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Nov 22 2012   3:44PM GMT

Spelling holiday terms: What’s that ubiquitous red plant?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

 

Which is correct?
How do you spell the name of that red plant you see everywhere during the holiday season?
a. pointsetta
b. poinsetta
c. poinsettia
d. pointsettia


Answer: c.

Explanation:
This is a tricky one, unless you pronounce it correctly — which I freely admit I never did, growing up. I thought it was pronounced “pointsetta” and spelled it accordingly. Maybe that was the common pronunciation in my area or maybe everyone but me got it right. Let’s see how everyone’s doing with this one these days. Time for another Google poll:

pointsetta: 1,270,000
poinsetta: 6,790,000
poinsettia: 8,610,000
pointsettia: 2,430,000

Well, I feel better now. Way more people got this wrong than right, even if they took three different misspellings to accomplish it. And, lord knows, there are undoubtedly misspellings I didn’t think of.

Peggy Hazelwood discusses poinsettias and other commonly misspelled holiday words. Like me, she doesn’t pronounce the “i” — I have managed to drop the extra “t” from my poinsettia but saying “poyn-set-ee-a” still sounds to me like a pronunciation that would invite mockery. Altogether too correct.

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

45  Comments on this Post

 
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  • jkathleen23
    Thank you!   Wow, I just love to learn new thingies.  Whoops, I mean things.  I have often wondered how you correctly pronounce saying and spelling poinsettia.  This was fun.   
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  • mmmason
    The plant was named after somebody -  french person - Poinset
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  • DirkG42
    Named for American statesman Joel Roberts Poinsett of South Carolina. He discovered the plant in Mexico and sent samples back to the US.
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  • davidlmckinley
    In your explaination is "Way more" correct? Should it not be "Away more" and should not "lord" be capitalized? After all you are referring to God!
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  • Blodimir
    Until I found out how it was spelt (that's spelled in American) I transposed the i to the previous syllable, as did all in my bailiwick. This is a common practice in mispronouncing foreign words in English -- witness chaise longue (not [tshaze] lounge]. Capitalizing "lord" depends upon which god you are referencing. "Way more" is slang. "Very much more" is not slang. "Away more" is not English.
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  • gpie1288
    Whew! How do you know if you just experienced a spelling orgasm?! Or is that orgaism?
    Answer? The ends of your fingers grow cold, and your typing slows significantly!
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  • Blodimir
    Spelling orgasms are grist for the mill. My typing is atrocious -- 40 wpm but with a typo in just about every word. Correcting them makes it less than ten words a minute, but has made me a very good editor. I am also an old fart and taught English for 25 years. I have just noticed that I do not have to explain English to Americans on this site, and in case you are wondering why I might want to, it is because I live on the West Coast of Canada.
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  • unionj12
    omg I didn't know that
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  • Blodimir
    You now have an omg of knowledge. That's an Order of Magnitude Greater. Congratulations.
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  • stupullen
    Poinsettia (poin-set-te-a) is the Spanish way of saying this Red Christmas associated flower name...easy for me as we grow them easily here in California.
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  • Summer129
    I knew how to spell it, but when I saw all these different ways, I guess I questioned myself and chose another one. Poinsetta. What? Just right click it!
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  • Paul298
    "Red Christmas"? No. You likely meant "red Christmas". Beyond that, unless you make clear which syllable is most stressed, your post may be taken as suggesting the entire thread is over a moot point. To illustrate, if memory serves, the Spanish pronunciation is (pion-se-TEE-ah). One's taste in style is always a matter of choice but a less chewy wording might have been "... this traditional Christmas flower's name... " or simpler yet "... the flower's name...". It might however be better if we all learned our own language first though. BTW that's a nice plug for California.
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  • Blodimir
    This reminds of a trip in 1956 from South Yorkshire to just south of Barcelona. I intended to teach myself myself Spanish on the way. I thought I had learned all the numbers from 1 to 20, but discovered decades later that I knew only 1 to 19, because I was pronouncing 20 as tree EN tay, whereas it should be pronounced tray IN tay. I was also handicapped, when I arrived in Sevilla in 1999, by using DEE aith, ON thay,  DOE thay, et cetera for 10,11,12. Perhaps this is part of the reason why I could never understand calculus.
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  • wmpwbr
    Fun
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  • MonkeySeeMonkeyDo
    There are a few things that bother me when I see or hear them; ex. "One of the only"; in my opinion it should be either "One of a few (or 3 or 4), OR  "The only one" . 
    Another one that appears to be creeping into the language is:
    "Off of"; I saw that in a book review of all places; to me, it makes no sense. Unfortunately I cannot remember the exact context it was used in., but some of your viewers may have come across that one.
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  • In999wood
    Felt very smug that I got this right, but I should, I have lived in Australia for 57 years and this is our Christmas plant.  When I first came to Australia in 1958, I had never heard of the word and had to learn other strange ones such as jacaranda (which I got muddled with cicadas)  and told the office that the jacarandas kept me awake last night!
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  • Blodimir
    In999wood: That's a wonderful misplaced meaning story (jacarandas). Good on yer, mate. I too had to learn another language when I came to Canada in 1961. When I feel like confusing someone here, I try to get "dead chuffed" into the conversation.
    MonkeySeeMonkeyDo/He dropped a clanger on his shoe :) : You are exceedingly lucky if you think "off of" is creeping in. In North America it is a virus, as is its cousin, "if I would of" that replaces "if I had" and quite frequently, in the same structure, the following past participle is changed into the simple past and occasionally the present. If I would of fell off of that log, would you of catch me? If someone uses "off of" in a communication to you, try to fit "on of" into the reply without pointing it out. It is a parallel back-formation, as the linguists say, from "out of". The "of" in "would of", of course, is a false erudite rendition of " 've". And how about between one to two? Is this a complete sentence?
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  • zykoriah
    oh wow
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  • Oliviawamanana5983
    It didn't work on my iPad but I hope you liked it. Merry Christmas, and a happy new year
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  • marktindal
    Actually it's Poinsettia, with a capital P.  It's a Noun.
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  • Blodimir
    Zykoriah: txtin s no g^d 4 yor gramm. & punct-n

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  • Blodimir
    Olivia Wamanana: I have just looked for a previous post from you, but there is none posted. So what is the "it" that you hope I liked? I am sure that you don't mean that I should like your iPad. I think that if you change one of the "it"s to "this" and chopped the "d" off  "liked", this would say what you meant to say. And yes, I like it.
    Mark Tindall: It's poinsettia in English. Es ist Poinsettia auf Deutsch.
    Only German capitalizes all nouns. I don't suppose you capitalize Rose, Dandelion or Rhododendron, or do you?
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  • Blodimir
    Wim Powerbar: I agree totally with you.
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  • In999wood
    Blodimir:  Enjoyed your own story of confusing the natives in your new country.  Of course, 'dead chuffed' to me is perfectly understandable.  Over in Australia, it is 'stoked' for the same meaning - both if you notice, alluding to engines of old puffing billy trains.  Language is a funny thing - it doesn't always travel.
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  • MonkeySeeMonkeyDo
    Blodimir:
    Thank you for the tip of using on/off in a reply. I came to Canada  from Germany 57 yrs. ago, and I feel lucky that I learned English vocabulary at school. The advantage was to have seen words in writing first and learned how to spell them correctly.
     My children never wanted to write to me because I tried hard to correct their spelling, today they are grateful. On another note: texting totally destroys the English language, I am afraid few people will know how to spell in the future.
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  • Blodimir
    In999wood: 'Sfunny! Many moons ago, when I looked up "chuff" in the OED, it said it was a red-legged crow. I therefore translated chuffed as strutting like a red-legged crow. It seemed fitting to me. But your stoked is just as good a synonym. Those steam engines were always proud.
    The elderly have always complained about the goofing around of the young. They will have their turn, so ne'er mind, eh?
    PS Notice that you now have 20 points for each of your contributions. I am wondering how many thousands create a badge.
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  • Blodimir
    monkeyseeusw: I learned French the same way you learned English. but I never really got far beyond being able to ask a question and unable to understand the answer. For this reason, I claimed to be sesquilingual. I learned German in my last year at UBC in such a fashion as to be able to use it while hitch-hiking in Germany the following summer. Lack of use since, and they have both dwindled.
    By the way, I don't know of on/off would work, but if you throw in something like "I got on of the bus at St Clair and Vaughan," it will puzzle them as much they puzzled you.
    Schuess.
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  • saadia
    poinsetta
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  • oldgal67
    Now could we, please, do the same for the flower properly known as 'impatiens' which everyone else apparently, including on-line dictionaries, pronounces as 'impatience'.  It is a general rule that Latin is pronounced exactly as it is spelled but this one seems to  be the lone exception.  It should be 'im-pat-ee-ens' - accent on the 'pat'.

    MonkeySeeMoonkeyDo wrote: "One of the only' . . . should be either "One of the few" or "The only" 

    [I positively itch to correct that one when I hear it! ]

    He also wrote: "Another one that appears to be creeping into the language is:"Off of"; 

    "Off of" was in common usage among the less educated in England when I was young three-quarters of a century ago!  I have ever since considered people who say or write it to be those whose opinions are of no account. 

     If people who are careless in their language usage had any idea how they are judged (and found wanting) by those of us who make an effort to be careful, they would soon pull themselves together and try a bit harder to use that most important of tools well.


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  • SkyBeatsGh
    Poinsettia

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  • bnmbnm123456789
    I got right!
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  • BillS4C
    I fought against singular "they" for years; then I thought, if I fight against that, I should also fight against singular "you".  

    Some times, thou canst not win!
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  • TThumb
    Poinsettia is a latin word. If you understood how to pronounce latin you would pronounce it correctly. Pɔɪn set t̬·i·ə with the emphasis on the middle syllable. There is not an American and English way to pronounce Latin.  There is a latin way to pronounce latin: all vowels (or diphthongs) are pronounce and the emphasis is never or rarely ever on the first or last syllable. 
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  • Retiredragon
    I knew the answer but the computer did not take any choice answer. Not a fair quiz!
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  • EAKeak
    Blodimir: Spanish: 20=veinte.  Amazed that no one pointed that out.
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  • eag517
    I guessed the spelling correctly because I knew how to pronounce it; I knew how to pronounce it because the narrator on Frosty the Snowman says it that way. Go figure!
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  • Blodimir
    TThumb: In this neck of the woods -- the western hemisphere -- small L latin refers to its denizens who speak Spanish and/or Portuguese. Big L Latin refers to the language that refuses to die. You inadvertently, I am sure, used a schwa at the end of poinsettia, which unfortunately indicates that the last letter of a Latin word can be transmogrified into lazy English pronunciation.
    If the great unwashed can pronounce alumni as alumnae, they can uckfup the language any way they want. We language police don't carry guns. We use pee shooters.
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  • BillS4C
    OOps! I don't know where the second part of that came from.
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  • MonkeySeeMonkeyDo
    " You're "and "it's" are disappearing fast.
     Let's try to save them.
    "You are" abbreviated becomes "You're";
    "Your" is a possessive pronoun meaning it belongs to you;  ex. ( Is this your  watch?).
    "It'is" abbreviated becomes "It's"; ex. It's the season of joy
    "Its" is also a possessive pronoun meaning belonging to something; ex., (the dog lost "its" collar)
    I hope nobody thinks I am nit-picking; proper spelling and punctuation are the tools we communicate with, and if we leave them to become dull, we may inadvertently create misunderstandings.
    I had a note the other day as follows: I ate Bella (her dog) ate later. A comma would have been really helpful to understand that she didn't eat her dog.
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  • BillS4C
    Are you sure she didn't eat her dog?  :)
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  • charmhardy
    What ever happened to the "gerund"?
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  • Blodimir
    MonkeySeeMonkeyDo: A comma would not help in that sentence. What it needs is a semicolon, or a period (full stop) to make it two sentences. Remember that with a subject and predicate in each clause, you cannot connect/separate them with a comma, unless the subject in the subordinate clause is a direct reference to the subject of the main clause. Complicated, eh?

    BillS4C Re the second part: you got Googled. I haven't heard any of the supporting arguments for the differences between academic and church Latin, but I have experienced both. Academic in high school, the other in church. When the latter switched to the vernacular I found out what I had been reciting and quit going.

    EAKeak: When I used viente I was 14 and quickly got used to being misunderstood in Sitjes. When I found out that it was really veinte I was 57, but my ability to converse in Spanish was equally miserable. The following year in Madrid it was slightly better. I had taken the beginners' course twice between these trips.

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  • Blodimir
    charmhardy: Can you expand on your question? Are you referring to the wrong pronoun being used to precede it? Or something something else?
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  • Blodimir
    Gadzooks! A three word sentence with four words in it. I have just shot down my editing expertise.

    BillS4C Thou makest an interesting point. However, thou thee thy and thine have dwindled in use to such an extent that it is waste of effort to protest. I used them as a kid in Yorkshire, but even then it was more as a joke, since our grandparents had used and still did use them. And you singular has been in the language for at least 300 years. I have seen "you was" in 18th century writing, so the transition has not all been smooth sailing.

    We used to sing, "Wheer asta bin since I saw thee?" to which the answer was always "On Ilkley Moor bar t'at." In undialectical English that's "Where hast thou been since I saw thee? On Ilkley Moor without a hat." Incidentally, to the same tune you can sing, "While shepherds washed their socks by night." They both date from 1815.

    As to they and their in the singular, I find from Wikipaedia that it goes back to Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 to 1400).
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  • Blodimir
    Another typo: bar t'at = without the hat.

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