Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Consider This

Words Words Words—Say them Right or Don’t Say Them

I do not presume to be any pacesetter when it comes to the use of proper English. Or even proper American. I manage to routinely ravage our language with the best of them. I swoon when I hear how dreadfully I despoil our lovely language when I'm unaware a tape recorder is running and the sly scamp who hid the thing under my favorite chair plays the tape back for me. Oh my. It’s embarrassing. I even frequently hyperventilate when I read my columns a month later. I ask forgiveness of my readers, listeners and whatevers for my linguistic butchery.
Having thus declared my mea culpas, I shall ergo list here a short but succinct batch of certain words in our lexicon that are constantly violated, but which seem to have become the norm anyway.
I begin with the time-honored "etc." Etc. is short for et cetera, and it comes from the Latin meaning "and other things." It's used by writers a lot when they've tired of doing boring research, so they simply hang the tiny all-purpose, hard-working "etc." at the end of the page, then stretch, yawn and write "The End." Etc. covers much ground and is a very forgiving abbreviation. But it's not in the writing of etc. to which I object. It is the pronunciation. Why do people insist on saying "EK-settera?" There is definitely no "k" in there anywhere. On his talk show, Geraldo Rivera says it all the time. (I certainly have never tuned him in --someone told me that.)
But, one hears ek-settera everywhere and one yearns to shout "ETT-cetera, ETT-cetera!" But one doesn't. Shouting, I've been taught, is frightfully vulgar.
Next on the list is the title given to the individual who sells buildings or lands to buyers for a slice of the take. These sellers of your home are too often referred to as a "REE-lih-tors." They are not REE-lih-tors. This hard-earned title has not got three syllables, but only two, and they are "reel," (you know, like that thing hanging off the handle of a fishing pole the line is wound around,) and "tor," (like the pointed top of a rocky mountain.) Realtor. Smooth and flowing, the tip of the tongue moving only once during that utterance, not twice. Ah, but then even realtors proudly say they're ree-lih-tors. I know what you're thinking; if they don't care, why should I? Good question. I have no idea.
Here's another, perhaps a bit more biological than the others. It's that very muscular and cartilaginous structure at the upper part of the vertebrate trachea in which the vocal chords are located and without which I would be unable to bore you by carping on these popular mispronunciations. It is the ever popular LARR-nix. No. This poor maligned human protoplasmic gizmo seems never to be permitted a decent pronunciation. It is never, ever a LARR-nix. It is pronounced LAR-inx. Yes. Larynx. Do not go to the doctor with a complaint about your ulcerated LARR-nix or you may be asked if you think it's spread to your er-SOFFer-gist. Will you know?
Most of us are married. And some, at least those of us savvy enough to have hitched-up with a spouse of means, have considered designing a contract that perhaps one day we'll need when the marriage has gone south and the greedy SOB is hankering after Aunt Mildred's inheritance. It is called the NUP-chew-ull agreement. Right? Wrong. Everyone calls it that--even highly educated lawpersons on the tube who proudly discuss that very same type of contract they'd created for a celeb. It is not a NUP-chew-ull agreement. It is pronounced NUP-chill. Or, if you want to sound very Ph.D.-ish, you could sneak in an infinitesimal "ee" in there and say NUP-chee-ill. But hardly anyone ever does that. At least hardly anyone who's in the Right Circles. Just keep it at the simple NUP-chill. Nuptial. (And by the way, never sign one. Pre or post.)
And another, which is not exactly a mispronunciation. It’s when people say “there is” when they’re talking plural. For example, one hears people say “There’s a whole lot of tigers out there in the bush, so be careful.” Wrong. It is not “there IS a lot of tigers” but instead one should say “there ARE a lot of tigers”. A bunch of tigers? “Are.” One tiger? “Is.”
And please, can we ever stop saying “IRregardless”? There never should be an IR in front of “regardless.” Yes, I know it’s heard all the time but irregardless of that fact, it’s not correct. Lose the IR. And that big brick thing sticking out of the tops of our roofs? Folks, it really is not a chimBley. Lose the B. And we should not go to the thee-AY-ter, nor attend the theaRter but we ought to go to the theater. And about axing; is that felling a tree? Or is it about asking a question? I think the latter.
And please, don’t go rushing out for a nice, expensive eXpresso. No. If you must have one, ask for an “espresso,” OK? Much classier. And please, please stop saying “supposeBly.” There’s never, ever a “B” in “supposedly.”
And dear readers, unless something is seriously wrong with your hands, I’m begging you to stop saying you’ll “feel badly” when something untoward happens to you or a loved one. Feel bad, feel bad, feel bad. Lose the ly.
There are lots more out there, but I'll end with that all-time favorite of catastrophic human-made toy of total annihilation, the familiar, comfortable and beloved old NOOK-yoo-lur bomb. You know--the one which, in a blink, can turn us to instant puffs of seared lint a-blowin' in the wind into forever. Surely you've read about it. But, it is certainly not NOOK-yoo-lur. Something that serious must never be pronounced incorrectly. It is NOOK-lee-yur. Say it. NOOK-lee-yur. Say it again, because one day when an angry finger is moving nervously toward a certain Red Button and the finger's owner is perhaps a graduate of Oxford and is a stickler for correct pronunciation, and we say soothingly, "Say there, King Jbdzlmxxyr, don't let's be hasty here. I know you're feeling acrimonious and you want to castigate the whole world, but think about it; if you send out that old NOOK-yoo-lur bomb of yours, why then, you'll die too, doncha know that, Kingthing?"
King Jbdzlmxxyr might then very well think, "Ah, if this American swine can't be bothered to learn to pronounce it NOOK- lee-yur, he does not deserve to live. Die, infidel dog!" Press. Blam.
So you see, keeping in mind all potential national emergencies, remember that you just never know when someone might take umbrage at poor pronunciation and react unfavorably. I've always said it's best we always do whatever we can to placate the enemy, no matter what. So when you're chatting with someone whose world opinions may differ from yours, make sure you converse using correct pronunciation at all times. You just never know.

Click on LC Van Savage for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.
See her on MPBN, Saturday mornings at 10:30 on “incredibleMAINE.”
Email: lcvansavage@newmainetimes.org
Author's website www.storybowls.com

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