Quickly improves English pronunciation!

  Issue 129, page 4

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From Ann FitzGerald:

I hit the http address below and got a "Not Found" message from Netscape. Any suggestions? Don't want to lose you.

Take Our Word For It wrote:


For those of you who don't know what this is all about, allow us to give a little background.  We have a mailing list associated with this site.  A newsletter goes out every week, giving a preview of what is in the current issue of this webzine, providing a newsletter-only etymology, and giving other information such as other changes to the site, contests, etc.  The newsletter has been hosted by Listbot for several years for free.  Now, however, they are going to start charging for hosting, so we were forced to move to a different free hosting service (Topica).  In our last newsletter we told subscribers how to switch to the new host (Topica) and provided the above link for doing so.  Unfortunately, there is an error in that link.  It should be http://www.takeourword.com/Mailist.html.

From Perola:


Happy Independence Day (Wednesday) to you in the U.S.  Happy summer to everyone else!

Hey guys, we on the Southern hemisphere are in the middle of Winter!!!! LOL

From John:

Happy summer??? It's thirteen bloody degrees C up here in the hills, and that's the top for the day. It's the middle of bleed'n' winter!!

[They're referring to a line from our last newsletter.]  Sorry about that, you southern hemisphere folks!  Happy (?) winter!

From S.T. Parkes:

I was interested to see your comments on Wendy's e-mail name (TOWFI 128); (indeed, I was interested to read Wendy's question). Her choice of Hazelrah must, as you suggest, indicate her intimacy with the book "Watership Down", and also her good opinion of herself - the -rah  suffix denotes "chief" or "great"! But I heard a story (which you should be able to confirm or deny) that the name Wendy was invented by J M Barrie, whose heroine she was, of course. Barrie regularly called on a friend who had a daughter, a child; he always called the daughter his "friendy-wendy", which eventually contracted to "Wendy"; Wendy appeared in "Peter Pan", and the rest, as the cliché has it, was history.

Finally, I always thought that the name "Crayola" came form the insidious practise of primary school teachers of bribing their charges with gifts of crayons to make them behave!

Wendy is indeed an invention of Mr. Barrie, but according to the Oxford Dictionary of First Names, it was what his young friend, Margaret Henley, called him (from "Fwendy Wendy").  Interestingly, the dictionary says that the name "achieved great popularity in its short lifespan, but is now out of fashion".  Tell that to the Wendy who wrote the letter published in Issue 128, and we'll tell it also to our sometime hostess Wendy Perry  [Hi, Wendy!]

From David G. Helm:

Brad Ward seems to think that because "Northeasterners" pronounce almond, palm, and calm incorrectly that ALL Americans are changing their pronunciation. If he'll come down to Oklahoma, he will hear the L pronounced in those words. And we'll continue to pronounce them the way we do, no matter what the Yankees think is correct.

Yes, and we'll continue to pronounce the "l", too, but the elision of a letter, or an entire syllable (as in the case of mirror being pronounced as "meer"), while bothersome to the curmudgeon or pedant, is part of the evolution of language.  It's just happening more rapidly these days, thanks to the various forms of communication and media available today.

From Christine:

I grew up in Chico, CA - we grow almonds - and it was NOT pronounced with the L.  (They get the 'L' knocked out of them during the harvest.) It always annoys me to hear the word pronounced with the L sound.  Maybe it's a regional thing?

It probably starts as a regional thing, in several different regions, and then spreads.  It is also a natural product of speech: certain letters or syllables simply get elided.  In many dialects of English it is now considered incorrect to pronounce the T in often.  And just look at how most (U.S.) politicians say "sos'cur'ty" when they mean Social Security.  Come to think of it, there are a few politicians we'd like to see elided.

From Arnaud Hubert:

Improper enunciation has lead to reading problems with our children as more and more words are not spelled the same as they are pronounced...too many letters in words that are "silent" (Brad Ward, in your latest issue [128])

Okay, this sent me up the wall. The misconception that words should be pronounced the way they are spelled is extremely Anglo-centric, and seems to ignore that in many languages (including my native language, French), there are such things as silent letters or syllables, and that does not seem to cause any problems to "reading problems with children".

Well, we read it a bit differently, having written, in a recent article for a teachers' group, that widespread spelling errors among U.S. and Canadian college students can be attributed to their learning their vocabulary not via reading, but via movies, television, and song.  English has plenty of silent letters and is certainly not pronounced the way it is spelled .   Spanish and Russian are good examples of languages where words are pronounced exactly as they are spelled (if you know the respective alphabets!).  We think that Brad's point was simply that rapidly changing pronunciation can, in fact, make it difficult for students to learn correct spellings.

From Dennis Foley:

In Spotlight #128, you say that cat derives from Greek kattos, katta, and in the next paragraph add that ailurophobia, an extreme fear of cats, comes from the Greek ailuros "cat."  Huh?

Well, English isn't the only language that has different words for the same thing.

From Daniel Kelber:

Here's an article from the Miami Herald concerning the jewfish's name change.

From Brian Shelton:



Thanks, guys!

From Oded Dagan:

Your weekly surprise-box brought me this week two queries of which I may be able to contribute something. 
1. in re chess - it is pronounced in Hebrew "Shah-Matte", and the Even-Shoshan Dictionary (the definitive Hebrew dictionary) says its source is Persian - "the Shah is dead!".

2. Being a Jew born and raised in Israel - which is populated mainly by Jews - I have never felt any offense by the word Jew - applied to myself or to anybody else. I am a Jew, and there's nothing more to it. But I can understand a different reaction of somebody living in a country in which Jews are in the minority, sometimes an oppressed minority. For somebody like that, being called a Jew (sometimes with derogatory additions) may seem threatening or insulting. Which brings us to a take-off on the old adage - a threat is in the ear of the listener.

Thanks, Oded, for that perspective.

From Judith Cuneo:

Hello, I just wanted to let you know that I think your "Engrish" entries are hilarious. After reading the letter complaining that it is insensitive, or some such nonsense, I wanted to encourage you to keep "Engrish" in your newsletter.

As for his jab at English speakers' lack of knowledge of other languages, I would counter that all people of all cultures should be sensitive to non-natives trying to learn their language. When one is trying to learn another language and repeatedly meets with ridicule, one becomes discouraged!  Frankly, I think that Americans are mostly quite forgiving of non-native speakers' attempts at speaking and learning English, probably more than most societies.  Just my two cents.

We won't name names, but we do know a few cultures that spurn foreigners' attempts at speaking the local language.  It actually goes to the other extreme in the U.S.: visitors or non-native speakers are expected to at least attempt to speak English.  (And, by the way, we've added an Engrish link to our Links page.)

From Jim Schuler:

I find your "Laughing Stock" page to be wonderful and humorous! More importantly, I think it points out the fallibility of electronic translation software. Oh, those programs do get some words correct, but they generally get only the literal meaning without any concept of the sense of the word. I put one of the more popular translation programs through its paces using the opening tercet of the Inferno. I took it from Italian to English back to Italian then back to English (NOTE: I changed the elided "cammin" to "cammino" just to be fair.) This is what I got: 

Nel mezzo del cammino di nostra vita 
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura 
ché la diritta via era smarrita 

Became ENGRISH: 
In means of the way of our life I found again for a dark forest ché 
the straight one via smarrita 

Became 'Talian: 
Nei mezzi del modo della nostra vita ho trovato ancora per un ché 
scuro della foresta quello diritto via lo smarrita 

Became Engri: 
In means of the way of our life I have still found for ché dark of 
the forest a that right via the smarrita one. 

Thank the muses for deigning to inspire a human, John Ciardi, to develop a piece of work that not only translates the tercet, but is true to the original meaning: 

Midway through our life's journey, I went astray 
from the straight road and woke to find myself 
alone in a dark wood... 

Thanks, Jim!

From Don Pelto:

In my family, going back 35 or 40 years, a hard rain was raining pitchforks and hammer handles.  I'll bet there are a number of interesting expressions of this type.

Incidentally, how can you tell if it's raining cats & dogs? If there are 'poodles' in the road. 

Love your web site.

Why, thank you, Don!  

Poodle and puddle are related words, by the way.  The poodle was bred as a water-dog, hence the silly haircut.


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Last Updated 08/18/01 06:16 PM