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If you search google for "fuscia" it asks "did you mean fuschia?". The correct spelling of the word is "fuchsia". (This was pointed out on the xkcd blog a while ago.)

So enough people are spelling fuchsia wrong that it's polluting Google's autocorrection algorithms. Now this got me thinking. If you're serious about your descriptivism, then it seems like you have to accept "fuschia" as a legitimate alternative spelling. Lots of people use it, so it's right, right? What do you think of this? Is "fuschia" acceptable? Is there some way to discount those misspellings and insist on the correct spelling?

This isn't some anomaly of the way google's autocorrection works. There are 10m hits for fuchsia, 4m for fuschia... Is this enough usage to make "fuschia" a legitimate alternative spelling? If not, what criteria do you use to decide when a misspelling becomes acceptable?

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The OED, under ''frustum'' says "Also erron. 17-19 C 'frustrum'". How many centuries does it take to stop being an error? –  Colin Fine Oct 6 '10 at 11:56
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@cindi I think, depressingly, "thru", "ur", "thier", "teh" will soon be candidates... –  Seamus Oct 6 '10 at 14:18
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This question (and its answers) are giving me a bad case of english.stackexchange.com/questions/6170 –  J.T. Grimes Jan 19 '11 at 19:34
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@jgbelacqua Straw person? Really? That's how far politcal correctness has gone? –  Seamus Mar 16 '11 at 11:44
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3 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Personally, I feel that am not in a position to decide such things, so I gladly leave the decision to people whose whole job it is to make such decisions. When a respected authority known for its descriptivism (say, Merriam-Webster) starts listing "fuschia" as a legitimate alternative spelling, I will be more inclined to accept it myself.

Until then, I am heavily biased towards "fuchsia". (Even doubly so because I am one of those few people who actually pronounce it [ˈfʊksja] rather than [ˈfjuːʃə]. In other words, as far as I am personally concerned, I just can't misspell the "chs" as "sch"; if anything, I am likely to misspell the word as "fuxia".)

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I'd +1 but I can't quite get my head around the mispronounciation ... –  Unsliced Oct 6 '10 at 10:57
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@Unsliced: well, "fuchsia" derives from the name of one of the founding fathers of botany, Leonhart Fuchs. Before there's any misunderstanding, I am not arguing that [ˈfʊksja] is by any measure a correct English pronunciation. I am merely pointing out that personally, I can't wrap my head around pronouncing that man's name as [fjuːʃ]. And I am only mentioning that at all because I interpret this question as asking for subjective opinions. Otherwise, the second paragraph in my answer is completely off-topic, no discussion about that. –  RegDwigнt Oct 6 '10 at 11:15
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[fyçsjə] → [fjuːʃə] seems perfectly fine to me because of how common [y] → [juː] and [sj] → [ʃ] are, and [çsj] as a complex cluster seems to even more strongly prefer to be collapsed. –  Jon Purdy Oct 6 '10 at 12:48
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unrelated note: "a respected authority known for their descriptivism" Does anyone else find this construction odd? Surely an entity like Merriam Webster takes "its" rather than "his/her/their" as its possessive? Unless you're taking MW to be a collective body, in which case the singular "authority" seems misleading. –  Seamus Oct 6 '10 at 13:06
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"A respected authority known for their descriptivism" is unexceptionable in British English, FWIW –  Colin Fine Nov 12 '10 at 14:47
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In general, misspellings or nonstandard grammar may become acceptable if they simplify things. So "thru" instead of "through" or "learned" instead of "learnt" work. This might apply in this case, but it's not very obvious.

But in this case there is the overriding principle that the name is derived from a proper name, because the plant was named after a guy named "Fuchs". And you need a much stronger case to change that.

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God I hate "thru". I truly do. –  Seamus Oct 6 '10 at 13:06
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"learned"/"learnt" is American/British, not nonstandard/standard. –  mmyers Oct 6 '10 at 16:49
    
@mmyers: Well, clearly, the Americans started out with "learnt" as well, and then "learned" arose later as an initially nonstandard form. –  Peter Eisentraut Oct 6 '10 at 19:05
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@Peter, COHA shows that learned has always been more common than learnt in American English. At least, since 1810. –  nohat Oct 12 '10 at 0:36
    
@nohat: Cool resource. I'll offer dreamed/dreamt and burned/burnt as better examples then. Oddly, leaped/leapt has the opposite trend. –  Peter Eisentraut Oct 12 '10 at 16:15
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I think fuscia -> fuschia instead of fuchsia happens because Google is looking for better spelling fairly close to the misspelled word, and fuscia -> fuchsia is two mistakes, according to Google's algorithm (you've dropped the h and you've swapped the s and c), whereas fuscia -> fuschia is one mistake. At some point, Google may very well special-case fuchsia to fix this problem. In fact, this hypothesis is verified by experiment. If you search for "fucshia," Google corrects it properly. If you search for "fucsia," Google thinks you're speaking Spanish.

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Google's "did you mean..." function is not just a brilliant algorithm applied to their massively huge data; they also plain old use a spell checker. –  goblinbox Mar 10 '11 at 20:42
    
I'd vote this one up twice if I could. –  jbelacqua Mar 17 '11 at 1:38
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