Pavement pedantry: specific not pacific

Using pacific instead of specific. It makes us shudder when we hear it. But does metathesis mean specific's days are numbered?

By: Clare Howdle,   1 minute


‘Pacifically speaking’. It always gets our goat when we hear it.

We know no-one thinks the word that defines a (specific) large body of water is interchangeable for a word that means identified or focused.

We know that for some people pronouncing the combination of the letters s and p is tricky – and they probably aren’t even aware they’re doing it.

We know we seem ridiculously pedantic to even be flagging it up. But that’s what the pavement is there for.

Hearing people say pacific not specific seems to be getting more and more common. And yet no-one ever corrects anyone who does it. Why? Because it’s embarrassing. Because we know the confusion of the two words wouldn’t happen if they were written down. Because it feels like flagging it up would humiliate the person and their inability to pronounce the word. So, if we’re not willing to mention it when someone says pacific instead of specific, does it really matter?

Well some people would argue that it doesn’t. Metathesis, or the transposition of letters or sounds in a word when spoken has always happened. It’s where words like ‘third’ came from (the old English word, thrid actually makes more sense as it links more closely with three) and as such, is part of the continuous evolution of our language.

It’s just that Pacific is already a word. A very specific word. So perhaps if our language evolves to the point that pacific means specific, we’ll need to evolve Pacific to Bacific, just for clarity.

Call us crazy, but we think Bacific could take off, pacifically speaking.

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