Sunday, July 13, 2008

It's not an ethnic pejorative

It's the very odd nickname for a piece of electronic equipment.

For uncounted ages, a microphone was commonly called a mike. Some time during the last few years, everyone started spelling that short form mic. I don't know how that slipped by me. (It's my fault! I was asleep on guard duty!)

Why the change? It makes no sense. Mic should be pronounced mick, whereas mike is a sensible phonetic spelling. Did someone decree that mike was out out because the full word isn't spelled mikerophone? If that's the argument, then why don't people ride bics instead of bikes?

("Because if they did they'd risk getting burned in an awful place" is not an acceptable answer.)


Robin said...

Hmm... amusing! I have to agree. I am a "snob" when it comes to the English language (unless of course, a brit is next to me, then I never miss a chance to shut up...I am southern....strike two...) Had a friend who talked about riding his (this is phonetic) motorsickle...when I razzed him about it he said, "then whey don't we call a bicycle a "bi-cycle"....couldn't answer that.

But I still dont' know why phonix isn't spelled phonetically...sue me

David said...

Hi, Robin. Welcome.

I have an answer for your friend. I think it's because of the stress being adjacent to the cycle syllable in bicycle, and because it's a two-syllable word. That makes the cycle part very unstressed in bicycle, and in English, very unstressed vowels tend to have something like an uh sound. That syllable has more stress, a secondary stress, in motorcycle.

Suppose bicycle had three syllables, with the stress on the first -- biduhcyle, let's say. To me, the natural pronunciation would be BI-du-sigh-kl.

Or possibly I'm kidding myself.

Lahdeedah said...

So, you can't call bikes bics, because bics are razors, lighters and pens.


You should know this stuff!

hee hee

David said...

I only thought of the getting burned part. Razors, though ...

Chris said...

Well argued, sir. I confess, I've always been in the 'mic' camp (likely on account of growing up listening to and reading about hip hop, where 'mic' is the more common form), but your use of bike as an example has won me over. I'd best check the current manuscript to see if it comes up!

David said...

Hip hop? Hmm. Maybe that's where it came from.

If you change it to "mike" in your ms., some copyeditor will change to "mic", I bet.

Chris said...

Yes, but at least I can feel smug and superior when they do.

And I'm of course aware of the silliness of taking usage-notes from a musical genre noted for mangling the English language, but you see something often enough in print and it starts to look like standard usage...

Kristen said...

I would use "mike," but then I wasn't sure if that was correct because ... well, because the original word is microphone. So I would spell it "mic," just as a guess.

What I'd like to know is why "mimic" becomes "mimicKed."

David said...


Golly, that's a good question. I wonder when that spelling rule came into effect.

I was taught to spell the past tense of "travel" as "travelled". I was also taught the spelling "travelling". It took me quite a while to unteach myself after I moved to the U.S.

(I refuse to give up putting the period outside the quotation marks, though, when it's appropriate. That's one British usage that seems to be catching on over here, although it's usually called "logical punctuation" here.)

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