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Computer mice or computer mice? Let the people decide

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Your office mouse is broken. You deviate, but the cursor freezes. No doubt you need a new mouse, but where in this open plan maze is a supply closet? A place to store the new … what? New mice or mice?

With pests everything is simple. But is hardware a separate headache: computer mice or computer mice? When a reader’s request came last week, I saw the answer intuitive. Although after years of satisfying language issues, I have learned that it is unwise to be definitive in definitions or prescribe the plural.

Hom-arj or hom-ij? The language belongs to the people, says David Astle, so let democracy decide.Credit:Joe Gay

Naturally, I have my own opinion, just like yours. The Queen speaks English as much as a street cleaner who sweeps up Her Majesty’s confetti as soon as the platinum fuss is over. The language belongs to the people, the demos of Greek glory, the people of Vox. If a reader like Shirley Cook asks, “Is it hom-arge or hom-idge?”, Then I will interview the crowd. That is you. Just like the mystery of mice / mice. In the end, democracy decides.

Twitter polls are a find for language arbitrators. Instead of making decisions, we delegate, ask a question online to check where the bias is falling. Some results may surprise you, upset you, but none are completely wrong. For the record, “computer mice” and “bow” (as in from age) became the winners that day.

Just as the “ass” gave the “ass” a decent boost last August, the British default dominated over 90.6 percent of imported production among 1,400 non-US respondents. Similarly, Timor-Leste surpassed East Timor by a third of the vote, despite the first literally meaning East-East in his own Malay-Portuguese salad. Such a quirk is called a tautonym, a la the Sahara Desert (literally Desert-Desert), Lake Tahoe (Lake-lake) and dillybag (bag).

Contronyms in two other polls stirred up the opossum. The countername has conflicting meanings, such as “shielded” (hidden or shown?) And “clamp” (secure or disconnect?). Glitches in the matrix, they often require a vote to determine which way the pendulum swings. How can a society function if “lucky” (in a bad sense) one person is the happiness of another, tied to the same word?

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Bound by duty, I took the riddle to a virtual village. About 800 people responded, with 57 percent of the crowd who thought they were “lucky” to drink champagne, compared to the rest who expressed sympathy. As for “browsing,” another tricky cognition, 74 percent of a similar sample viewed this action as a random eye examination, as opposed to an intense push.

This result did not impress me. At the same time, I mean confusion rather than anxiety, as 58 percent of speakers believe that this word means another vote. Notably, most dictionaries do not reflect this semantic bias, as real-time surveys are conducted between the brewery and the publisher, landfills far from ivory towers.

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