Is heighth a word? If not, why do people say it?

Occasionally, in conversation, someone will substitute heighth for height. Is there some linguistic reason people do this, or are they just being strange? Why is this such a common affectation? Maybe it’s not very common, but I’ve certainly heard it more than one place.

The linguistic reason is that heighth is a formation that parallels the words *width *and depth. The sociological reason is that we learn to speak from what we hear and when people hear a word pronounced a certain way, well, then, that’s the way that word’s pronounced. Linguists would say that just because most folks don’t say it that way doesn’t mean it’s wrong. You and I might cringe when we hear it, and it may not be considered to be standard English, but it’s a word, and it’s in use, and people know what it means when they say it and hear it, so who are we to quibble?

It’s by analogy with words like “breadth”, “depth” and “width”. In addition, back 1,000 years or so ago the word did end with “th”, not “t”.

And sometimes it’s just a joke.

It appears the older pronunciations had no penultimate “t” sound before the “theta” as you would probably hear in conversation. There’s some good information on this variant in the OED, but it’s too long to reproduce.

Makes me think of acrosst and nucular.

The interesting thing about nucular, though, is that the word “nuclear” (the adjective form of nucleus) is descended from the latin “nucula,” meaning nut or kernel.

So people who pronounce “nuclear” as “nucular” are actually being more faithful to its origin (though I doubt that’s why any of them pronounce it that way).

When trekking in Nepal we frequently saw signs offering “Best Fooding and Lodging”.

I say it sometimes without thinking. I also grew up saying “acrosst.” As in, she ran acrosst the road." It may be a mid-western or Wisconsin thing.

Wow, this is too adorable. I’d love to be fooded by a nice lodge.

“Never say ‘heighth’. Say ‘length’ and ‘width,’ but never ‘heighth’. It just isn’t righth.”
-Leo Rosten.

Let’s get a point of terminology straight here. Of course, “heighth” is a word. It’s used in conversation by many English-speaking people (and it’s used to mean what the standard English word “height” means). If you use it in a high school English report, the teacher will mark it as being wrong, and if you use it in a manuscript submitted to a book or magazine publisher, the copy editor will change it to “height.” That just says that it’s not considered standard English. A lot of people spell it that way, and even more pronounce it that way. In fact, many people who insist that it’s obviously wrong don’t realize that when they’re not thinking about it, they pronounce it that way too.

Language doesn’t cease to be language because it’s not used in the standard way, where “standard” is the way defined by high school language teachers and book and magazine copy editors. Language is anything used for ordinary communication between human beings. It may or may not be good for teachers and copy editors to enforce standards on how a language is used in certain written and spoken contexts, but they don’t get to define what language is (or what a word is or what a grammatical structure is or what the pronunciation of a word is).

A recent thread: Is "heighth" a regionalism? - Factual Questions - Straight Dope Message Board

A previous thread, in which you’ll find (among other things) Milton used “highth” in Paradise Lost.

It’s parallel to “warmth” and “coldth.”

I beg to differ! IMHO, teachers and copy editors (well, maybe not “copy editors”, so much. :D) absolutely DO, “define what language is (or what a word is or what a grammatical structure is or what the pronunciation of a word is)”. We learn to speak the language by first, hearing our parents and other people speak. Teachers (especially) then try to teach us the proper (generally accepted) way to use the words, that we’ve learned. :slight_smile: How could you think otherwise? :confused:

Teachers then try to teach us the proper way to use the words and grammar of Standard written English. This is the English that one expects to see in professionally published works, almost never sees in handwritten signs, and is harangued about by doddering old fools with newspaper columns on language. However, nobody ever speaks it conversationally, which is where most language happens. If you say it and the other guy understands it, it’s a word, irregardless of what your teacher says.

“Food to take out or sit in.”

By knowing something (very little, frankly) about etymology. The illusion of language stability is like the illusion that glaciers don’t flow, and the idea that teachers and editors control language is like the idea that a few loose boulders decide the glacier’s path.

If you observe language over time, grammar and word usage that is absolutely correct today may well be wrong yesterday and wrong tomorrow and vice versa. Language only appears stable because it changes too subtlely and too slowly for people who live for usualy less than a century to notice.

Teachers and stiff necked grammarians might hold things back a little, and might be able to tell you what other people currently think to be correct, but most of what they say will be swept away by the gigantic unstoppable glacier that is everyday human usage.

For example, many people, including the poor, deluded Messrs. Strunk and White would tell you that it is A Very Bad Thing, Indeed to end a sentence with a preposition. Now, you go explain to Lady Bracknell that she should have said, “A very good age at which to be married,” to Jack and tell me how far you get. The world is filled with loads of books purporting to tell you the proper way to write and speak with lots of cute stories about how Shakespeare and Milton and Dryden got it wrong. I submit to you, if a rule is so tricky that it trips up Billy himself, is it the writer or the rule that should be tossed?

JBDivmstr, I can only repeat what I said. Copy editors and high school English teachers do not get to define what language is. They perhaps get to define what the current version of standard written (and perhaps spoken) English is. Saying that “heighth is not a word” or that nonstandard English is not a language is just confusing the ordinary definitions of these terms. Language is anything used by human beings in ordinary communication. Nonstandard versions of languages are not merely babbling or whatever language purists think it is. (Actually, it’s not clear to me what language purists think. Sometimes they act like anyone using nonstandard English (or whatever language they are trying to defend) is obviously stupid. Sometimes they act like anyone using nonstandard English is deliberately evil.)

By your statement then… Teachers DO, “define what language is (or what a word is or what a grammatical structure is or what the pronunciation of a word is)”.

IMHO the majority of people that learned “Standard written English” as their primary language, (the language that they first learned to speak) and that are fairly “literate” (ie: high school graduate level) DO “speak it conversationally” more often than not.
I will concede that there is a tremendous influence on our every day vocabulary due to numerous reasons, such as location, and the intellect and literacy of those that we interact with, most frequently.
By the way… Great cite on “Standard written English”!:slight_smile:

You seem to contradict yourself, sir. In the beginning of your post you imply with your “glacier analogy”, that teachers have ***no control ***over how we speak.

And yet, you go on to state that teachers do indeed, “tell you what other people currently think to be correct”.

I do not argue the fact that language does, (and will undoubtedly continue to) evolve and change over time. Consequently, the “correct” way to speak and write being currently taught in schools, will inevitably change with it. Just sayin’… :smiley: