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Bogus degrees, mutilations and mics

It’s a blessed relief to get back to work and get some rest after a family beach vacation.

Now to see what we find in the papers.

There’s an article in The Sun about a company that has been issuing bogus college diplomas, with a reference in the headline to a phony diploma mill. A diploma mill is, by definition, phony, because its degrees are either outright frauds or worthless.

A wire service article a couple of days ago referred to female circumcision, which a colleague tells me is a term to be avoided:

That term fell out of favor in the '70s, and "female genital mutilation," "female genital cutting" or "cutting" in later references are the current preferred terms (by most). … What's being done to these women is nowhere near the equivalent of male circumcision, and though some prefer the circumcision term for cultural reasons, I think it sanitizes what's happening. I think the complicated language can be dealt with in stories, something like, "which is also referred to as female circumcision," while preferring the other terms.

Another note from a colleague urges me to make one of my arbitrary rulings:

I think we need a ruling on open-mic versus open-mike. I hate the way mic looks and always mentally pronounce it "mick." But I consistently get "open-mic" coming over to me in copy, so I think I must be wrong. The dictionary has both.

I, too, despise mic, but I sense that it has been widely adopted by the young and with-it, damn their eyes. What do you think? if you are reading this blog, you are obviously a person of high intellect, taste and discernment. Weigh in on the comments.

In other venues, you might want to check into the Grammar and Usage blog on the Web site of The New York Times. It’s reached from the Grammar and Usage topic page as well.



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:02 AM | | Comments (28)


Open-mike 100%!

I'm neither young nor with-it, but I use 'open-mic'. (I'm British as well, but I don't think that's relevant in this case.)

Google returns about four times as many hits for "open-mic" as it does for "open-mike" FWIW.

I guess I'll be the young guy who throws in his hat for open-mic. Open-mike looks wrong to me.

I'm going to have to go with open-mic on this one. Apologies.

I think this is mostly a problem of the catastrophe of pronunciation in the English language. Witness: microphone is not pronounced "mickrophone." Thus, if you take the mic- partial prefix and use it in the same context as it's origins, it should be pronounced "mike."

Frustrating to be sure, but you can't blame anyone except the cacophonous stew that is English.

Mic, when used with "Open". "Mike" is too ingrained as a name (particularly when written) for me to gloss over it when used in the item-for-public-address sense.

I think open-mic makes much more sense. After all, it is a shortening of the word microphone, so where would "mike" come from?

Also, the majority of open-microphone events I've seen promote themselves as "open-mic" and not "open-mike." That could cause problems and look inconsistent if the name of an event includes open-mic. Granted, the same could be said the other way, but I think that would be less common.

I also vote for "mic" for the reasons mentioned here, especially by steegness. Here's an example:

I'm with John on this. I prefer mike, just as I prefer bike for bicycle rather than bic. I know English isn't always consistent (John won't let me forget it), but when an issue is still up for debate, I prefer to fall on the side of consistency.

I read somewhere that mic comes from an abbreviation on recording-booth control boards, for what that's worth.

My dictionary gives mike as an informal substitute for microphone and has no entry for mic. So I guess I'll have to go with the open-mike crowd.

It's mic. Microphone does not have a K in it. Society has adopted mic, and it's time for newspaper style to as well.

Bars hold "open-mic" night and Beanie Siegel raps on his track "Rock the Mic." Time for newspapers to pick up the mic.


This has been going on longer than I realized:

This really hits home for me!

Once, while hosting an open mic, I mentioned that earlier in the day my dentist had commanded me to "open, Mike."

>This has been going on longer than I realized

Recency Illusion. :-) "Mic" is almost certainly not yet another example of the linguistic laziness of today's shiftless youth -- darn those language-ruining youngsters! -- but jargon among those who are steeped in sound engineering. Or "sow enj," if you will, haha.

Speaking as an audio-visual professional, I use mic. It does look a bit funny; but it's a microphone, not a mikerophone.

A colleague writes:

"Mic" is offensive to those of Irish descent. Also, spelling mike as mic belongs in the same category as spelling night as nite.

I would definitely vote for "open-mic", because of the fact that it's a clipping of 'microphone'.

Mike. As real-estate novelist pointed out, shortened forms of words don't always follow the spelling of the long form. To me, "mike" is a separate word, as opposed to just an abbreviation of "microphone." And I would want to write "open-mic. night" with the "mic" spelling.

For those who prefer mic to mike: Do you folks ride a bic or a bike?

A vote for "mike." As with many style issues, either way is probably fine.

The pro-mic comments are symptomatic of the tendency to base English spelling and pronunciation on logic rather than the vagaries of tradition (the same motivation lies behind such pronunciations as "con-tro-ver-si-al" rather than "con-tro-ver-shal"). Spellings such as "mic" violate the traditional rules (such as they are) that govern the relationship between spelling and pronunciation and which have, in the past, led us to spell the clipped form of "bicycle" as "bike" and not "bic", "tricycle" as "trike" and not "tric", "Jacob" as "Jake" and not "Jac", etc. It seems to me aberrant to read the spelling m-i-c as anything other than as "mick" (rhyming with "tic" and "sic"), despite the number of Google hits it gets. Once upon a time, this spelling would probably have been followed by a period ("open-mic. night"), which would have made it all right to me and appeased the sound eng.'s, but otherwise, it should be spelled "mike."

The mic/bic comparison is faulty; people use the term "open mic" regularly, while I know no one who uses "I ride a bic." Also, it's a soft 'c' in the world bicycle, making "bike" a whole different ball of wax.

I'm of Irish descent, and haven't heard mic used as a serious insult since "Boondock Saints" -- and before that, never in my 26 years of life.

Also, I can't stand the use of "nite" instead of "night," so that argument doesn't work with me. "Nick at Nite" drove me crazy as a child.

I say "mic."

The abbreviation "mic" appears on many devices that incorporate microphones or to which one can be attached -- probably a contributor to the popularity of the usage, with which it's now futile to argue, I fear. But I still prefer the phonetic spelling -- suspect here another instance of the great divide between those who hear what they are reading and those who do not. I accept that it's probably hard-wired and all but irremediable; but how on earth do those with the "mic" gene pronounce words they have not heard spoken?

I'm one of the "young and with-it" types, and I say "Open mike." I also realize that I'm a minority in my generation, and have stopped correcting my friends if they use it. I still change it in the papers I edit, though.

Gotta go with mic. I'm young and with-it. Open-mike is what you call your friend Michael who you can talk to about anything.

We certainly don't say "lip-sink," do we?

Open mic, on the grounds that pretty much everybody involved with such events spells it that way and why not spell it the way people who might be interested will understand it when there's no clear reason to confuse people.
And as one with a Grannie McRann I've always seen the Irish slur with a "k" until this very blog.

"Mic" is a term of art for audio engineers (you're hearing from an ex-one right now).

ON equipment labels going way back it is common is see "Mic 1" "Mic 2"

Or "Mic/Line"

Obviously someone was saving silkscreen ink way back.

So we have an abbrevation (Mic.) which lost the period at some point.

Similarly, on handwritten labels or other places, you'll see conventions like "Mic" or "Vox" or "Gtr" or "Kik" (kick drum, that is, bass drum on the drum kit) and "OHD" for "overhead" -- the mics high above a drum kit.

Often there isn't a lot of room to write what you need to write on a temporary label.

I think we need a ruling on open-mic versus open-mike. I hate the way mic looks and always mentally pronounce it "mick." But I consistently get "open-mic" coming over to me in copy, so I think I must be wrong. The dictionary has both.

I, too, despise mic, but I sense that it has been widely adopted by the young and with-it, damn their eyes.

A colleague writes: "Mic" is offensive to those of Irish descent.

Yeah, and that guy in the Rolling Stones is gonna find himself on the business end of me shillelagh.

would definitely vote for "open-mic", because of the fact that it's a clipping of 'microphone'

You surely want no clipping of the microphone.

My father used "bic" in his diary about a trip he took in 1938. I've never seen this spelling before. Does any one know if bic used to be commonly used? He was American, BTW.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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