Monday, August 03, 2015

land of confuzhion

The English language is a great thing, don't get me wrong, but it has its limitations. Do you mean funny ha ha or funny peculiar? Do you mean hot as in high temperature or hot as in it's got a lot of chillies in it? There's that sort of thing, but there's also some more basic stuff like being able to unambiguously render certain sounds. So any word with a "th" at the start, for instance, relies solely on prior knowledge and perhaps some context to determine whether it's a soft "th" (as in, say, "thought" or "theme") or a hard one (as in, say, "this" or "that"), whereas, for instance, Welsh can easily distinguish between them by using "th" for the soft one and "dd" for the hard ("voiced", more accurately) one.

The example which came up today was as follows: like many offices the one I work in doesn't enforce a rigid suit-and-tie regime, but equally (dress down Fridays aside) you can't just rock up in jeans and a hilarious T-shirt with some near-the-knuckle slogan on it. Some sort of casual shirt/chinos combo is the usual strategy, and the term "business casual" has sprung up to describe it. That's all fine, but there's a natural tendency to want to abbreviate, and the obvious abbreviation here is just to retain the first syllable of each word. So that would be biz, erm....well, there's a problem here, isn't there? It turns out there is no letter combination that will unambiguously render the sound of the "s" from the middle of "casual".

Those who have tried to do it have taken one of a number of approaches; well, I say "a number", I think there are three, as follows:
  • "biz cas" - just shorten "casual" without any thought to the resulting pronunciation; this is obviously highly unsatisfactory;
  • "biz caj" - I see what they've tried to do here, but it looks weird and the sound still isn't quite right;
  • "biz caz" - probably the closest sound-wise, but still not quite right, unless you happen to pronounce "casual" as "caz-yoo-wul" in which case a) this is going to be the one for you and b) what is wrong with you?
I think the answer is probably to take a cue from our Russian friends and adopt the use of "zh" to render this particular consonant sound. So you'd render it as "biz cazh", as in: Marshal Zhukov and Dr. Zhivago had a bit of leizh time, so they dressed up in biz cazh, much to their mutual pleazh.


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