Downton Abbey is one of the most popular TV series to hit both sides of the Atlantic appealing to a wide range of age groups and “social” classes. But surely I am not the only one to have misspelled or mistyped Downtown as Downton at least once in my writing (ad)ventures. Moreover Tansa’s lists are full of numerous names (and words) that vary by only one letter or character, and many Tansa corrections are based on a one-letter, near-miss-match algorithm.
At first glance Downton seems like an innocuous name, but at least in the U.S. simply adding Downton as a single name could potentially bar the correction of a common typo of the very frequent Downtown (which often appears capitalized). Checking through our archives and several publicly available word banks of American English is revealing. In one corpus Downtown appeared more than 18,000 times; in the same time frame and in the same publications by comparison Downton appeared 36 times. Although given the phenomenal growth in popularity of Downton Abbey in the U.S., this will certainly change.
Thus the question is not only whether to add Downton without an algorithm, but whether to even add Downton as a single name. And the decisions you make of whether or not to attach an algorithm to a single name in your own Auxiliary Dictionary (AD) should be made with care. So what is the best way to handle this situation? A good rule to remember is the longer the string, the more stable and unique it is. Therefore in cases where a single name is paired with a nearby frequent name, adding strings like Downton Abbey or Downton Court solves the potential for a typo to slip through. The occasional individual with the family name Downton can be added with the first and/or middle names if and when the need arises.
That said, Downton is really more a problem for U.S. publications. Our British cousins do not use Downtown in the same way or to the same extent on their side of the pond. Downton is far more likely to occur than Downtown and thus is unproblematic in Great Britain. Brits are more likely to refer to the central part of the capital, or local town and city urban areas, as the City, the Centre, central (London) or in the case of the capital, the quaint and endearing nickname London Town.
But this is not an isolated case. For example, in England Twenty20 (or T20) refers to an intercounty form of cricket, TwentyTwenty is a well-respected production company, 20.20 is a design consulting firm, Twenty Twenty is a band — and the list goes on. Oh, and let’s not forget the 20Twenty Trans Am BMX Jam that was hosted in Aberdeen and Edinburgh early this year.
Needless to say, cricket is not big in the U.S., the production and design companies, band and Jam are less known in the states, but 20/20, the American television news program, is. Alas, we need more than twenty-twenty (or 20/20) vision to sort out the muddle we cause ourselves with our merry word play.
To borrow from the Bard … what’s in a name? (Or in a word, but we’ll talk more about words in a future blog.) Undoubtedly there’s a lot more to names and words than initially meets the eye.