Magazine article The Spectator

MIN D Y O U R L A N G U A G E Swathe

Magazine article The Spectator

MIN D Y O U R L A N G U A G E Swathe

Article excerpt

Swathe is a popular word at the moment, and ignorance of its meaning, spelling and pronunciation deters no one.

I t is in the papers every day (swathes of empty seats at Wimbledon), and I was interested to hear it on the wireless the other evening pronounced to rhyme with moth.

Can that be right?

The army of Amurath, so Longfellow wrote in his tale of Scanderbeg, was 'Mown down in the bloody swath/ Of the battle's aftermath.' That's definitely wrong. An aftermath was the second growth of grass, after its first mowing, which is what math means. Mowing or math is what you do in a meadow. Math rhymes with path but, the OED tells me, swath can indeed thyme with moth or else with forth.

I n its alternative spelling, swathe, i t rhymes with bathe.

The spelling swathe and the pronunciation that goes with it are influenced by a different word, the swathe of linen that makes a bandage. Wrap someone in bandages and they are swathed, the spectator or swaddled. Swaddling-clothes we associate with the infant Jesus. A curiosity is the nickname in I reland of swaddlers for Methodists, and then for any Protestant, which originated in the 18th century and was familiar to James Joyce. …

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