Canversers and draws

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A LL reader sent in this picture of a "no hawkers or canversers" sign on a gate in a retirement community in Sawbridgeworth, England:

They observed that there are many other examples of orthographic or morphological revision due to r-lessness, such as this example from Roland Oliphant, "Crimea faces months without power rather than be defined as part of Ukraine", The Telegraph 1/1/2016:

The peninsular, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, has been in a state of emergency since an “energy blockade” by Ukrainian activists left nearly two million people without power in November.

Or Olivia O'Neill, "Monarch Airlines latest to cancel flights to Sharm el-Sheikh until January", The Telegraph 12/2/2015:

The Foreign Office continues to advise against all but essential travel by air to or from the Egyptian resort. The rest of the Sinai peninsular is also deemed unsafe to visit.

Or this tweet by the BBC's arts editor:

Or this story by  Imogen Calderwood in the Daily Mail ("Greedy burglar couldn't resist scoffing children's Easter eggs during raid – and was caught by DNA he left on the crumbs of chocolate"):

But he was caught after he took some time out of the raid in June, to nibble on some Easter eggs belonging to the family’s children that he found in a draw.

Or in the Guardian, "The most unmissable culture of 2016"):

From corsets and crinolines to boxer shorts and bras, the V&A will be raiding the underwear draw this spring to put on a big show of smalls throughout the ages.

Or this:

Got a draw full of old, metal spoons? How about turning them into a fun and easy-to-make light feature?


  1. zafrom said,

    January 21, 2016 @ 7:31 pm

    Thanks muchly for the enlightenment. I couldn't find an online Rural Dictionary but, if the Sawbridgeworthys retired from London, the Urban Dictionary is very useful: A hawker is a "person who has a mohawk, and listens to punk/rock music", and a canverser is a person with appropriate footwear who stomps "on a beer or soda can so that it becomes attached to the shoe and makes a satisfying crunching noise" with every step that the canverser takes.

    Also perhaps you could sell us on a canvass of non-scoffing LL readers, to let us know about other 21st century uses of shallow gullies.

  2. Mary Kuhner said,

    January 21, 2016 @ 7:54 pm

    Isn't "couldn't resist scoffing" in the headline of the Easter egg example yet another example of this? At least, I'd spell the world that I believe was meant "scorfing", though in my idiolect it is almost invariably "scorfing down" so maybe they meant something else.

  3. Harold said,

    January 21, 2016 @ 8:18 pm


    I've only ever seen it spelled "scarfing", more rarely "scoffing".

  4. Boudica said,

    January 21, 2016 @ 8:23 pm

    I use scarfing or scarfing down.
    And in the paragraph about the underwear draw, later it mentions underdrawers. Does the plural change the occurrence?

  5. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 21, 2016 @ 8:55 pm

    It's "scarf down" in my American dialect, but the OED has "scoff" meaning "eat" back to 1798 (from "scaff", 1762) and "scarf" only back to 1960, so this seems to be one of the cases like "holler" where we rhotic Americans inserted an /r/.

  6. Martha said,

    January 21, 2016 @ 9:20 pm

    Funny, I heard a comedian on the radio today talking about a guy (I want to say the guy was supposed to be from New York) spelling it "draw." Apparently the guy knew it was spelled "drawer," but that wasn't how he pronounced it, so it wasn't how he spelled it. (It was supposedly a true story, but who knows where the truth ends and the joke begins.)

  7. zythophile said,

    January 21, 2016 @ 10:09 pm

    "Isn't "couldn't resist scoffing" in the headline of the Easter egg example yet another example of this?"

    No. Britons scoff food, they don't scorf it or scarf it, and "scoff (X) down" is, in my experience, rarer that simply "scoff (X)".

  8. dw said,

    January 21, 2016 @ 11:02 pm

    @Mary Kuhner

    "Scoff" is a widely-used colloquial term for "eat" in England, often implying haste, greed, and/or a lack of conventional manners.

    It's pronounced with the CLOTH vowel.

  9. Rubrick said,

    January 21, 2016 @ 11:33 pm

    @zafrom: Hah! Thank you, in turn, for enlightening me. I'd assumed that a "hawker" was someone selling (hawking) goods, and a "canverser" was a misspelling of "canvasser", i.e., one who goes door-to-door.

  10. dw said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 12:50 am


    zafrom was joking.

  11. Martin Ball said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 2:02 am

    @dw Rubrick was being sarcastic.

  12. maidhc said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 3:59 am

    John Lennon's book "In His Own Write" was originally titled "In His Own Write and Draw", but it was thought the play on words would be missed by a lot of people.

    "In His Own Write" is better title anyway, since Lennon was the first Beatle to have a solo project.

  13. mollymooly said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 5:02 am

  14. chh said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 7:40 am

    I took a picture of this sign posted in a gym a few years ago in Northern New England, where this kind of homophone error is possible.

  15. chh said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 7:47 am

    I should have mentioned it was posted on a flimsy dividing wall. The sign isn't meant to be self-referential…

  16. Ralph Hickok said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 8:40 am

    I hear "draw" a lot here in Southern New England. And, in the morgue of the newspaper at which I worked for 10 years, the file drawers were all labeled "Draw 1," Draw 2" … no copy editors at work in there :)

  17. Dennis Paul Himes said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 10:33 am

    Once when hiking a fellow hiker referred to coming to a draw, as in a small valley, and, not knowing what that meant, I asked, "What's a draw?" A third hiker, who has a very non-rhotic accent, said, "It's where you keep your underwear." She was joking, well aware that she was an eastern Massachusetts woman among people from western Massachusetts and Connecticut.

  18. Dan Lufkin said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 10:56 am

    I wonder if that easy-to-make "light feature" could be a light fixture. And I wouldn't use a comma between "old" and "metal."

  19. Paul Kay said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 11:48 am

    Some years ago, in the era of paper newspapers, an ad appeared the Boston Globe for a " Volkswagen common gear". Apparently this ad was taken over the phone. (For those who don't remember or aren't into classic cars, Volkswagen made a sporty model from 1957 to 1974. It was named after two collaborating firms involved in its design and construction: Karmann Ghia.)

  20. Bob Ladd said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 12:20 pm

    Dracular is also surprisingly common among non-rhotic speakers (I once saw it in a printed cinema listing). If you Google "Dracular" and insist that no, you don't mean "Dracula", you get 84,000 hits. Even if some of them are wordplay or otherwise bogus, some are clearly genuine.

  21. Rob H said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 3:43 pm

    For me (SE England), draw and drawer are homophones in normal speech.
    However, a drawing is pronounced 'drawring', and one who draws would be pronounced 'drawrer'.

  22. Mr Punch said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 3:52 pm

    @Rob H – at least somewhat true in eastern Massachusetts as well

  23. Guy said,

    January 22, 2016 @ 4:23 pm

    @Rob H

    I assume by "drawrer" you mean a pronunciation something like [dɹɔɹə] when pronounced in isolation, with an intrusive r between the morphemes and a non-rhotic pronunciation of "er". I'm curious what happens when a linking r is called for after "er". Do you think you would pronounce "the drawer is over there" the same with both senses of "drawer"? Or would the "one who draws" sense have an extra syllable with an r on both sides?

    For me (San Francisco Bay Area), the two "drawer" words are not homophones in any context. The furniture sense is /dɹoɚ̯/ and the artist sense is /ˈdɹɔ.ɚ/ or /ˈdɹɑ.ɚ/ (I'm mostly cot-caught merged).

  24. Lazar said,

    January 23, 2016 @ 2:38 am

    @Ralph Hickok, Mr Punch: Yep. I'm from Central Massachusetts and natively speak a fully rhotic ENE-GA hybrid, but I still picked up "draw" for "drawer", and likely would have spelled it that way when I was little.

  25. Jim said,

    January 23, 2016 @ 8:28 am

    Comedian Maria Bamford, who plays with voices and accents, has a line about "let us retire to the drawring room, where we may drawr."

  26. Ralph Hickok said,

    January 23, 2016 @ 9:16 am

    I don't know why I said I'm in "Southern New England." I usually identify as being in Southeastern Massachusetts (New Bedford, to be precise), but I lived in Wisconsin until I was 16, so I tend to notice the vagaries of New England speech.

    "Draw" brings to mind the phrase "chester drawers," which I have heard frequently. I've even seen it a few times in ads for yard sales. Of course, they mean "chest of drawer."

  27. Rodger C said,

    January 23, 2016 @ 11:46 am

    Dracular is surely influenced by, e.g. spectacular.

  28. Rodger C said,

    January 23, 2016 @ 11:46 am

    And shouldn't that be "horkers"? ;)

  29. Xtifr said,

    January 23, 2016 @ 2:58 pm

    Sir Terry Pratchett had a few examples of using 'r's in ways that were fairly baffling to us rhotic speakers. In one book, his character Tiffany Aching, a young, rural girl who is extremely well read, but hasn't had much exposure to people who pronounce the words she's read, says something about "persickology". It took me a great deal of effort to work out what she meant by this, because there's no possible way for me to get that particular mispronunciation in my own accent.

    And of course, one of the better known literary examples is A.A. Milne's character Eeyore the donkey, which most rhotic speakers never recognize as onomatopoeia. I know I was in my forties before I got that one.

  30. Morgan said,

    January 25, 2016 @ 11:40 am

    Oh, how I wish I'd taken a picture of the cafe sign advertising the daily special: "Chicken Tikka Marsala".

  31. Moonfriend said,

    January 27, 2016 @ 5:30 am

    The slogan of the Australian Open is "Get Court Up". Most locals would just read it and not bat an eyelid.

    Here are some examples:

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