#FakeNewsFriday: Merriam-Webster's New Spelling

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By Charlie Friday

Language evolves with the times and cultural shifts of our societies. Words that were "hip" or "groovy" in one decade cease to be in the present day. What does this have to do with "acapella," you say? Everything, as of this week.

The term "a cappella" is currently defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "without instrumental accompaniment." This is technically correct, but as fans of the style know, the term is originally Italian, "alla cappella" or "in the manner of the (Sistine) chapel," which follows its own Latin derivation of a-, ad, "to," plus cappella, "chapel."

While correct, this doesn't really describe what we do as singers. Given the surge in popularity of vocal music in the past several years, Merriam-Webster will be adding another related term to the dictionary to stay current. The distinction was made to acknowledge the evolution of vocal music out of the chapel and onto amplified stages in huge venues.

The entry reads as follows:

acapella - noun - \ˌä-kə-ˈpe-lə\ - a style of modern vocal music, sometimes accompanied by a beatboxer

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Now, as you may know, this isn't correct! Two P's, Two L's, Two Words! But, we have to acknowledge that language and culture move on and evolve, regardless of how we feel about it. I'm sure many people felt the same way about "selfie" or "catfish" when they were added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary recently. However, I think we as a larger community need to embrace this change.

This is an opportunity to have a term and definition that is ours, not muddied by the likes of Palestrina, Tallis, or Biebl -- a term that encompasses all the wonderful evolutions we've developed from barbershop to jazz to modern a capp… acapella.

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I've worked with hundreds and hundreds of singers in our style over the past 20 years. The desire to distance ourselves from the chants and motets of old is something that's been almost universal among acapella singers, in my experience. I, for one, am glad I can now describe what we do day in and day out using a new term that has its own identity.

I encourage you all to embrace this new world that lays before us and join our voices together in "acapella."


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