Saturday, September 6, 2008

Losing Sleep Over "Supersede"

A long time ago, my father, who was a Linotype operator for the old Hartford Times newspaper before he went to law school, told me that during my lifetime I would not believe where I would see the word "supersede" misspelled. "Everyone spells it -cede. The correct way is -sede," he told me. Wow. That's interesting pop.

Sure enough, I noticed it spelled -cede one day in the fine print of a software licensing agreement one sees when installing a new computer program. What do you know? My dad was right.

Then, earlier today, I was reading an article in The Progressive magazine - Fists of Freedom by Dave Zirin - and there it was again: supercede! I was so excited about coming across this errant submission I called my friend Eva (the one from my last post, Longing For A Little Country Life) just to tell her the exciting news. Apparently it was still a little early in the morning in Missouri.

"You woke me up to tell me you found a misspelling in a magazine?" Following a protracted sigh of utter exasperation, she muttered, "OK. What's the word?"

I then told her which word it was. There was a conspicuous silence for about 45 seconds. (For a moment, I thought maybe she fell back to sleep.) Then came the bombshell: "I hate to be the one to tell you this, Billy, but there IS a word spelled supercede." Apparently there's no shortage of dictionaries in the Ozarks.

"What are you talking about?" I shot back. "You must be mistaken."

"Look it up for yourself," she implored me. So I did. And what do you know. She was right. Thirty-five years of arrogant assuredness on this subject was shot to pieces in a blinding flash.

Not at all happy with this situation, I decided it was time to Google my way out of this conundrum. I told Eva I would get back to her in a few minutes. "Fine. Go ahead. I can see this is eating away at you," she said.

What I found was very interesting. The definitions of the two words were virtually identical. One source alluded to the plainly preferred option of -sede, while another didn't even mention the existence of the -cede form of the word. Furthermore, the spellchecker monitoring this very post keeps highlighting the -cede version every time I type it (indicating a misspelling). Maybe I wasn't out of my mind, after all. I then informed Eva of my findings on the matter.

"You have to let it go, Billy. This obsession is not good for your health."

"I cannot just let this go. As a matter of fact, I'm going to write about this serious situation in my next blog post."

"If it will make you feel better, Billy, by all means - alert the blogosphere!"

So here you have it. The whole sordid state of affairs regarding supersede and supercede. I don't know about you, but I'm sticking to my guns. The -cede version is a hoax. The only reason it can even be found in the dictionary is that the word has been misspelled by so many for so long the lexicographers of the world simply decided to capitulate and present both options in their updated word bibles.

I feel better having gotten this off my chest. In the meantime, to the precious few who might read this, stand up for what is right. Spell this word the way it should be spelled. You'll feel better, too, knowing you have put your stamp on this dialectic dilemma.

Long live SUPERSEDE!


  1. Oh, Billy! I wonder what Stephen King would think of you. YIKES!

  2. He'd be damn proud of me! -- Oh, and sorry about that early phone call today. BTW - did you know that you are not very pleasant first thing in the morning?

  3. I have a fascination with words, or there lack of. I am constantly correcting the teens with home school with and showing them thee err of their ways.

    "We were like going really fast." I hear these kids use the word like as a filler all the time. And they say it so much, they do not even relaize they are saying it. So I politely step in and say, "How fast were you going?" I get the quizical look. "Well, you said you were like going really fast. So how fas were you going?"

    Then they proceed to tell me they do not say 'like' as much as I think. So then I bend over to their buddy and tell them to count how many times said friend says like, and then it bamboozles them. And then I think it makes them relaize how much they do say the word.

    Just call me Like Woman. Sorry, doesn't sound as good as Wonder Woman!

  4. My better half - Jami - is "like" addicted to some of those filler expressions when she speaks, "ya know?" "And he says so ...., and she says so like... type thing..." It's endearing (when it's not annoying).

    Well, let's hope she doesn't decide to read any of this thread. I might be sleeping on the couch for a while if she does!