Tag Archives: medical diphthongs

Medical diphthongs, or ‘a’ before ‘e’ (except when it’s just ‘e’)

Credit: Claudio Divizia/Terry Murray

Claudio Divizia/Terry Murray

To “ae” or not to “ae”—that was indeed the question put to Dr. Anne Curzan (PhD) by the “Department of Orthopaedic Surgery” at a medical school recently.

Dr. Curzan,  professor of English at the University of Michigan, where she also holds appointments in linguistics and the School of Education, spelled out her reasons for coming down on the side of the ‘ae’ vowel diphthong in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The unnamed medical school department consulted her because the department wanted to retain the diphthong, but there was “a higher level administrative decision” to drop it. The department argued that ‘orthopaedic’ is the only correct spelling for who its members are.

Dr. Curzan said she sided with the “department members’ right to spell orthopaedic as they wish,” not because they are right and the adminstration is wrong, and not deferring to the roots of the word, which she called “a poor justification.”

Her reason for agreeing to the diphthong was based on an interesting combination of prevailing standards and human (or at least professional) rights. Continue reading →

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