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AWADmail Issue 8

Mar 26, 1998

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages


This compilation is based on the words sent during Mar 16-22, 1998. Check out the archive for Mar 1998 to see the words.

From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Subject: AWADmail is back!

AWADmail is back after a long hiatus. Last week's theme, "Words whose pronunciations differ a lot from their spellings" generated a huge response. Some sent their favorite words in this category (colonel coming at the top of the list), while others forwarded poems lamenting the intractability of English orthoepy and orthography. Here are selected responses.


From: E. Richard Cohen (ercohenATaol.com)
Subject: Phonetic Pronunciation

In line with this week's critique of English pronunciation, dare I bring up George Bernard Shaw's plea for spelling reform with the word 'GHOTI"

GH as in "rough"
O as in "women"
TI as in "nation"

GHOTI = "fish"

    Also noted by Marc J. Broering (dadATlouisville.edu), Ted Schipper (ted.schipperATutoronto.ca), (Tim Nelson) tsnATdeakin.edu.au, Sheila Crosby (sheilaATing.iac.es), Vimala Rodgers (vimalaATiihs.com) and martinaATaol.com. -Anu


From: Derek Winkler (derekATaim-systems.on.ca)
Subject: Ruminations & Ponderances

It's funny that a couple of the words you're featuring for being pronounced differently than they are spelled have French origins. Being from Canada and therefore being exposed to French, I look at the word and think "What do you mean pronounced differently then they are spelled, how else would you pronounce oeuvre."


From: David Isaacson (isaacsonATwmich.edu)
Subject: Another Pronunciation for "chaos"

One of the characters in Sean O'Casey's play, "Juno and the Paycock," (it's either Captain Jack Boyle or his sidekick "Joxer" Daly) regularly mispronounces this word as "chassis."


From: Fred Bartlett (fredbATspringer-ny.com)
Subject: Chaos

When I traveled to the old Soviet Union to edit the proceedings of a conference on nonlinear dynamics, I was baffled by the (English) speech of my Russian colleagues. They kept talking about "House" -- that is, "chaos". It was all perfectly reasonable (though wrong, of course): transliteration to Cyrillic and then pronunciation as if it were Russian.


From: Steve Royster (roystersATsec.gov)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--rendezvous

I was willing to let oeuvre pass after I mistook it initially for the French word for "egg." I learned something on that one. But isn't "rendezvous" a direct French import?

French, as the comedian Steve Martin has noted, is more torturous than English: "It's like those French have a different word for everything!" On the album "A Wild and Crazy Guy," from early in his oeuvre, Martin describes a man who dies trying to speak French.


From: Ken Maher (ken_maherATnhmbm1.dos.nortel.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--chaos

Your note on the need for pronunciation guidance in English reminds me of what I used to tell students when I taught English as a second language for ten years, mostly to native speakers of Spanish, Arabic, or Swahili. All languages are thieves, but most languages have the good sense to hide what they've stolen by making it look like their own. English, however, is more vain or, perhaps, careless, and often keeps the stolen goods in their original forms. For example, when Spanish stole the word for driver from French, it changed the spelling to "chofer," whereas English kept it as "chauffeur." This linguistic practice makes English one of the most difficult of the Latin-alphabet languages to learn to spell.

    In polite company it is called borrowing. Whether these loanwords are ever returned is another matter. -Anu


From: Bob Simmons (bsimmonsATcompassnet.com)
Subject: (Mis)pronunciation Guide

While I applaud your intention to include pronunciation in AWAD, I think you should look for another source. Specifically, I have a problem with each of the last three days' pronunciations:

oeuvre (oe-VRUH) -- since this one retains its French pronunciation, it is just about impossible to render in English. When I say it, it sounds more like e(r)-vra (with neither syllable accented). The way you've written it, I would say e(r)-VREW.

segue (SAG-way) -- I have never heard this pronounced other than SEG-way.

rendezvous (RAN-day-voo) -- I would argue that RON-day-voo is closer.

    While reducing a spoken sound to its written form is tough enough in any language, it is nearly impossible to accurately represent pronunciation information using only the lowest common denominator of characters -- those found on a standard English keyboard. Not all systems have the capability to show phonetic characters. (Once Unicode is more widely adopted, it would be possible to show all IPA characters but for now we have to do with the seven bit ASCII character set). It must also be noted that the pronunciation of words varies a great deal from region to region and any single way of pronouncing a word cannot be called the only correct one. In that spirit, the pronunciation guide provided with the words here should be taken as an approximation and not as a precise phonetic equivalent.

    If you disagree with a given pronunciation or anything else in AWAD, please drop us a line at the email address (words AT wordsmith.org). Due to the large volume of messages, we can't always respond to you but we do read all messages. -Anu


Every other author may aspire to praise; the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach. -Samuel Johnson

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