Change final -c to -ck- before certain inflections
As explained in this answer, the OED says regarding the letter c that:
Hence, in modern English, C has
(1) the ‘hard’ sound
[k] before a, o,
u, before a consonant (except h), and when final, as in
cab, cot, cut, claw, crow, acme,
cycle, sac, tic, epic;
(2) before e, i, y, it has the ‘soft’ sound
[s]. In all words from Old English or Old French, final
c is avoided: the
[k] sound being written k or
ck, as in beak, meek, oak, book,
bark, balk, bank, pack, peck,
pick, rock. This is probably due to the claims of
derivatives like meeker, oaken, barking, rocky,
where c could not be used. Final c however is written in
modern words from Latin, Greek, or other languages, and (of late) in the
ending ‑ic, as in sac, tic, epic,
critic, music, picnic. In the rare cases in which
this c is followed in inflexion by e or i, it is
necessary to change it to ck, as in physicking,
mimicking, frolicking, trafficker, picnicker.
[s] sound is final, it must be written
‑ce, as in trace, ice, thrice, and this final
e must be retained in composition before a, o,
u, as in trace-able, peace-able.
These “sound and spelling” rules for inflections and derivations of words ending in ‑c and in ‑ce are real rules that apply generally to all such forms. Just as we must write peaceable not *peacable, so too must we write relicking not *relicing — at least when we don’t mean to relouse someone. :)
So this rule gives us words like mosaicked, colicky, havocker,
picnicky, plasticky, panicking, picnicking, panicky, magicked, colicking,
picnicked, bivouacking, colicked, mimicked, frolicked, picnicker,
demosaicked, garlicky, mimicker, havocking, bivouacked, demosaicker,
havocked, panicked, mimicking, frolicking, demosaicking.
However, not everyone is particularly solid on the rule that
words ending in ‑c must first take an extra ‑k‑ before adding
‑ed, ‑y, or ‑ing to them. In today’s world of self-publishing
that never goes through a proper editorial process, nor often enough
even a proper proofread, countless erroneous spellings crop up, such
as *mosaiced for mosaicked. And although the OED does indeed give published citations for both spellings, it does not actually sanction the one without the ‑k‑ as an admissible alternate: it just documents that people have sometimes spelled it without the ‑k‑ that the OED says is obligatory in such cases.
This is what has happened with relicky, relicked, relicking: people
who have never learned the actual rule are making spelling mistakes
that never get corrected to their proper spelling.
However, in actual curated works,
such spelling errors are far less common, especially in older works where typesetting was dear and corrections dearer. When the barrier to entry is high, so too the standards. But when there is no barrier to entry and no proofreader worthy of the name, mistakes are made.
Here, though, are curated examples where mistakes were not made.
Published Citations for Relicky
Published examples of relicky aren’t all that common, but neither
are the especially hard to find.
From Forest and Stream:
I had a stock saddle and a dealer in more or less “relicky” relics
supplied me with a pair of canvas saddle bags that once were the property
of Uncle Sam.
From Boys' Life:
They had said the old tug was relicky, a has-been.
And again from the next month of Boys' Life:
There’s nothing relicky about my boilers and engines! They can pull with the best of ’em.
Or here from The New Yorker:
Did I mention that now when I tell cab-drivers my right age they say,
‘God bless you’? It gives you a very relicky feeling. You’re supposed to
have profound wisdom and a philosophy of life.
Published Citations for Relicked
One can find published examples of the proper spelling relicked,
such as mention of relicked bones from Britannia Antiquissima, Or, A Key to the Philology of History:
. . . according to the gorgeous fertility of the imaginations of the
exorcists, and averring that the apis, ibis, serpents, goats, relicked
bones, pictures, or garments of this or that animal or being . . .
Here is a use of relicked using the second sort of -ed suffix,
the one used to make adjectives from nouns, not the one to make
past-tense forms from verbs. It’s from A Suit of Four by Arnold
Twenty gravel miles yet by map — and rode that relicked land out keen edged
as its air ...
A verbal use of relicked is found — wholly unsurprisingly — in Relics:
As he and his wife relicked throughout Arkansas and Missouri while on
vacation they stopped every time they saw an old wagon and tried to dicker
with the owner for whatever good parts the wagon contained.
The word relicked appears from time to time in verse, such as
in the Collected Poems of William Hull:
no monstrance holds same love in relicked gold:
love does not hold its stay: let gold be sound,
it will descend to brass, to lead through old
perverting alchemist, thin-lipped and bold.
Other examples in verse are easy to find.
Published Citations for Relicking
As for relicking as a participle or gerund, many published examples exist.
In The Sebago Lakes Region: A Brief History, author Red Allen notes that:
“Relicking” even became a verb, meaning to search for Indian relics.
That was published in 2013, but it is hardly a new use, for way back in 1941
the National Recreation Association published a chapter in their
Recreation with the title:
Have You Tried “Relicking”?
Other published citations for the spelling relicking that mean the antique version not the licking version include
But what about guitars?
Lest one mistakenly think that these many instances of relicking are somehow a different word from the
one used in the context of making something like a guitar look like a
relic, from 2012 we have this clear example from Dave Hunter’s The Fender Telecaster: The Life and Times of the Electric Guitar That Changed the World:
In addition to natural distress of the sort that would make the Fender
Custom Shop’s relicking team drool with envy, Nancy displays Buchanan’s
name crudely etched into its back at the bass-side upper bout, and three
characteristic friction marks behind the bridge where screwdrivers of old
were used to adjust the brass saddles.
There can be no question that that citation uses the sense of relicking
meaning “antiquing” something, not the one meaning to give something a
new lick. And it is itself no relic, either, having seen publication
Miriads of Mispelled Occurances [sic]
You can always find virtually infinite misspellings. That doesn’t make them right. Consider for example:
- 41,100,000 instances of the misspelling seperate
- 23,000,000 instances of the misspelling occured
- 8,540,000 instances of the misspelling seperated
- 7,460,000 instances of the misspelling seperately
- 6,320,000 instances of the misspelling occurence
- 687,000 instances of the misspelling occurance
- 441,000 instances of the misspelling mispelled
- 437,000 instances of the misspelling occurances
- 357,000 instances of the misspelling mispelling
- 10,400 instances of the misspelling miriads
Those are much commoner words than the ‑ck‑ words, but nonetheless that’s a lot of them to be considered wrong. Millions and millions. Surely more than forty million instances of people spelling separate as seperate must finally be enough to make the second one count as correct, right?
No. That’s exactly the wrong conclusion. The right conclusion is that a lot of people don’t know how to spell. Don’t let anyone tell you that those are right, because they aren’t. It doesn’t matter how many cases you can find of people making spelling mistakes.
Now let us consider the many errors people make in spelling ‑ck‑ words:
These are smaller in magnitude, but they are all the same class of error. And error they remain, for the second set is no more correct than the first set.
There is no number of incorrect answers that add up to a right answer.
Curated works show all three of relicky, relicked, relicking spelled as
perfect analogues of picnicky, picnicked, picnicking.
like random Internet jabber, self-published works, and periodicals not
especially well-known for accuracy in English orthography often contain
errors in spelling.
At times these misspellings can come to be repeated in a particular
field so often that readers may become inured to the error and therefore no longer able to judge right from wrong. A good example of this is how
often the erroneous demosaiced image is used in Internet jabber instead of the correctly spelled
This is what has occurred here with relicky, relicked, relicking. People who didn’t understand the “‑c > ‑ck‑” rule (and had no competent proofreader) typed spelling errors, and some other people got used to seeing these errors.
There can be no answer to “why” the people who made that error did so. We might speculate about cognitive interference with re-licing being less strong than that of re-licking, but in the end, no one can say. It’s like recreation meaning both a new creation and also a pleasant diversion: some words have more than one completely different meaning.