Elizabeth Willis Barrett………………December 2015
I love words. Perhaps they, more than love, make the world go round. People who speak my same language, including those in my own family, say some words differently. It makes me cautious because I don’t want to say a word that someone else might think I have pronounced or used incorrectly. The fear of being wrong is right up there with my fear of turning left. No….it isn’t that I fear being wrong. What I fear is being wrong with an overbearing attitude of being right. I would rather give myself some wiggle room to be wrong in and let others know that I know that I could possibly be wrong in the given situation. I don’t like know-it-alls and have probably taken my turn at that role a few times. Rather than play that part again, I’d rather get off the stage. I will leave the role of Know-It-All to the narcissists of the world of which I think I know three.
My mom used to call a camera a “Kodak.” I cringed every time she said it because it sounded way too close to “Kotex” for me. That word conjures up some negative vibes that I’d rather not rile.
That’s probably how my kids feel when I negligently call flip flops “thongs.” Or when Brad sings his elementary school alma mater song: “Noble School will always mean to me…. lots of joy and pleasant memories. All the boys and girls they say…. down at Noble School are gay………..”
The other day I asked one of my grandkids if she had seen a certain movie at the show house. “What’s a show house?” she asked. “You know,” I said, “a show house. You don’t know what a show house is? A theater.” “Oh,” she said. I realized that again my age was pushing past my great desire for youth and waving its purple handkerchief. (I also put my shirt on backwards this morning which was quite disconcerting.)
Theater is a word that can be pronounced differently. Sometimes I say “thee-A-ter” and sometimes I say “THEE-a-ter.” Sometimes I say “en-velope” with a short e at the beginning and sometimes I say “on-velope” with a short o. I say “creek”. Some say “crick.” I say “wash.” Some say “warsh.” I say “carmel.” Some say “car-a-mel.” I certainly don’t say “kinnygarten” for “kindergarten” as some do. Nor do I say “patriartical” for “patriarchal.” Or “pray-ers” for “prayers.” Neither do I say “alunamun” for “aluminum” or “nucular” for “nuclear” as one of our leaders tends to do.
Some say “boo-tique” while I say “bo-tique” with a long o. “Data” always trips me up. Is it a long a or a short a? It makes me avoid that word. “Route” is tricky, too. I say “root” 66 but paper “rowt.” I say “gala” with a long a but the gala aficionados seem to say “gala” with a short a. Some might even say “gawla.” I don’t hang with gala people much so I’m not too worried about my gala pronunciation.
It seems acceptable to say either (ī-ther or ee-ther) “nee-ther” or “nī-ther.” I’m an “ee-ther”/“nee-ther” sayer. I say “Q-pon” not “coo-pon” for “coupon.” And “ca-fé” not “cá-fe.” I say “en-chiladas” with a short e not “onchiladas” with a short o. I say “a-pricot” with a long a not “a-pricot” with a short a.
There is a song by George Gershwin called “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” A couple of lines say: “you like tomatoes, I like tomatoes.” “you like potatoes, I like potatoes.” Which would be a pretty stupid song if you didn’t know that the first “tomatoes” was pronounced “tō-may-toes” and the second was pronounced “tō-mah-toes.” Same with “potatoes.” One of my daughter’s roommates sang the whole song pronouncing the words the same. Which, of course, made it a pretty stupid song.
When I was in grade school and the teacher called roll, which is probably a very out-dated procedure, some of the kids would say “president” instead of “present.” I would just say “here” and marvel that kids would actually be dumb enough to think the other word was “president” instead of “present.” Those were some of my Know-it-All days. I was pretty smart then. My knowledge base has shrunk a bit and what’s left to know has ballooned immensely. I don’t feel quite as smart as I did as a Third Grader.
“Crayon” is a tricky word. I’ve said “cren” most of my life. One of my grandsons says “cran” so I don’t feel too backward. I’m trying to switch over to “cray-on” which is the obvious way to pronounce it.
Some of my kids have turned their backs on their upbringing and now say “man-aise” instead of “may-naise.” I don’t get that one. Nor can I understand how they could possibly prefer Miracle Whip.
Finally I can use the words “interment” and “internment” in the right contexts. That took a while. Those words are not interchangeable. I think I understand the correct use of “further” and “farther” and try not too mix them up too often. But “from” and “than” are still messing with me. And once I ordered “brawts” instead of “brats” with a short a. I won’t do that again.
Three words I try hard to pronounce a certain way are “diabetes” and “poem” and “egg.” When I say “dīa-bee-tees” my son gives me a stare and says the word is “dīa-bee-tus.” Or else he says it the first way and I say it the second way. I can’t remember. I have to ask him every time that horrendous disease comes up. I have almost cured myself of saying “āgg” instead of “egg.” And I grew up saying “poym.” Didn’t you? Now I try very hard to pronounce the word “pō-em” with a quick short e .
Speaking correctly is rather tiring but I don’t want to seem anything but brilliant in front of my children. It’s getting harder and harder.