Sunday, June 16, 2013

Supersede vs Supercede

Hieronymus Lang c.1553
When I was forming an idea for a bee blog I was trying to come up with a domain name related to beekeeping. The .com universe is quite well populated now; subsequently most great names one could come up with for a blog are already taken and in use, or purchased and parked in the hope of flipping them for a profit. However, country top level domain (TLD) names and the expansion of other TLD names make things easier and a lot of fun. Although many TLDs have associated or geographic restrictions, domains like .me .in .it and .us can make a more pronounceable and interesting domain name than one ending in .com, especially now that people on the internet are becoming used to domains ending in suffixes other than .com.

And so began the Supercede.me domain idea. I formed it at first as  "supercede". It sounded reasonable, and snappy; it looked correctly spelled. I registered it. Later when I was penning a blog "supercede" came up as an incorrectly spelled word. "Supersede" was the suggestion for replacement.  I assumed "supercede" was simply a British or Canadian spelling. But could I have spelled it incorrectly all these years even when it seemed so naturally formed? I decided to do a little research.

Two minutes into my research I was left flabbergasted. My online sources either did not list "supercede"; or at the least considered it a common misspelling. Ten minutes later I was beginning to understand why. The Virtual Linguist put it down to perfectly natural confusion with the spelling form of words like "precede" and "intercede", and the fact that there are only eight words in the Oxford English Dictionary ending in "cede": all but "supersede" are obsolete.

"Supersede" has its etymological origins in the Latin word "sedere"; to sit - and the word "super"; above. So it is to "sit above". Ancient rulers traveled in "Sedan Chairs": aha!

"Supercede" has its unfortunate etymological origins in the Latin word "cedere"; to yield, or give way for. Wait a cotton-pickin' minute! Isn't that exactly what happens in a hive: one queen yields to another?

I feel jaded, in the sense of my mind framed in etymology. The whole common meaning of "supersede" - especially in the usage of "supercedure" in beekeeping - seems to be more closely aligned with "cedere" than "sedere". No wonder the spelling "supercede" was found to be quoted as far back as 1491 and  into the 1800's. I have seen usage of "supercede" in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Same goes for the Guardian newspaper, even though their style guide condemns its use. In our bee club, some members were writing down "supercede.me" rather than "supersede.me" when I was relaying the name of my blog. Good thing dictionaries are descriptive, rather than prescriptive. "Supercedure" still has a fighting chance!

And so ended my domain name search: I beat a hasty retreat; secured the domains of both spellings, and pointed them to the same blog; but ultimately pointing to the spelling "supersede", sigh. Perhaps one day I will start a secret "supercede" blog. We could meet with a secret handshake and whisper in Latin.

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