A few weeks ago, just after we changed the clocks to GMT, Fi Glover, presenting ‘Saturday Live’ on Radio 4, referred to the ‘moniker’ “Spring forward, fall back”. What she meant was mnemonic (pronounced ‘neeMONNik’). None of the possible scenarios I can think of as the reason for this mistake reflects very well on her. Was it wrongly written in her script, was she unable to pronounce the word, or did she genuinely believe that this was the correct term or pronunciation for this sort of aide-mémoire?

I have been reminded of this as I read Down and Out in Eighteenth-Century London by Tim Hitchcock, Professor of History at the University of Hertfordshire. This is a book crammed full of facts about the lives of poor people in London at that time, including comments on the weather conditions on particular days, but there is a curious mistake that keeps appearing: the word pre-requisite, where perquisite is clearly intended. For instance, in the chapter entitled “Sleeping Rough”, we find the following sentence:

“At night, cleared and disregarded, the bulks [wooden shelves that stuck out over the pavement in front of shops], formed a convenient shelter for the homeless, an almost traditional prerequisite of the poor.”

The required reading here is definitely perquisite, or its modern abbreviation, perk. The same is true for most of the other instances I have so far come across. One however, is ambiguous:

“Even parish paupers demanded fresh linen every week, and its provision formed one of the most substantial prerequisites of domestic service.” (p.100)

Does this mean that it was necessary to have enough linen for a fresh set every week in order to be employed in domestic service, or, more likely, that as a consequence of being employed in domestic service, fresh linen was provided every week?

Once more, the reason for this mistake is unclear. Does Prof. Hitchcock really believe that ‘perk’ is an abbreviation for prerequisite? Does his spell-checker automatically ‘correct’ perquisite to prerequisite? Does the fault lie with Prof. Hitchcock’s editor or proof reader at the publishers (Hambledon Continuum)? Does no one at the publishers bother to check the copy before publishing it?


  1. If you were very cyncial and snobbish, you’d see that as one of the consequences of turning Polys into Unis.

  2. Do you really pronounce that word “neeMONnik”, rather than “nehMONnik” or “nihMONnik”? My research (consisting of clicking on a few online English dictionaries) only comes up with “nihMONnik” – IPA capital I.

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