Why is 'remuneration' spelled like that?: Embracing word ignorance | Jack Marshall's column

It’s confession time.

Monday, 8th November 2021, 4:55 am

It took me disgracefully long to learn how to use ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ properly. It, quite literally, was a huge blind spot for me. I couldn’t get it, the concept broke my brain: when ‘its’ is possessive, it needs an apostrophe, no?

Nope. Wrong. Eventually, a friend who quite literally spoke English *as a second language* sat me down and slowly walked me through it. Before that, I was still using ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ wrong in my A Level English coursework. I’d all but given up hope.

I look back and wonder how I was so befuddled, but hey ho. Look at me now, ma: a potently below-average writer who’s somehow employed to bash out inane drivel out on the regular. Living the dream. Don’t give up kids, it’s (nailed it) gonna be okay.

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Inspired by a fellow journalist recently admitting that she’d just found out that it’s ‘fire extinguisher’, not ‘fire distinguisher’ (someone invent that though, am I right?), I’ve been thinking about confusing words. And, for me, there’ve been plenty.

I remember being well and truly shook to find out that ‘vulnerable’ had an ‘L’ in it when a teacher wrote it on the whiteboard. I also used to be one of those annoying people who said ‘expresso’ rather than ‘espresso’ because coffee makes you go fast, right?

To this day, writing ‘fifth’ always feels incomplete because, when you say it, it feels like it has at least four syllables, three of which require you to spit on your conversational companion. Aside from a few Welsh towns, I reckon ‘fifth’ is the least Covid-friendly word out there.

‘Jewellery’ still unnerves me (that sound you hear is a million women sighing with relief) as does ‘zoology’, which is quite literally missing an ‘o’: show me someone who says it shouldn’t be ‘zoo-ology’ and I’ll show you a fool.

Being made to look an idiot by words is a lifelong pursuit which shows no signs of retreating. From 10-year-old me marvelling at anyone who could spell ‘queue’ to 27-year-old me getting frustrated at how ‘segue’ is pronounced, it’s better to accept my fate.

Why isn’t ‘prerogative’ spelled ‘perogative’? Who put the ‘muh’ and the ‘nuh’ sounds the wrong way around in ‘remuneration’? What were they thinking when they made it ‘minuscule’, not ‘miniscule’? Why did it take me so long to learn how to spell ‘entrepreneur’?

All you can do is embrace the confusion and look forward to learning what words will make you look a bit daft in the future. Accept the embarrassment. Which, incidentally, is another word which, for the life of me, I’ve never been able to spell.