January 25th, 2006
Disk vs. disc / words ending in 'shion'
by Barbara Wallraff
Adam Ford, of Ludlow, Vt., writes: “Computers have ‘disks,’ human spines have ‘disks’ -- but CDs are pretty much always ‘compact discs,’ and Frisbees and other sports discs are definitely always ‘discs,’ never ‘disks.’ If dictionaries are trying to keep up with modern usage, why don’t they recognize the differences between ‘disk’ and ‘disc’?”
Dear Adam: You’re right about all of those “disks” and “discs.” At least, your choices are the same ones that most professionals in the relevant fields make. You’re right, too, that dictionaries aren’t clear about all the distinctions. They tend to treat “disk” as the usual spelling and give a few exceptions -- not always the same ones -- for which they say “disc” is preferred. None of the major American dictionaries mentions Frisbees in its “disk” or “disc” entry. They do have “Frisbee” entries, which note that the word is a trademark and then use the word “disk” even though the Wham-O company calls its product a “Frisbee disc.” Boo.
Laura Palmer, of Commerce Township, Mich., writes: “A friend told me there are three words in English that end in ‘shion.’ I’ve come up with two: ‘cushion’ and ‘fashion.’ I have not been able to come up with the third word. Would you help me figure out what it is?”
Dear Laura: I love electronic reference sources! I typed an asterisk followed by “shion” into the Oxford English Dictionary Online, and it came back with 178 entries that end with “shion.” All but one of them come from the two words you’ve already thought of -- for instance, “parrot-fashion” (meaning “the manner or style of a parrot” or “characterized by mindless and mechanical repetition”) and “whoopee cushion.” What’s left? “Hushion,” an old Scottish term for a stocking without a foot. Other sources give “fushion,” though according to the electronic dictionary Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged, this is a mere variant of “foison,” which is archaic for “abundance” and Scottish for “nourishment” or “strength.” You didn’t know these words? Silly you. I didn’t either. Silly me!
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