Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Threshhold (for Threshold)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary Online, one meaning of the noun threshold is “the piece of timber or stone which lies below the bottom of a door, and has to be crossed in entering a house; the sill of a doorway; hence, the entrance to a house or building.” The variant spelling “thresshhold” (with two pairs of double consonants) apparently exists, but one suspects the origin of today’s typo is actually the common pronunciation “thresh-hold,” which Merriam Webster Online lists in first position.

The moderate-probability typo Threshhold can be found 9 times in the OhioLINK catalog.

(A door with threshold, from Wikimedia Commons)

Deb Kulczak

1 comment:

Dr Peter F. McGoldrick said...

I believe that, contrary to the above view that "threshhold" is a variant based on mispronunciation of "threshold" as "thresh-hold", that it is actually the other way around:

"Threshold" was originally a literal "thresh hold", i.e., a raised stop (such as one of timber or stone) placed at the edge or crossing-point of an outer doorway, so as to "hold the thresh" from being lost out of such door or doorway, thresh being a word (still extant, though may wish to decry it as obsolescent) to describe the otherwise discarded straw commonly used at one time as a cheap & absorbable floor covering over the earthen floors one often found in the rudimentary dwellings (especially rural) of earlier times.

This timber or stone "thresh hold" gradually became a unified term in written form, as did (inter alia) terms such as "break fast", "after noon", "all though", "in deed", "there by" & "in so far"; once the term "threshold" became a univerbal, it was then prone to corruption in its spelling, as the "extra h" became seen as at first redundant, then as "erroneous", this sequence of events being no doubt "confirmed" in the minds of some by a concomitant phonetic corruption (i.e., an eliding) of the second "h".

One can thus appreciate that the original spelling has been seen as the mistake, & its corrupted successor as that authentic, when (ironically!) it is in fact the reverse of events. I shall write again to provide the appropriate references for that which I've mentioned above, but I felt compelled that I couldn't allow the imposter - "threshold" - to masquerade as the original...

In writing the above, I'm aware that pronunciations change over time - such as that for "knights" and "two" (two of Merriam-Webster's favo[u]rite exemplars of same) - and that spellings, too, can do so, but I bristle at the idea that, as noted above, those who retain the original spelling & pronunciation of a word must of necessity have always been, & remain, incorrect. Although some may wish to see my use of a word such as "although" as ignoring my own contention (in other words, I haven't insisted just now on using "all though"), the pronunciation of "although" is till true to "all though", & no one wishes to present "although" as the original term - and "threshhold" (still pronounced as "thresh-hold") faithfully reflects what one finds to be its own origin.

"Threshold" in both spelling & pronunciation is a corruption, and, if we are to use either or both (i.e., of "threshold['s]" spelling & pronunciation), let us at very least recognise (or recognize) this, & at the same time also acknowledge - as we as a society acknowledge in all other fields of life - that we need not have corruption retrospectively endorsed for corruption's sake. I'm sure that all readers would agree that any corruption that seeks to hide the truth (including the truth where it concerns etymology) is indeed a corruption of the highest order - morally, logically, scientifically.