Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Grammar Nazi Is Tired of All the Peddling

Oh, folks. This one is an error that makes Grammar Nazi physically ill, much worse than the fact that the current occupants of his childhood home have the double whammy of Rex Rammell and Chick Heileson campaign signs in front of the house.

It’s pedal, folks, pedal.

If you’re talking about the brake pedal, the gas pedal, or pedaling a bicycle, it’s pedal. In noun, verb and adjectival form, it’s pedal. Never peddle.

I know it’s confusing, especially when I mention the next part: “Ped,” in Latin, refers to foot. But one ped is not the equivalent to the other.

Because the ped in peddle doesn’t mean foot. Peddle, which descends from the word peddler (alternatively spelled pedlar or peddler) comes from the middle English word peddere or pedde, which means a covered basket, as in the type of covered basked from which door-to-door salesmen of the middle-English time period would sell their wares.

Pedal comes to us straight from Latin. Peddle makes a detour through middle English. They are not synonyms. Do not confuse the two.

While we’re on this car-related subject, here’s another one I’ll toss out to you:

Brakes. When you’re talking about the brake pedal, your anti-lock brakes, braking power and saying things like “The fool forgot to put on the brakes,” use “brake.” Not break. They do not mean the same thing. Moving the ‘E’ further west makes a world of difference.

Brake comes to us from the middle Dutch braeke, which means a crushing instrument, like a pestle. Break – which means “to reduce to pieces with sudden or violent force; to smash” comes from middle English again, from the word breken, which as the same meaning of its modern equivalent.

Yes, you can say that you “brake bread,” but that’s an archaic use of the word that we only see in the scriptures these days. Everyday English doesn’t commingle the two words. Or at least it shouldn’t.

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