Take Care with “Album”

By Maeve Maddox

A reader deplores the mispronunciation and misspelling of the word album as “ablum”:

… often misused by DJs and music commentators which is really sad!

The word album comes from Latin albus, “white.” In ancient Rome, an “album” was a blank tablet into which edicts and other public matters were inscribed. In the 17th century, German scholars kept autograph books to which they gave the Latin term album amicorum. Later the term was applied to scrapbooks that contained souvenirs. In his 1755 dictionary Samuel Johnson defined album as “a book in which foreigners have long been accustomed to insert autographs of celebrated people.”

“Photograph albums” date from the 1850s. “Record albums” (33 1/3 rpm) came along in 1957. NOTE: See Jim Clinton’s account of earlier record albums in his comment below.

A Google search for the misspelling “ablum” yielded 773,000 hits.

Not all of the hits were unintentional.

For example, Ablum is a Polish surname.

“Ablum” is also the deliberately misspelled title of a music album for children recorded by a group called Duplex.

Most are probably unintended:

How to make your dynamic photo slideshow and online photo ablum and photo gallery

Kindly browse our e-ablums

Photo Ablum Binders for Sale

Sometimes “ablum” is followed by the correct spelling, suggesting that the first one was a simple typo. In this example, however, the misspelling occurs twice:

…[I] never did like the ablum art idea… [I] have gone through all of my songs and found the ablum info…

Whether misspellings of album result from careless typing, supposed wit, or ignorance, the result is the same: an unnecessary misspelling. Careful writers will want to take a good look at the word before hitting the send or publish button.

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7 Responses to “Take Care with “Album””

  • Don (Sassano)

    So I guess that makes the Beatles’ famous “White Album” the “White White.”

  • Jim Clinton

    Maeve–love your work, but your album entry needs an edit. It’s true that 33 1/3 rpm albums emerged in the 50s, but the reason they were called “albums” is because of the 78 rpm collections that preceded them. A number of companies assembled collections of 78s, usually by the same artist, into bound collections–albums in the original sense. So when technology allowed the compression of ten or twelve songs onto one piece of vinyl, the term “album” was retained.

    Wikipedia dates 78 rpm albums to a Tchaikovsky release in 1909. I own albums dating to the thirties.

    The 50s era comedian Dave Gardner once finished side one of a 33 rpm album by saying, “See there, if you’d a got yourself two ablums, you wouldn’t have to get up and change the record.” That was the first time I heard the intentional mispronunciation.

  • Charlie

    I’ve never given much thought to the misspelling of this word. I seem to hear mispronunciations of it, more often. Alblum is the version that I’ve heard the most. It takes all my will to keep from correcting the speaker. When said ‘alblum’ I think ‘pablum’. Ick.

  • Ray Ward

    So I guess the Beatles’ white album is redundant.

  • Jim Clinton

    It would be redundant if that were its name. The official name of the white album is “The Beatles.”

  • Maeve

    @Jim Clinton
    I’ve added a note to the post.

    Thanks.

  • JC

    What gets up my own personal left nostril is those who feel that the use of the word is restricted to audio recordings in the late lamented licorice pizza platform. “Taint an album, it’s a CD” sez the inadvertent employer of the reverse synecdoche, mistaking the thing contained for the container and the part for the whole.

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