Poll: Correct Me If I’m WrongNovember 3, 2009 at 10:08 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments
What do you do? You’re quite sure your friend just mispronounced a word. Do you say something? Do you ignore it? If you say something, does it make it a bigger deal if you point it out on the spot – like spinach in the teeth – or if you wait and do it later, in private? If you ignore it, are you in effect damning your friend to years of potential embarrassment?
I have a friend who has mispronounced ‘gesture’ as ‘guess-ture’ as long as I’ve known him, which is over 15 years. Sadly, it seems to come up in almost every conversation. Every time he does it, I use it in a reply and pronounce it ‘jess-ture.’ I’ve even tried to tell him, “Honey, you’re saying it wrong,” and he just shrugs me off. He’s a little flamboyant and I think he just prefers ‘guess-ture.’
On the other hand, I have a coworker who is very dignified and courtly. He came in one day saying he felt ‘dis-heave-eled.’ I said, “You mean ‘dish-eveled’?” He stopped and said, “I believe it’s pronounced ‘dis-heave-eled.'” We went back and forth, deciding finally that neither of us wanted to be wrong and that it would be best to look it up online. Dictionary.com agreed with me. I felt really badly because my friend was clearly mortified, and as he’s in his forties, he must have used this favored word of his incorrectly over and over again. Would it have been better to have pretended not to notice?
Audio books will often have mispronounced words. I noticed one example in which the narrator changed his pronunciation a couple of disks later. Evidently the issue had come up but it hadn’t seemed worth the expense or bother to go back and correct the earlier version. I have to ask whether it’s possible for someone – anyone? – to go over the text and highlight unfamiliar words for the narrator. Otherwise we audio commuters will go around mis-correcting our own pronunciation, and the very foundations of spoken English will crumble!
I’ve done it myself. I’ve mispronounced words to the point that many of them are family jokes. Chi-hooa-hooa for chihuahua; fat-i-gyoo for fatigue; vinn-uhl for vinyl… It’s a really common problem for kids who are big readers. We encounter words in print that we never hear anyone use in conversation. Or if we do, like my troubles at six years old with chihuahua, we don’t realize that it’s the same word.
I let it go in business. How often do we hear per-iphreal or nucyulur? What happened to the i in verbiage? Are they joking when they say ‘ambiguish’?
But then there’s personal life. A friend showed me the list she keeps of other people’s speech errors. One of her examples of ‘fake words’ was actually a word: orientate. I said as much, and she and my other friend gave each other a look that I read as “what a jerk.” We’ve also had a debate over whether it’s correct to say ‘an historian.’ I realize this is becoming antiquated and it’s more of a Britishism, but I feel I can use the older form when I like because, hey! I have a bachelor’s in history. I remember my ex-husband and I had to consult the dictionary over the correct pronunciation of ‘segue.’ He felt he’d won when we discovered that both pronunciations were equally valid. I still prefer the French pronunciation, but in speech I say ‘seg-way’ and I wince every time, thinking of his unmerited scorn.
Probably I am a jerk. The majority of the time, when I hear a word misused in some way, I keep it to myself, as when I recently heard ‘banal’ pronounced to rhyme with ‘anal’ instead of ‘canal.’ I’m quite sure I do it without flinching or making a face. At home, my man Rocket Scientist and I had a discussion, and he asked me to make sure to correct him, but we acknowledge that it’s a strain sometimes. I understand that people don’t like to be corrected, especially when it’s a family Scrabble game and I’m forced to challenge something that is definitely not a real word. Do people really prefer to remain in the dark, though? Let’s hear your response.