When Loosing Is Winning

"Loosing" vs. "losing"

A lot of people seem to be loosing their minds lately, or at least their grips on their dictionaries.

“Loosing teeth, but keeping faith” read one headline. It’s possible the editor meant “loosening.” But what about all the articles that talk about people who are “loosing weight” or “loosing faith”? In the past year, Nexis shows more than 400 loose usages from news sources alone. If you add in all the hits from blogs, language is suffering a loss.

Of course the verb for “suffering a loss” is “losing,” pronounced with a double “o” sound and a hard “s,” and rhyming with “oozing.” “Loosing” is also pronounced with a double “o” sound, but with a soft “s,” and rhymes with “goosing.” It’s a transitive verb meaning “to make loose.”

Is this just a typo, or is language evolving around us? You can argue either way, but a typo is an obvious error, and would be recognized as such when pointed out. The frequent misappearance of “loosing” in otherwise literate writing is an indication that people don’t know it could be wrong. What’s happening to “losing” is similar to what’s happening with “it’s” when “its” is meant. People have forgotten, or never knew, some subtle distinctions of spelling.

English is not a fully logical language when it comes to the relationship of spelling and pronunciation—try explaining to a non-native speaker why “rouge” is pronounced “roozh” but “gouge” is pronounced “gowj.” But everyone knows that a double “o” sound is spelled with, well, a double “o.” Except when it’s not, as in the case of “losing.”

At least people are consistently unlearning the spelling of the root word: “Loose” is showing up a lot in place of “lose.” (In fact, when I dictate the word “lose” to my computer, it usually spells it “loose.”) Try this memory device: You want to “lose” ten pounds so that your pants will be “loose.”

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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.