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We like 'mike'

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April November 11, 2008 05:15 PM

It was only last month that I complained about the way "mic" for "microphone" makes me squint, so I was pleased to find fev at Headsup: The Blog -- in a post triggered by a headline with "Pads" for "Padres" -- casting a solid vote on my side.

In the beginning, he says, it was simple:

I had a bike, and a parental unit named Mike, and a reasonable pre-Sesame Street idea of what that "silent E" thing was up to. "Mike" seemed like the sensible way to shorten "microphone," partly because that's what grownups and experts did.

So imagine my surprise, years later, to find out that I was apparently an irrational loony. "Open mike" means an Irishman in surgery! There's no "k" in "microphone"! Everybody knows the only proper spelling is "mic"!

What we're watching here, he says, is the a rule evolving and maybe changing, according to younger readers' notion of what's "natural."

If I was in charge of the how-to-spell-clippings rule, it'd look something like:
Most clippings are words on their own. Spell them the way you pronounce them. If a clipping resembles an existing word, you should expect people to read it that way.

That is: Many people will read "Pads" as "pads" (not "pods," as in Padres), and will see "miced" and think it rhymes with "sliced." That's the way our spelling conventions work for now.

(Reuters Photo by Jessica Rinaldi)

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Rules and realities of English usage from Boston Globe Ideas columnist Jan Freeman.
Jan Freeman, a former Boston Globe editor, has been writing the weekly column The Word since 1997. E-mail her at

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