The unwritable word

Betsy and I have gotten into the habit of saying “per usual.” It’s just “as usual” phrased a little differently. “They played half an hour of ads before the movie, per usual.”

We say it often enough that we’ve shortened it. We drop the “-ual” from the end, leaving just two syllables.

One day, I tried texting the shortened form to Betsy, and I got a surprise. There’s no way to write it. At least, no good way that I could discover.

If you just drop the “-ual” ending, you get “per us,” which looks like you’re talking about “us” as in “you and me.” You can change the “u” sound from short to long by making it “per use,” but that has the same problem.

You can try to write it phonetically … but how? Something like “per yoosh”? First, that looks weird, and second, it doesn’t actually make the right sound. The end of the syllable isn’t an -sh sound. It’s the same sound made by the “J” in “Jacques” and by the “s” in “measure.” The problem is, there’s no standard, standalone, widely understood way to write that sound in English.

Now, if you forget about “widely understood,” there is a standard way to write the sound: “zh.” You could say “per yoozh.” That actually looks reasonable, to me, but I doubt it would fare as well with anyone who isn’t obsessed with language.

So I end up spelling out the whole thing, or just dropping it entirely.

How did we end up with an unwritable word?

Okay, maybe it’s not exactly a real word (whatever that means), but it’s still a fragment of English, a meaningful thing that I can say, and that others can understand. If I can say it, I can write it.

Or at least, that’s what I thought until recently.

What do you think?


6 responses to “The unwritable word

  1. Jimmy Burrito (formerly taco)

    Had a long argument with my logic professor in college. He gave us an essay to write about wvery written word is one that is able to be pronounced or even should. My original argument was that there are technical words with so many prefixes and postfixes that saying them out loud is ludicrous and or unnecessary. So they developed a shorthand and never say the word, just the shortened version. I did not fair well in his class. However I’m still not sure why he was so adamant that every word written should be said.

  2. I’m a fan of “per uge”, and explaining that “uge” is pronounced the same as luge, but just drop the l.

    I love the accepted answer here:

    the IPA character “ʒ” looks sweet and it’s usage in “per yuʒ” makes the phrase feel cool to read IMO haha.

    if the correct pronunciation of Spokane can exist (that dang ‘e’ is so confusing and feels unnecessary!), then “per uge” or “per yuʒ” can exist!

    [audio src="" /]

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