Reading John Brummett's Tuesday column, I couldn't help but laugh as I was reminded of all the words children (and some adults) have the tendency to mispronounce, sometimes in embarrassing but hilarious ways.
I also read many of the sports articles and revered the bylines. I could figure out from the context the meaning of words even as I mangled their pronunciation.
A rookie had made his major-league "de butt." That meant his first game, his "debut."
In a player's contract dispute, one guy accused another of having "my-zuld" him. That meant telling him something that wasn't so. It was spelled "misled."
Last week I talked about words that are a pleasure to say. This week, let's go for the pain.
Anyone with kids, or who has spent a lot of time around them, probably has stories of funny mispronunciations that go beyond "pasketti and meat bulbs," many of which probably would not be publishable in a family newspaper. I know of one mom whose son, a toddler at the time, had a problem with the word "firetruck" ... which was rather unfortunate one day in church.
For a time when I was a kid, I couldn't pronounce the "r" in "world." I don't recall having issues with other words, but I do remember saying "wold" an awful lot. I was cute then and could get away with it. Now I'd probably be called a dunce if I still pronounced it that way.
Then there are the words constantly mispronounced that drive some of us more nuts than we already are, especially when someone adds syllables, or tries to pronounce all the letters when some are silent. I often blame George W. Bush for the NOO-cue-lur pronunciation of "nuclear," though he was far from the first to do that. Likewise, "realty" is pronounced REEL-tee. If it were pronounced REEL-uh-tee, it would be spelled "reality," which is an entirely different word ... and a completely different reality for some. Other words look far more complicated than they are, like Worcestershire (ignore the "rce"; think "Wooster" and "sure").
Is it any wonder that people learning English as a second language--especially the American version--have so much trouble? And that's before introducing common idioms and regional pronunciations.
Bookworms like me who learned to read early by sounding out the words without having heard them before probably are a bit more guilty of this, but hey ... it's not our fault when words aren't pronounced how they're spelled. I'll never forgive the word "blackguard" (BLA-gerd), for example. And you can just imagine how I pronounced many of the names in Greek mythology, which I was obsessed with for several years. Poor PEN-ny-lope ... but she was DEE-ter-mined to stay true to her husband ODD-ee-soos.
Yes, word nerds can have issues with words. Deal with it.
But in our defense, English, which borrows heavily (OK, steals outright) from other languages, has the tendency at times to confuse even native speakers (see blackguard). Sometimes we change the spelling to reflect the actual pronunciation, such as "vittles" instead of "victuals." And sometimes we leave the words as they are from the languages from which we swiped them, possibly as some sort of cosmic joke for kids who don't realize it's not "de butt." Because "butt" is never not funny to a kid, and to more than a few grown people. Hey, my mom loved "Titicaca" (as in the South American lake) to her dying day.
Some of us never get over being 12.
I still have words that I won't attempt to say in public because I'm afraid I'll embarrass myself, but I know what they mean because I often read them in print. Ask me to say chiaroscuro (treatment of light and shade in art) and you may get a mumble, but I can use it in writing with no problem. Sure, I used to do public speaking in high school, but things have changed, especially since my stroke. If I tried to pronounce chiaroscuro now, someone might think I'm having another stroke.
Words like genre, faux, quay, and colonel can easily trip up readers if they've never heard them because they'll sound them out according to the letters that are there. I always hear LeBeau from Hogan's Heroes saying col-oo-NEL, because that's how I thought colonel was pronounced when I first read it.
Now, with so much of our lives being lived online rather than in the real world, we may see even more of this. We have really got to get out more. Especially if we've been pronouncing "satin" as "Satan."
Having learned to read before I was school-age (because I had to be able to do whatever my brothers could do), I share a certain amount of empathy with mispronouncers. Most people learn from their mistakes and pronounce words properly once they've been corrected.
Some, though, seem to take no small bit of glee in making people cringe by ordering ex-PRESS-oh or picking up their pur-SCRIP-shuns and engaging in HI-per-bowl. They probably also like to call in the Calvary.
Those people get no passes from me, but they will get a stony glare.
Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial on 05/22/2019
Print Headline: BRENDA LOOPER: So much garble