Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Elusive Scraperfish

The Elusive Scraperfish

Word-lovers go to great lengths to help others make sense of this nutty language we love so well. The Elusive Scraperfish is one such tale. It’s not elusive because of its astounding camouflage or because it buries itself in the muck. It’s elusive because so many people don’t even know it’s there. Such is the nature of bottomdwellers that concern themselves with English pronunciation rules.

Meet the scraperfish.
It scrapes along on the bottom of the sea, looking for its tunnel-dwelling prey. As its rough belly scrapes along the ocean floor, it makes the sound kkkkkk, kkkkkkk, kkkkkk, signifying to those in the know that the letter C (masquerading as a gill), generally makes the K sound. However, when the scraperfish spots its tunnel-dwelling prey, it sucks it up, savors it, & says sssss, sssss, sssss.

The observant reader will notice the nature of the scraperfish’s prey. When the letter C is followed by an E, I, or Y, it makes the S sound (cellophane, cinnamon, cyborg…). Otherwise, it makes the K sound (coliform, curly, cadaver…). The scraperfish rule even works when a C is doubled, as in accident & accelerate. When a C is followed by the letter H, all bets are off, but in other cases, it’s amazing how consistently this pronunciation rule applies.

What’s cooler still is that there’s a second form of scraperfish.

Amazingly, it hunts the same exact prey, giving us
gelatin, gin, & gymnasium in the presence of its prey, and gasoline, gogo boots, & guru otherwise. This second fish’s rule doesn’t work when g doubles up. Also, it has some high profile rule-breaking words in begin & girl, but like the first scraperfish, it applies the great majority of the time.

Okay, so how many of you word nerds have already met the scraperfish? And who can contribute other unlikely tales to support English spelling or pronunciation rules?


  1. Trying to figure the how's and whys of spelling drive me crazy. I had to look up one of my regular problem children again the other day as I really wanted my characters to be served dessert and not a desert. And I discovered that if I had a character leave someone they would desert that person and if they needed to be punished for leaving they would get their just deserts but both with the sweeter pronunciation of dessert. Why???? Makes me crazy.

  2. Shouldn't we call it the "Scraper-ghoti"? :)

  3. that's from Annie!

  4. Charlie, your teacher self comes out so well with words. Keep these coming!

  5. Christine, Annie & Jean Ann,
    Thanks so much for coming by & commenting. Annie, you bring up a good point that the scraperfish rule gets cancelled out when the G is followed by H. I missed that one. Christine, I know what you mean. One of my personal problem children is the word niece. I don't know why I can't get it into my thick head. I just seem to have what my mom used to call a "plateye" (something one should be able to see clearly, but for unknown reasons, can't).