About me

Get new posts by email.

About me

An ‘enquiry’ inquiry

I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but I suffered a moment of pernicketiness yesterday. Reading this BBC News article, I came across the following quote from Mr Justice Fancourt:

This trial is not an enquiry.

‘Harrumph,’ I thought, ‘they’ve misquoted him—he surely said “inquiry”.’

The website has since invisibly corrected the mistake, or what I thought of as a mistake.

You see, I operate in a world where ‘enquiry’ and ‘inquiry’ are entirely different words, connected to different bits of my brain. I deal with ‘enquiries’ all the time—indeed, that’s how our record system at work labels calls and emails from people outside of the team. I deal much less often with ‘inquiries’—or even sometimes inquests—which are slightly scary legal or quasi-legal processes. I’d stopped noticing how similar the two words are.

And so to the Oxford English Dictionary—where the two words share a combined entry. The word ‘enquiry’ came into Middle English from the Old French ‘enquerre’—’to ask’. Some English pedants in the 14th century noted that the original root was the Latin ‘inquīrō’—’I seek’—and started spelling it with an ‘i’ instead. The two words co-existed for a long while.

Only in the 19th century did a distinction between the two develop: ‘enquiry’ came to be commonly associated with everyday questions, and ‘inquiry’ with formal investigations. But this has never been rigorously or consistently applied, and the two are still often interchanged in common usage.

In the USA, they use ‘inquiry’ for everything, which feels to me like it must be awfully confusing. I’m sure they’d say the same about the distinction.

So, as it turns out, my pernicketiness was nothing but misguided pedantry—and no one likes a pedant. I’ll try harder next time.

The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3. I’m not sure what’s going on with his fingers.

This post was filed under: Notes, , .

Recently published posts

The vibe / 14 June 2024

The people who were Google / 13 June 2024

It’s windy in Newcastle / 12 June 2024

‘Silence’ by Erling Kagge / 11 June 2024

Sunak’s broken bridge / 10 June 2024

The Black Bridge / 09 June 2024

Random posts from the archive

A favour from sjhoward-land? / 07 August 2006

Photo-a-day 310: Marks and Spencer’s tired estate / 06 November 2012

Misperceiving ticket prices / 02 January 2023

Email from Tony / 04 March 2005

Deport me now… / 24 August 2005

Springing forward / 31 March 2024

The content of this site is copyright protected by a Creative Commons License, with some rights reserved. All trademarks, images and logos remain the property of their respective owners. The accuracy of information on this site is in no way guaranteed. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author. No responsibility can be accepted for any loss or damage caused by reliance on the information provided by this site. Information about cookies and the handling of emails submitted for the 'new posts by email' service can be found in the privacy policy. This site uses affiliate links: if you buy something via a link on this site, I might get a small percentage in commission. Here's hoping.