May 15, 2011

Oh No! I Can't Restrain the Curmudgeon!

by Marsha Ward

The Old Curmudgeon broke down the door when he came across two egregious misuses of the English language during the past two weeks. Sorry, I couldn't keep him under wraps. You'll soon understand why.

Someone wrote that some kind of event was "under the hospice" of some entity or other. Oh dear. I'm afraid I cringed as much as the Curmudgeon did. 

A hospice is either a shelter for travelers or a homelike facility for the care of terminal patients. It may also extend to hospice services that come into the home of a terminally-ill patient to give support to the family. This is the kind of hospice I am most familiar with, due to the Year of Hell our family went through in 1997-98. A hospice is not likely to sponsor an event, although it could happen. The words would not be used in that way, though.

"Under the auspices of" is clearly what the writer meant to use. While auspice can mean a favorable omen or sign, in this instance, the plural form means patronage or sponsorship.

I laughed when I read the second misuse, but it got the Curmudgeon's back up, and he broke free and went on a rant. The writer was talking about unsolicited submissions, and wrote about the old days when a submission "over the transit" was, if not entirely acceptable, at least possible.

Before I tell you all the ways that is wrong, I have to give you a little background.

In the days before central air conditioning, office doors opening to a corridor had a small window above them that could be opened or closed, depending on the heat of the day. It was hinged along the top or bottom, and one used a long pole to open the latch and pull open the window, allowing for the free flow of air between the office and the hallway. This opening was often referred to as the transom, although the term actually meant the crossbar under the extra window.

The phrase "over the transom" meant that a desperate writer snuck into the building at night and tossed the envelope in which his manuscript was encased through the opening above the locked door, into the office of a publisher. Thus, the term came to mean "unsolicited submission".

You can see the problem that annoyed the Curmudgeon. Transit and transom are not the same word. Transit can mean "passage through or across," "a carrying through or across, a conveyance," "a system of urban public transportation," or (my favorite) "a surveying instrument used for measuring horizontal angles." My dad had an excellent transit for his surveying work, so I'm very familiar with that word and meaning.

The word transom also applies to a lintel, a crossbeam of a cross or gallows, and a structural part of the stern of a boat.

Now that you are in the know, go forth and use the words auspices and transom as much as you can!


  1. Thanks for that explanation and history. I love this kind of stuff.

    One of the things that makes me nuts is when people use mute in place of mute. O_o I hear it a lot during city council meetings.

  2. And I can type. Honest.

    *mute in place of moot.

  3. I love spelling and English too, although I don't always love it when I am the one making the mistakes! I don't think I have made these, so it is safe to have a good laugh!! I have never heard of transom before. Now that is history!!!

  4. I'm still rolling over lose and loose. What is the deal with this?

  5. Hahaha! You know, Marsha, you should invent a game, along the lines of Catch Phrase that teaches students the difference between these kinds of words. Maybe you could call the game, "Curmudgeon Says"...or something like that. heehee...

    I only mention this because I remember playing Catch Phrase with a family member who spent her entire turn trying to get us to guess a word she described as "When they put pictures on the walls and have everybody come and look at them." We knew it had to art gallery, right? nope. It was artillery.

  6. I am well acquainted with hospice. I had never heard about throwing manuscripts through the transom window before. Possibly because old movies are probably where I have seen transom windows and I had no idea how people opened them or if they could be opened. I learned a lot. Thanks.


Thank you for visiting. Feel free to comment on our blogger's posts.*

*We do not allow commercial links, however. If that's not clear, we mean "don't spam us with a link to your totally unrelated-to-writing site." We delete those comments.