Tuesday, 3 September 2019

atlasing or atlassing?

Atlasing or Atlassing?

The other day I’m wearing my binoculars and tapping into my smartphone. Charlie asks “Daddy, are you atlaBing?”

Ah cute; but readers of German may be aware that there is character in their alphabet that looks like a B (eszett or scharfes S) but is pronounced as an ‘ss’ and is often written that way in modern texts. Clearly my anglo-germanic progeny was asking me “… are you atlassing?”

Recently, the verb form of contributing to the atlas has been the cause for some consternation. Ernst Retief, SABAP2 coordinator, recently sent out an email to the SABAP2 steering committee:

I need some clarity. We have always, since 2007, used atlasing, with one “s”, and not atlassing, with two. Can you please let me know what we should use and maybe why?

Peter Ryan deferred the question to Eve Gracie, editor of African BirdLife magazine, who responded:
In SA most formal writing still follows so-called standard English and the OED style, which is to forgo the double ‘s’ in words like busing, focusing and atlasing etc. The double ss is more American English in style.

Now I’m of the opinion that our ex-colonial overlords don’t really need to have a say in the matter: they’re not exactly setting a great example to the world at the moment, and according to Microsoft Office, South Africa now has a chance to define its own vocabulary (I presume, since I can select ‘English (South Africa)’ from the list of available language options). Currently writing in Microsoft Word, under all versions (UK, United States, South Africa), both atlasing and atlassing bring up the red underline for unrecognized words. This means in effect we have the chance to define how we wish to spell the word, right here, right now.

I have for my most recent writing been using ‘atlassing’. This was after Google researching ‘atlasing’ provided a definition related to the computer graphics industry, and then learning from Google Scholar that ‘atlasing’ is used in the realm of computational medicinal sciences. On the other hand, ‘atlassing’ brings up SABAP2 as the second and 3rd links, with Birdlasser (note the double s) in 4th place in a standard Google search. The results from a Google Scholar search on ‘atlassing’ return all results related to citizen science activities. Certainly, the web of knowledge seems to think we are atlassing rather than atlasing when it comes to watching birds.

But what about precedence? Well, since ornithology is a realm of biology, where first name should be adhered to, can SABAP2 claim that we should be using ‘atlasing’? Unfortunately, also not: James Harrison, first author of “The Atlas of Southern African Birds” based that book on ‘atlassing’ which can be traced back to publications from the 80s:

Harrison, J. A. "Atlassing as a tool in conservation, with special reference to the Southern African Bird Atlas Project." Biotic diversity in southern Africa: concepts and conservation (1989): 157-169.      

As a family, we often have a range of cereals on the breakfast table, which occasionally feature ProNutro or FutureLife. Recently, Charlie asked “Why is FutureLife called FutureLife?”: a fair question since the boxes contain neither future nor life in their lists of ingredients. I had to explain that this was ‘marketing’: inventing names from positive sounding words to make us buy stuff that should better be described as “assortment of ground up cereal crops”. Contributing to the atlas project is a positive thing, and so is singing: so Atlassing is a ProNutro/FutureLife activity so to speak, and certainly my choice going forward.  

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