Issue 204, page 4

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From Susan Clarke:

Bill Schmeer mentioned the use of the word medaling in the recent Winter Olympics. I'm almost beginning to accept medaling. The one that amazed me was the newfound verb platforming, meaning, I can only assume from the context, to earn a place on the awards platform by medaling.

I'm so glad you're back at it. I missed your regular contributions.

Thanks!  Nice to hear from you.

From Karen Davis:

Malcolm Tent needs to get a grip. An before H in words with an unstressed first syllable is, perhaps, more typically British than American, but not exclusively so (and NOT Cockney), and it's quite an old pronunciation. Of course it's not "an history" - that's stressed on the first syllable!

From Claire:

Iím sure you two are more than capable of responding to Malcolm over this one, but here goes anyway. Our language largely comes from French (among other Latin and European influences) and this harks back to the silent h at the start of French words. It used to be "correct" to say "an hotel" and many older people still do. So technically, "an historical" is probably "correct" and if not, it is at least understandable.

From Russell Bateman:

I just think "an historical account" flows better off the tongue, but I admit this is no reason to adopt it. Perhaps it has snob appeal.

My wife is of the opposite opinion, though. She refuses even to say "an apple" or "the[e] end" believing that these euphonic accommodations are false or specious traditions of dubious value. But, hey, she's from California and at 50 still hasn't got past using words like "woof," "nookyooler" and "simyooler."

Love your column.

From Bruce Yanoshek:

TOWFI and the blog have been dealing with the incorrect presence or absence of r and t in various words. Other letters disappear, too, and their disappearance annoys me. I listen to a good deal of talk radio, and participate in many conversations, and some mispronunciations are becoming too common. One is "fufill" for "fulfill". Another is a family of slaughterings of "social security", including "sosecurity" and "sosa security". Here in Cincinnati, it is not uncommon to hear "petition" for "partition". If we aren't careful, too many letters will disappear from words, and no one will understand anything that is said.

People, please use spell-checkers wisely. A phrase that is used a lot in the US is "a lot". Many people misspell it as "alot", which is then caught by their spell-checkers and changed (with permission, of course, so the writers are definitely not innocent victims of their software) to "allot". That is what is appearing in blogs, forums and e-mails all over the internet, and I'm tired of seeing it.

From Jeff Jones:

Your latest TOWFI addressed the word pecan. There were a couple of things that stood out to me as most likely in error, for whatever reason.

First "The native range of the pecan (Carya illinoensis) extended from east Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri into southern Illinois and Ohio." In fact, Georgia and Alabama rank second and third, respectively, behind Texas in pecan production. Pecan trees have always been native to the southeast.

Second, "In the Northeast many say PEE-can, while in Texas and much of the South it is pronounced peh-KAHN.". This is reversed. I was born and raised in the South. That, combined with half my family (my mother's side and my wife's side) from the North/Midwest (Ohio), and having spent some time up north (Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut) as a child, I can tell you with some authority that PEE-can is the traditional Southern pronunciation. Southerners concerned with trying not to sound "Southern" adopted the Northern pronunciation of "peh-CAN" or "peh-KAHN". For a true Southerner to say "peh-CAN" or "peh-KAHN" is akin to cooking or eating instant grits. I can't say for sure, but both may have once been capital offenses. :)

I currently live in a suburb of Atlanta, which places me squarely in the middle of more Yankees than there were when Sherman came through. The same holds with those I know from the North and South now as it applies to the pronunciation of "pecan".

Certainly pecan trees grow all over the south and into other areas of the U.S.  However, the native range was not so large and covered the areas we originally described.  This does not mean there weren't small populations of pecans in locations near to but outside that native range, but it does mean that the greatest concentration of pecan trees was located within the native range.  Here is a description of the range from an academic source:

Pecan is a hickory indigenous to the United States. The native range follows the river bottoms of the Mississippi River and its many tributaries and the rivers of central and eastern Texas and their tributaries. In the eastern U. S., pecan extends to Clinton, Iowa in the north, Cincinnati, Ohio in the east, and New Orleans, Louisiana in the south. In the western U. S., pecan extends to the Devilís River area of Texas in the west and north and to Crystal City, Texas in the south. The southern native pecan area in Texas extends into northeastern Mexico (Flack, 1970; Hester, 1981; Sargent, 1933; USDA Bureau of Plant Industry, 1931). In the early 1930s, the trees were most abundant and reached their greatest size in southern Arkansas and eastern Texas (Sargent, 1933).

As for pronunciation of pecan, Melanie is from Texas, and every Texan she has ever encountered who uttered the word pecan said it "puh-KAHN".  Many transplants from the northeast (some from the midwest) that she knew who said the word pronounced it "PEE-kahn" or "PEE-kan".  For a true Texan to say "PEE-kan" is akin to eating Tex-Mex made in New York City.  Family friends from Louisiana and Florida all say "puh-KAHN", as well.  Let's take a survey: Readers, tell us where you are from and how you pronounce the word.  Try to use the phonetic conventions we have used here.

From Bruce Brown:

Love your site, thanks.

1. Sitting in the doctor's dining room, I realized that one of my colleague's skills were so wanting that his care was PREPOSTHUMOUS. (preposterous)

2. I was surprised your excellent issue 203 discussion of the uses of draft did not mention its use in the King James Bible, being the words of Jesus in Matthew Chapter 15, and again in Mark Chapter 7: "... Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man... for whatever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out in the draught, but those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defileth a man."

I always got a chuckle as a child to imagine such an earthy spectacle of atmospheric ebullience could be discussed by the pastor in the sanctuary!

Quite amusing!

From Christopher Mitson:

Your addendum to this week's edition seeks to insure that an author gets due credit.  I realise this is a difference in American and British usage but it seems a shame that the difference between ensure (to make sure) and insure (to protect with insurance) has been lost in the United States. I'm not chiding you but it seems the two words have a useful difference. As do enquiry (to ask a question) and inquiry (a formal investigation).

We agree.

From Torsten Pihl:

Thanks for the interesting story about the Danish (pastry). You date at least one legend about the origin of the Danish word (wienerbrÝd) to the year 1834. In Swedish we use the same word, and here it appears in print for the first time a couple of years earlier (1832) so probably the pastry appeared in Scandinavia (whether first in Sweden or in Denmark I donít know) some years before that.



Or read the last issue to see what all of these people are talking about!

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Last Updated 10/14/06 10:53 PM