When 'u' is you, not ooh

There’s a new publisher in linguistics called Equinox Publishing, which (as I noted back in June) will be publishing a book series called Advances in Optimality Theory starting in May 2006. I was just taking a coffee break and wanted to look them up to see if they were up to anything new, but I forgot their domain name; instead of searching for my June post to find it, I googled “equinox publishing” — and was surprised to find that the top result was EQUINOX PUBLISHING INDONESIA – not the London-based usurper www.equinoxpub.com. (The “London-based usurper” was the one I was looking for, and it was the second main result of the search.)

At the top of the main page for the top result, there’s a link that says:

Why Equinox Publishing Limited, London (www.equinoxpub.com) is an usurper

Follow that link, and you’ll read an interesting e-mail exchange between the “managing editor” of Equinox Publishing Indonesia (Mark Hanusz) and the “managing director” of Equinox Publishing London (Janet Joyce), book-ended by more of Mr. Hanusz’s understandable frustration with the whole situation. But being the detail-oriented geek that I am, I couldn’t help but notice this: Mr. Hanusz had gone so far as to give the dictionary definition of “usurper” at the top of the page:


n : one who wrongfully or illegally seizes and holds the place of another

Now if he had only also noticed that the pronunciation is consonant-initial ([ju:-], not [u:-]), he might not have made the mistake of writing “an usurper” instead of “a usurper” …

4 thoughts on “When 'u' is you, not ooh

  1. David Romano

    Just a couple of comments from a searcing with Google: “an usurper” gets 30,300 hits and “a usurper” gets 97,900 hits (similar ratio is returned when searching just the wikipedia.org domain). The top hit of “an usurper” doesn’t even have the phrase in it, which I find surprising since I thought I knew how search engines like Google worked. :) The second thing I noticed was from comparing the different searches. Many of the top hits for “an usurper” are classical books, and most of the top hits for “a usurper” are from modern writings. It wouldn’t surprise me that Mr. Hanusz is well-read in the classics and sees “an usurper” more often than “a usurper”, but it may be that he looked here (the only other place that Google returned for [“one who wrongfully or illegally seizes and holds the place of another” “an usurper”]) and decided to side with John Locke and James Monroe instead of the Devil’s Dictionary.

  2. Adam Albright

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there has been some historical variability in a/an allomorphy before glide (though I don’t know offhand where it might have been discussed)
    A different relevant datum, though, is that I have once in a while heard (American English-acquiring) kids use ‘an’ before [j], in phrases like “an young boy” or “an youth”. Given the google-hint that such forms might genuinely occur in the input, it’s hard to know what to make of these forms. (I had always thought, from casual observation, that it was a reinterpretation of the environment for ‘an’)

  3. Maryann Boaden

    Hi Mark, Fran said she sent you a note, so I hope this gets to you. Loved the article about you and your company. Hope all is well. Heard that you two are pregnant, congratulations. All is well here, kathy is teaching kindergarden full time and Mike is phys ed coach at Regina Coeli grade school. He also coaches basketball at ottawa Hills and track at St. Ursula. They are both well. Take care, Maryann

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