Ken Jennings


June 20, 2012

I’ve been snowed in all week doing the copyedit for my next book, Because I Said So. The manuscript did have the single most heroic correction I’ve ever seen by a proofreader, however. He/she/it fixed a factual error that is wrong in numerous print sources and Wikipedia, which I thought was amazing work.

If you read many accounts of the death of President Zachary Taylor, including the one on Wikipedia, you’ll learn that he got overheated at a Fourth of July celebration in 1850, at the dedication of the Washington Monument. Ace Proofreader informs me, however, that the Washington Monument was actually dedicated two years earlier, on July 4, 1848. The ceremony that eventually killed poor President Taylor was a fundraiser for the still under-construction obelisk, two years later.

Zachary Taylor’s Wikipedia page is locked, for some reason, but if anyone wants to make the fix, feel free. I’m back to my manuscript, still getting annoyed at Merriam-Webster’s refusal to make “lunchbox” and “punchline” one word, and at the Chicago Manual of Style’s stupid rule on hyphenating phrasal adjectives (face it, “high school prom” looks right and “high-school prom” looks stupid!) But let’s pause for a second to salute the humble copyeditor. Er, copy editor. Sorry Merriam-Webster.

Wordplay Wednesday! English is full of homophones: words spelled differently but pronounced the same, like “cymbal” and “symbol,” or “to,” “too,” and “two.” A quadruple homophone is even rarer, especially if you insist on words that only have one identical pronunication (this would discount regional homophones like “where” and “wear,” or “pause” and “pours.” It’s sometimes said that there’s only one common, uncapitalized set in English–can you think of it?

But if you include other less common words, there are many other homophone quartets in Merriam-Webster’s 11th. Which one requires you to use these iffy fourth words? (Some may be pluralized.)

  • A slang term for a certain dog?
  • A French familial loanword?
  • A Scottish geographic loanword?
  • A slang term related to sexuality?
  • A back-formation verb from science labs?
  • A spelled-out name for a letter of the alphabet?
  • A note of the diatonic scale? (two possible answers)
  • A Greek letter? (two possible answers)

Edited to add: These are being worked on in this message board thread.

Posted by Ken at 6:17 pm