to the 'mind's ear' which helps explain why words like to and too are used interchangeably as are there their and they're. I've committed the error many many times. Many. I will commonly interchange where and wear but it's less common for me to confuse them with were. It happens but not as often.

1 comment:

  1. Check out this paper on "aggressive reduplication" by Kie Zuraw, which lists smorgasborg along with orangutang and sherbert as other examples of this phenomenon.


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