A lesson in misspelling “arctic”

by Mar 8, 2013

Polar bear sticking out tongue

We here at Arctic Spas giggle a lot at how often people misspell our name. The most common misspelling we get is “Artic” Spas. But did you know that there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for thinking that “Arctic” should be spelled “Artic”?

The spelling “artic” arises because it’s the phonetic spelling of the way most people would prefer to pronounce “arctic.” The reality is that the word “arctic” has two sounds, or phonemes, in the middle of the word that make it tricky to say. The noise the “c” makes is produced at the back of your mouth, by pressing the back of your tongue against the very back of your soft palate, very close to your throat. The noise the “t” makes is produced at the front of your mouth, by pressing your tongue to the back of your teeth. Going from a “c” to a “t” is a lot of motion for a tongue, and not only that, but both “c” and “t” are phonemes that are called “plosives,” or “stops.” This means that to produce these phonemes, you have to stop forcing air through your vocal chords for a moment. To produce two plosives in a row (the “c” and the “t” in “arctic”), you have to stop and start airflow through your vocal tract twice and move your tongue around a lot – it’s a difficult word to say!

When most people say the word “arctic” out loud, they simply eliminate the “c” and say “artic” instead. Going from an “r” to a “t” is a lot easier, because even though he phoneme “r” is produced at the back of your mouth, it’s a “trill”: as such, air continues to flow and your vocal chords vibrate during its articulation. Speaking a trill before a plosive is, linguistically, much easier than speaking a plosive before another plosive, and the removal of the “c” that happens when someone says “ar-tic” instead of “arc-tic” reflects that ease.

When a phoneme is removed when talking as described above, it’s what’s called an “elision” – elision occurs when sounds like vowels, consonants, or even entire syllables in a word or phrase are omitted to make a result that’s easier for speakers to say. Other examples in English include saying “comf-terble” instead of “com-for-ta-ble” and “fam-ly” instead of “fa-mi-ly”; another is when people say “gonna” instead of “going to.”

The moral of the story is that it makes sense that some people accidentally spell our company name without a “c,” but it certainly makes for some lost e-mails and office laughs!