There are a number of words in English which end with the consonant m followed by the consonant n. Words like hymn, condemn, solemn. We don’t pronounce the n so the words are pronounced /hɪm/, /kənˈdem/, and /ˈsɒləm/. When they form derived words, such as hymnal, condemnation, or solemnity, then the letter n becomes pronounced: /ˈhɪmnəl/, /ˌkɒndemˈneɪʃ(ə)n/, /səˈlemnəti/.
Another word that follows this pattern is the verb damn, meaning to criticize someone or something very severely, and it’s pronounced /dæm/. The noun damnation brings the n into the pronunciation: /dæmˈneɪʃ(ə)n/.
But the adjective, damning, despite now having a vowel following the n, doesn’t pronounce the n: /ˈdæmɪŋ/. There is also a verb dam, meaning to stop a river or stream from flowing by building a dam across it. So the adjectives damming and damning are pronounced the same: /ˈdæmɪŋ/.
We’ve had people look for damm and damme, and there have also been searches for condem, condemed, condemmed, and condemme. No one has looked up solemn, but we’ve had people looking for solem.
A slip-up on the proofreading before the main BBC television news the other night led to the lead item being introduced with a picture bearing the misspelled caption Damming Report.
This is not intended to disparage the BBC. We’re all fallible. Many years ago, a publishing house, which shall remain nameless, printed an entry for the word millenium in its first printing. The error was spotted and corrected in later printings of the book. Unfortunately, in a village in the North of England, a stonemason had been commissioned to make a Millennium Monument and had checked the spelling in the early edition of that dictionary, leading to some embarrassment at the unveiling ceremony.
If you look up millenium (with English as the selected language) on Google, you find 11.2 million matches. So it would be tempting to think that was the correct spelling. But millennium yields 44.1 million so first impressions can be misleading. On Macmillan Dictionary Online, there have been 35 searches for the word millenium, and none for millennium. The searches have come from eight countries, with Hungary and the United States leading the way.Email this Post