This one actually does have a “rule” you can follow, and it’s one that applies to a lot more than this often-misused pairing. The thing to keep in mind here is … pronunciation: “loose” has “two o’s” because the “s” is “soft” (sounding like a “c”); on the other hand, “lose” has only one, because the “s” is “hard” (pronounced like a “z”).

Meanwhile, the two words also have very distinct definitions: “loose” is what you use to describe a tugged necktie, or a boat adrift from its moorings, or … no I won’t go the obvious route to use to describing “immoral behavior”

That is to say, there are not “winners and loosers” in a sporting event (unless maybe “winning” somehow involves fastening things that are deemed not tight enough – but let’s not take this to the fully ridiculous, just this once?). You win or “lose” and accept the outcome, as graciously as you can manage.

How I first came to know this (although this error had never really seemed a problem, until I saw countless emails and Facebook posts riddled with references to “loosing” teams, candidates and such) involved an event from many years ago (PERSONAL-MEMOIR ALERT, in case you have better ways to spend your moments online, time to bail…):

Way back in grammar school (7th grade to be exact), I managed to navigate my way through the Spelling Bee gauntlet, all the way from classroom to school to region… to the county championship. Back then (yep, this was the very early Sixties; think Mad Men first season, or even a little earlier), we really didn’t make much of this stuff. There were no dedicated intensive study courses prepping you for every eventuality (at least, not that I knew of then); the game was also not the prestigious affair now featured and hyped on ESPN. (As I recall it, I think maybe one or two of my closest friends were there at the county spell-of, along with my parents, and maybe one of my younger brothers?)

Anyway, I proceeded through the early rounds without a problem. I even got to where it was a competition among (see previous blog if that usage startles you) me and three others. My turn came, the word was “advisable” – and I nailed it without a pause! The fourth contestant then missed his word, and now it was among three of us! They both spelled their words correctly, and it was up to me again. In one of the more ironic coincidences in spelling-bee history, my word was … “peaceable”!

I hemmed and hawed, and even glanced out into the audience for some clue: was there an “e” in the middle there, just before the suffix, or not? Danged “advisable” hadn’t had one, but did this word? (Later on, my mother would tell me how hard it had been for her not to subtly nod her head “yes”; it wouldn’t have mattered, since I hadn’t been looking at her for the tip, but only hoped to see it written somewhere around the room.). Finally I began:

“P-E-A-C … A-B-L-Y…”

Almost as soon as I’d said it, I was waiting for the buzzer to knock me down, and without fail, it met my expectations.

I finished third in that spelling bee; no shot at the state, let alone the trip to D.C. for the nationals. (I never had another near-miss; the following year, in 8th grade, I failed to even get out of my classroom showdown; irony again prevailed, as I misspelled “hygiene” – and my dad was the town dentist! But I digress, even more than usual…)

One final bit of irony: the very next day, in spelling class (yes we still had those back then), my teacher introduced this little rule about the two English consonants that may be “hard” or “soft” in their pronunciation (“c” and “s”), and the vowels that precede them (or don’t). When the “c” sounds like a “k” or the “s” like a “z” the “e” dropped before the suffix gets tacked on (so “advise” becomes “advisable”). However, if the consonant is “soft” (the “c” sounding like an “s”), the “remains” (and “peace” begets “peaceable.”)

Had we covered that little rule just ONE DAY sooner in the curriculum, I’ve always believed I’d have won that county showdown, gone on to the state bee – and maybe even pulled off a national showing, based on my native abilities, my reading and writing habits and skills, and my general curiosity and fascination with the English language.

At any rate, I have never considered myself a “looser” … although I’ve failed at many things along the way.