Monday, January 09, 2006

You Say Potato...

Marty Feldman: "Dr. Frankenstein?"
Gene Wilder: "FRONKensteen"
Feldman: "You're putting me on."
Wilder: "No. It's pronounced Fronk-in-steen"
Feldman: "Do you also say Fro-drick?"
Wilder: "No- Fredrick"
Feldman: "Why isn't it Fro-drick Fronk-in-steen?"
Wilder: "It isn't. It's Fredrick Fronk-in-steen"

Feldman: "I see."
Wilder: " You must be Egore"
Feldman: "No, it's pronounced EYE-gore"
Wilder: "They told me it was Egore"
Feldman: "Well they were wrong then, werent' they?!"

This a great scene from one of my favorite movies, Young Frankenstein, and it serves to illustrate one of my biggest pet peeves: People who refuse to pronounce words and names correctly.

I'm not talking about the regional differences in pronunciation like "tom-AY-to" versus "tom-AH-to" or even the way children or people new to the language get things wrong. It's about those regular folks who just find it easier to say things the way they want to and not the way they're supposed to be said. Because I was born with a last name that is German in origin and it took 13 letters to spell it, I suppose I'm particularly sensitive about getting a name right. I was raised with the seemingly outdated notion that it is a great disrespect to pronounce someone's name incorrectly...especially after one has been repeatedly coached on how to say it. A few years ago I was reading a novel called "The Shipping News" by E. Annie Proulx. I bought that book for several friends and talked of it often, but was vexed by an inability to figure out how to pronounce the name Proulx. A woman I know wound up on a flight sitting next to Proulx's publisher who informed her that the right way to say her name was "proo". What a relief!

I once worked with a guy who used the word "pacifically" when he meant "specifically". I guess you could say that he was just getting one word confused with another, but I don't think there is such a word as "pacifically". Either way, it drove me to absolute distraction because he sounded like an idiot when he spoke.

I have a good friend who, during the course of any conversation, will mangle at least two words, one of them being the name of an author, title of a book or movie, or someone we know . Using the word correctly in front of him hasn't caused him to question how he says it, or at the very least, grab a dictionary to question how I'm saying it.

Another woman I know who fancies herself an authority on everything is a big fan of the writer Cynthia Ozick. For a long time she was on a huge Ozick kick and was never without some volume of the writer's work. During the time she was reading The Puttermesser Papers , she loved to catch me outside the carpool line to talk about the book which she referred to as The PusserMEISTER Papers. She did this for several weeks and, so dedicated was she to her own idea of how to say the name of the book, that any other pronunciation never registered with her. Interestingly enough, this woman is also a former speech pathologist.

A close family friend says "suss-ess" instead of "success". And-- yes--that bugs me as well. Sure, there are better ways to spend my time than worrying about how other people talk. But, what are you supposed to do when someone starts talking to you about the actor Ralph Fiennes (who has gone on every talk show and explained how his name is pronounced "Rafe Fines") and insists on calling him Ralph Feens? Do I say nothing? Do I mispronounce it, too, so that my friend doesn't feel embarrassed? Or do I become the Pronunciation Nazi?

I know I'm not alone in this. Head over to The Sneeze and check out his post, "The Revenge of Franklinstein". It started out as an entry about how people get words confused. His friend's dad likes to watch "Steinfeld"...and so forth. It's worth the read and so are the comments. All 647 of them. What mispronunciations rub you the wrong way? Operators are standing by.


Blogger Swedish Girl said...

I had some problems with Anne Proulx as well, and decided on calling her Ms Prolox. I quite liked that. It was a bit disappointing to hear that it should be Prue.

A thing I can never remember how to pronounce is Canary Wharf in London, which is a bit unfortunate, because I live there. Should it be CANary or CanARY? Who knows?

12:40 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

I used to live near Canary Wharf too! It's the bird. And I've been pronouncing Ms. Proulx "Prool" all this time. Damn!

But anyway...I feel your pronunciation nazi pain...PROFUSELY.

I've heared about 500 different butcherings of "rapport". The worst was RE-pour. (As in "pour again"?) Made me insane.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Shrinking Violet said...

My boss says "assiminate" when he means "assimilate".

12:51 PM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

I can't remember if it was a teacher I had or one my sister had, but the guy pronounced Massachusetts as "Massatoositts". Awful!

1:24 PM  
Anonymous jon deal said...

Supposedly pronounced as "supposubly."

There is no "b" in that word.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Harridan said...

I worked with a woman who pronounced the word "accessories" as "assessories." She was a writer for a jewelry magazine, so she had to say it a lot. Hearing it made my teeth itch.

My husband is a reincarnation of Mrs. Malaprop, but the nice thing is he will take correction from me. I don't usually correct people I don't know well (or even some friends, if I know they won't take it well).

1:40 PM  
Blogger Tink said...

I could write a book on one of my co-worker's backwoods dialect:

Idea- Idear
Brought- Brung
Rediculous- Redicurlous

I could go on and on. She's a sweet soul, but I sit here and cringe somedays.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Tink said...

Haha I meant "Ridiculous." Please don't stone me!

1:50 PM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

I cringe when people say 'fustrated' instead of 'frustrated'. Or, 'libary' instead of 'library'. And my Grade Three teacher taught us, on the very first day of school, that it's not pronounced 'Feb-u-ary', it's pronounced 'Feb-bru-ary."

1:59 PM  
Blogger Arabella said...

OH MY GOODNESS WHERE DO I START. I don't know why mispronunciations bother me so much, because I have no doubt that I am guilty of several, but they do.

Here are the ones that bother me the most:

"expresso" instead of "espresso"
"ice tea" instead of "iced tea"
"whip cream" instead of "whipped cream"

My maiden name is long and ethnic, but not particularly difficult to pronounce. People just see the big word and get scared of it, and then insert and remove letters at will. Maybe that's why I'm so sensitive to this stuff.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

My last name when the h is not ignored, or when they say Sham or Tomb or Thorn. Sham was the worst. One of my classmates couldn't stop laughing.

5:43 PM  
Blogger MoMMY said...

If one more person says 'heighth' in front of me I may explode into a million-billion tiny pieces. HEIGHT people! There is NO H on the end.

5:47 PM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

I thought of some more. "Foy-er" instead of "foy-yay". I've heard some interesting pronunciations of "armoire". And I'm more of a "sked-ule" gal than "shed-ule".

6:05 PM  
Blogger theyellowwallpaper said...

I know for the longest time I mispronounced the author Isabel Allende's name before I heard someone else say it out loud.

But, as a gal who grew up in Maine. One of our largest cities is Bangor (where Stephen King is from) - as in Bang - gor. Yet, it seems like everyone outside of the State always, and I mean always, pronounces it Banger. I still remember a poor flight attendent who made this error as we began our descent into Bangor. My husband (from Wisconsin) was laughing 'cuz of all the whispers of disgust that rose up in the cabin.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Melanhead said...

I can't believe you talked about Marty Feldman and Young FRONKenstein! I LOVE that movie, especially the Puttin' on the Ritz part (Blazing Saddles is another good one)!

I have a bad habit of prouncing pendulum as pen-duh-lum, but it should be pen-JEW-lum. I capitalize Jew because, hey, they're God's Chosen People.

I hate it when people say "axe" instead of "ask" and it is absolutely rampant down here in Louisiana. I don't care if you have three doctorates from Tulane, if you're from Louisiana, you say axe.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Peggy said...

I used to work with a guy who said "pacific" for "specific," "reef" for "wreath," and "pexigas" for "plexiglas." My co-workers and I really messed with him when we had a photo shoot featuring wreath pins. We wanted that pacific reef of the pexigas, darn it!

6:56 PM  
Anonymous AL said...

I sat through a class the other night where the professor said:
"raspatarian" (Rastafarian)
"reinterate" (reiterate)
"endorsation" (endorsement).

As a music snot, I also get peeved by mispronunciations such as Wagner (Vog-ner) and Pachelbel (Pahk-ul-bel).

7:08 PM  
Blogger Nilbo said...


Honest to God, people. Look at that name. Nils. It is not complex nor difficult. Sound it out: Nils. Hell, I can't even break it down by syllables or sounds. It is pronounced EXACTLY as it is spelled. NILS.

Not Niles. Not Neils. Not Nells. Not Nails. Not (swear to God) LINS. Not Niltz. Not Neil. Not Miles.


Christ Almighty.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

Mignon, over the years has been, Min-gone, Mig-Non, Meghan, Min-Yon, Min-Yun and my favorite, Mango.
I grew up in Oregon, which everyone east of the Rockies thinks is Or-Re-Gon. It's not. It's Ore-Gun.
And fancy people seem to think Colorado and Nevada are Col-Low-Raw-Do and Ne-Vah-Duh. Nope. Hard a. Hard, nasal, American A.

8:19 PM  
Blogger Arabella said...

Another one: "chlorestriol," instead of "cholesterol." From a NUTRITION TEACHER.

8:19 PM  
Blogger Ditsy Chick said...

Here we have Prescott, Arizona...not presCOTT, but Prescuit...rhymes with biscuit...well, then spell it that way, will ya? I think they do it just so they can spot out of towners.

11:06 PM  
Blogger mrtl said...

Make sure to read Desperate Working Mommas. Hoot.

11:58 PM  
Blogger The Gradual Gardener said...

I went from a pretty easy maiden name to a married name containing many letters, including two "z"s. My married name is very obviously Polish, so although it ends in a "Y", many people insist on adding "ski" to the end. It doesn't bug me that much, but my in-laws get pretty annoyed.

4:51 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Harridan said...

I have to add that I just read something on Thesmoking that contained the phrase "had drank."


Proofreading: it's a good thing.

I also loathe "axe" instead of "ask." Is it *that* hard to pronounce?

10:26 AM  
Anonymous icantsleep said...

NEGOTIATE is neg-o-she-ate. It always has been, as far as I know. So where do broadcast journalists get off telling us it's neg-o-see-ate? Aaaargh. Drives me batty.

1:20 PM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

Yeah...and NEW-Q-LAR instead of Nuclear.

1:29 PM  
Anonymous Monique said...

Oh my gosh, you have hit on one of my pet peeves! We have someone at work who is a terrible offender when it comes to people's names. What does it say about someone who can't be bothered to pronounce other people's names right? To their face, even?

6:54 PM  
Blogger Swedish Girl said...

Thanks, Brooke!

9:49 AM  
Blogger jess said...

Both my first and last names are unusual and most people freak out when they try to pronounce them. My first name is said exactly as spelled - Jessalynn - Jess-uh-lynn. I suppose you could pronounce the A differently, but really! And my last name - the only confusing part is the "ault" at the end - which you could pronounce correctly as "oh" or like "alt." If people say "alt" it doesn't bother me, but if they just give up, that does. I frequently have to call library patrons with unusual names and KNOW I'm mispronouncing - but what can I do? It's not like I make the same mistake over and over - that would be unforgivable.

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cringe over the usual suspects such as axe (ask), nook'-you-ler (nuclear), but my otherwise intelligent boss pronounces premise as pre-MISE (rhymes with wise). I DO have to give her credit for the confidence she exhibits as she mispronounces the word.

By the way, why does the author's name, Proulx, need the 'l' and the 'x' if they're not spoken pronounced at all? Why stop at 'l' and 'x'? Add the rest of the alphabet, just don't pronounce any of those letters, either.

10:40 AM  

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