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?