Thursday, 21 April 2011

Minding our P’s and Q’s. Or rather, our K’s and C’s.

In October 2009, the first meeting of what would be the NUI Galway Skeptics’ Society took place in Smokeys Cafe on the Concourse. After a bit of coffee and banter we decided what our aims were, pitched some ideas for events and the like, and of course decided on the name. I had been corresponding with Kevin and Niall that summer about the society, under a variety of names, including, among others, “Rationalist Society” and “Godless Society”. At the time I was in favour of calling it the “Atheist Society”, but looking back at it Skeptics’ was the best choice. Once we resolved on that, I picked up the application form to make it official, but I once I had scrawled a nice capital “S” on the paper, the society met it’s first challenge. I looked up and asked the group “Hold on, do we spell it with a ‘k’ or a ‘c’?”

Thankfully this didn’t escalate into a Civil war and semesters of hostilities between Skeptics and Sceptics à la the Judean Peoples’ Front/Peoples’ Front of Judea. As you can tell by my spelling, I prefer the hard “k” to the soft “c”. English, with it’s wonderfully ambiguous spelling allows for both. I choose “k” for two reasons; firstly, there’s a risk that the word would be pronounced “Septics” owing to the slender “e” after the “c”, and yes, before you say it, I’ll be the first to admit that this is beyond pedantic, but that’s just my way. Secondly, the word is of Greek origin, Σκεπσις, meaning inquiry or doubt, and due to my classical leanings I prefer to spell Greek words with the Greek “k”, rather than the Roman “c”. The most eagle-eyed among you could argue that by the logic of the second point I ought to spell it “Skeptik”, but that’s far too Germanic looking for my liking. (The German is actually skeptisch, which I’m told is how I pronounce Skeptic after the one that’s one too many)

When the Romans transliterated Greek words into Latin they often used the Latin “c” in place of the Greek kappa. Although in later times the Romans adopted the Greek letters zeta, upsilon and kappa (“zed”, “y” and “k” respectively) for Greek loanwords, “scepticus” would remain as it was, kayless, giving rise to the French sceptique, Spanish escéptico, Italian scettico, and all the renditions in their sister-tongues. Both the OED and the New Oxford American Dictionary list “Skeptic” as the American English spelling, and “Sceptic” as the British English. Look out Ireland, Skeptic Soc are here to steal your “u”s and “s”’s.

In closing, both “skeptic” and “sceptic” are both acceptable, and the Skeptics’ Society elected for the “k”. At the end of the day, it really is a matter of personal preference, but whenever I see the latter spelling, much like with uncapitalised “I”‘s (ih) and unapostrophised “you’re”’s (youré), I’ll mentally pronounce it as “septic” and direct all my loathing towards whatever you’ve written.

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