Remember those little irksome writer errors that we all encounter from time to time while engrossed in reading a novel or short story? Those little details that jar us, or factual mistakes that we catch?
Here’s the latest gotcha to irk me: petty-point.
I know I tend to stay too deep in my writing cave most of the time, and perhaps someone out there has modernized this term from needlework. I didn’t find this new spelling in Webster’s, but a newfangled dictionary out there may have altered it to conform with how it’s pronounced.
Or do dictionaries even exist now when we can look up words on the Internet or have our phone spell them for us? (But I digress.)
The correct spelling is petit-point, a French term for needlepoint embroidery that is very fine and detailed. In old needlepoint (aka Berlin work), a figure’s clothing and body might be stitched in needlepoint or gros-point, while the hands and face were done in petit-point to better depict the features.
When I read “petty-point” in a recently published novel last week, it was like waking up to find a gigantic, green, hairy wart sprouting on my chin.
What kind of hash to the language will come next? Did the author not know better? Evidently not. Did the copy-editor not catch this? Who thought it acceptable? The English language is weird, complex, difficult, illogical, idiosyncratic, and filled with adopted terms such as petit-point, which, while old-fashioned, is hardly archaic.
Why does America sit complacently, content to be dumbed down again and again, oblivious to the rich variety our language puts at our disposal?
Petty and petit … same pronunciation. Same meaning — literally, small. And yet, worlds apart.
And if I’m wrong about this, if petty is indeed an acceptable variant for petit in the context of stitchery, then someone please correct me.
After all, I don’t want to foam at the mouth and rant without justification.