Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Editorial Eye--and Ear

Someone you know mispronounces a word. You wonder whether to correct the person and it’s too quick—he or she is already on to another thought—so you’ve let it go. Then it happens again, same word. You realize the person is mispronouncing a word he or she uses frequently. You’re going to hear it again. What do you do?

My mother used to say to one and all at the conclusion of family dinners that she was “sa-TIE-ated” (satiated). Another person I knew said “inter-MEEN-able” for interminable.

It takes guts to tell someone that she’s pronounced a word incorrectly, and I never corrected those two. I could have said to Mom, “Do you mean ‘SAY-she-ated’?” but she would have been mortified instead of satisfied.

Maybe you’ve had a conversation in which someone pronounced a repeated word differently from the way you said it. If the conversation was about tomatoes, he always said “to-mah-toes,” and neither of you was about to give up. That’s awkward. The same thing can happen in an e-mail exchange. My brother will write about making “chile” and I write back that I hope that his “chili” turns out well. That’s about spelling, but it’s the same principle.
I just quit reading a library book because the main character’s name was Sharon and people called her Shar. Now, the last time I checked, “Shar” rhymed with “car,” but “Sharon” rhymes with “Karen,” so how was that ever going to work? Maybe the author thought that “Share” would be a dumb nickname for Sharon, and I agree; but “Shar” doesn’t work—unless the character’s name is changed to Sharlene. It’s a stumbling block the reader must encounter again and again if she sticks with the book.
Some names just don’t translate well to the page. If you shorten "Roger" to "Rog," the reader can’t help rhyming it with “log” and then having to correct himself—over and over. It should rhyme with “dodge,” but if you spell it out that way, you might as well use his whole name.
We of the editorial persuasion are particularly bothered by things other people might not even notice. For instance, every time I read a detective book involving a chopper, I wonder why the short version of helicopter is “helo” when helicopter begins “heli”? And is it pronounced “hee-low” or “hell-o,” which sounds like a greeting? The website www.dictionary.com shows both pronunciations.
This blog is about the written word, but do you see how closely the written word and the spoken word are connected? When we read, we do speak—even if it’s most often to ourselves—which is why the written word has to work when we say it, even if we say it silently.
On the other hand, pronunciation bloopers usually occur when we’re trying to say unfamiliar words we see in print. Believe me, I know.
I have a good friend who eats out regularly. Thus, she knows food trends and pronounces foreign and otherwise confusing food words correctly. Once when we had lunch, falafel was on the menu. I had no idea what falafel was, let alone how to say it. Instead of “fuhl-AH-fuhl,” I ordered “fell-uh-fell,” to my friend’s chagrin, and she immediately corrected me. Now, the next time I order that dish, like when donkeys fly, I’ll get it right.
It’s easier to return a book than it is to correct a person, but if you and I are talking sometime and I mispronounce one of my favorite words, do the world a favor and correct me. That goes for spelling, too.
As pronunciations go, some people are past correcting; they’re going to say “nuke-ya-ler” all their lives, and there isn’t a darn thing we can do about it. I try to apply the sage advice of Davy Crockett—or was it Daniel Boone? Fess Parker, anyway: “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” I look it up. Sometimes—as in the case of my brother’s recipe—we’re both right.

1 comment:

  1. What the heck is falafel anyway? I'm just curious - not that I'd ever order it. Good post, Jane.