Peeve of the Day

Because I have cabin fever, and cabin fever makes me peevish.

(It also makes me want to listen to Stan Rogers’s “Canol Road” on infinite repeat, but that’s another story.)

And my peeve today is this:  If you’re going to enrich your prose with Latin tags and Latinate derivatives, for heaven’s sake at least get the spelling right.  I’ve already blogged about the annoying practice of spelling the Latin phrase per se (“by itself; in and of itself) as per say – which is what it sounds like, granted, but which is still just plain wrong.  Today I’d like to rant for a little while about another couple of frequently-misspelled Latin bits: memento and in memoriam.  They both go back, ultimately, to an Indo-European root word meaning “mind” or “thought,” but after that they part ways.

Memento is by now a fully-acculturated English word, as it were, meaning “a keepsake or souvenir” – a thing that exists to be a reminder of something.  The original Latin form of the word is derived from the verb meminisse, “to remember”, and it is spelled memento-with-an-e, not momento-with-an-o.

In memoriam is a Latin phrase meaning “in memory [of something].”  It’s spelled memoriam-with-an-a, not memorium-with-a-u, because memoria is a first declension Latin noun, and first declension nouns end in -a for the nominative case (the form that is the subject of a sentence) and in -am for the accusative case (the form that is, among other things, the object of the preposition in.)

I don’t necessarily expect every writer in the world to remember this every time, but I’m afraid that I do expect it of every copyeditor, on the grounds that copyeditors are supposed to know these things.

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