Accidental (and accidentally amusing) usages crop up in the most unexpected places. Recently I read an article in a nature publication, and it referred to a “coy pond.” An acquaintance of mine is a big fan of koi and has a pond for them in his backyard. I knew he would shudder at this error, but I wondered: is “coy” an acceptable alternative spelling for “koi” in contemporary English?
Koi, as you might now, are ornamental carp. Koi ponds are landscaping features stocked with koi and arranged in ways that make viewing the bright and varied colors of the fish easier. Koi are related to (and sometimes disparagingly referred to) as goldfish. Carp have been cultivated as food for several thousand years and have probably been bred for color for at least ten centuries. The tradition of breeding carp specifically to produce modern koi goes back about two centuries; this originated in Japan but has spread worldwide. In some places, koi are considered an invasive species if released into the wild.
A few raw Google searches show that “coy pond” is used instead of “koi pond” only about 6% of the time on the Internet. This, of course, can’t filter out the ironic and humorous uses, where the misspelling would be intentional.
In the pursuit of more detail, I discovered that many of the uses of “coy pond” that turn up in web searches are actually deliberate misspellings for the benefit of search engines: koi users seem to know that coy is such a frequent misspelling that they use it on purpose to make sure interested searchers are directed appropriately.
Even the Urban Dictionary reference to koi pond (an allusion to an incident from an episode of “The Office”) uses the koi spelling; the “coy” variant is there only to redirect misspellings.
There is an actual “Coy Pond” in Poole, Bournemouth, UK. The name seems to be a coincidence: it’s a shortened form of “decoy” and has nothing to do with the fish. There’s also a “Coy Pond” in Weeki Wachee, Florida, which seems to use both spellings interchangeably. It’s a koi pond that’s sometimes called Coy Pond.
Koi (and koi pond) are fairly new to English. My research for this post showed no documented use of “koi pond” in published English-language sources prior to 1969. There hasn’t yet been a documented use of “coy pond” in print sources (at least those contained within the Google Books library). That makes it pretty clear that anything other than koi pond should be considered a mistake.
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Koi photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License. Thanks to muza-chan.net.