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Because MeFites love proving that they are better than 90% of [X]
January 3, 2012 9:04 AM   Subscribe

"If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world. After trying the verses, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months of hard labour to reading six lines aloud."
posted by Phire (236 comments total) 97 users marked this as a favorite

 
This. Is. Awesome. But a Frenchman complained that English words aren't spelled the way they sound? Please.
posted by The Bellman at 9:08 AM on January 3, 2012 [46 favorites]


"Correctly" according to which dialect?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:08 AM on January 3, 2012 [25 favorites]


Well, that's garbish.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:09 AM on January 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


It seems almost meaningless to say "better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world." Native English speakers – depending on how you define "native" – are in the vast minority of English speakers. One could make a strong case that the pronunciation of "native" English speakers is, in fact, wrong.
posted by koeselitz at 9:10 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fuck English. I'm not a native speaker and I often send that poem to friends who are and who still bemoan having to learn a second language because it's haaaaarrrrd.

I love you, English, I do! You're just an unrepentant asshole.
posted by lydhre at 9:10 AM on January 3, 2012 [19 favorites]


This makes me hungry for ghoti.
posted by charred husk at 9:11 AM on January 3, 2012 [30 favorites]


90% of the native English speakers speak English just fine. It's the reading of written English that's the problem, because English has never had a meaningful spelling reform. Spoken language? Fine. Written language? Bad. Written English isn't as challenging to pronounce as written Japanese or Chinese. But it sure ain't easy.
posted by Nelson at 9:13 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stunt post is gimmicky and not completely accurate. Film at 11.
posted by aught at 9:14 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think one's pronunciation of Terpsichore and Melpomene shows how correctly one can pronounce Greek, not English. Some of the other loan words are arguable, too, but those two are straight-up proper nouns from another language.
posted by Copronymus at 9:14 AM on January 3, 2012 [41 favorites]


Query does not rhyme with very

Wrong. Also, "loth" is not spelled like that anymore. I lost enthusiasm for the poem at that point.
posted by DU at 9:14 AM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Islington"? No fair, proper nouns.

Also, the word "bass" without context is not really kosher. In this instance, it's intended to rhyme with efface in the line above, and not glass just before it. Tricky.

What a great poem, though! I'll show it to my language class, the one that I would teach, if I taught one.
posted by Xoebe at 9:14 AM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Query does not rhyme with very? What?
posted by Malla at 9:15 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


aught: "Stunt post is gimmicky and not completely accurate. Film at 11."

Stunt post? Hardly. I'm quoting the author. Unless you think the poem itself isn't worth seeing, in which case, eh, we'll agree to disagree.
posted by Phire at 9:16 AM on January 3, 2012


But a Frenchman complained that English words aren't spelled the way they sound? Please.

He was probably from Rheims.
posted by yoink at 9:16 AM on January 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


flawed premise
posted by edgeways at 9:17 AM on January 3, 2012


But a Frenchman complained that English words aren't spelled the way they sound?

French spelling and phonetics may be difficult, but at least they are reasonably consistent. The problem with English is that, because of its utterly mongrel nature, it has a completely inconsistent relationship between its written and spoken versions.
posted by Skeptic at 9:17 AM on January 3, 2012 [12 favorites]


Background of this poem, which is "The Chaos." It was written in 1920 by a Dutch person, and included in his textbook for people learning English pronunciation and spelling. The copy at this website also has the correct italics.
posted by Houstonian at 9:17 AM on January 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


Come to think of it, what on earth is a "native speaker of English?" What exactly does that mean?
posted by koeselitz at 9:17 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


English is messed up because it a) began its standardization of spelling in the 16th and 17th centuries, in the middle of a massive change in pronunciation (wikipedia dates to ending in 1500, but apparently the tail end was more like 1600), and b) borrows words from other languages and keeps their spellings and some of the pronunciation (thus viscount with a silent s) or even (more perversely), borrows spellings from other languages and keeps the original English (or Anglo-Norman french) pronunciation - thus "leftenant" spelled lieutenant.
posted by jb at 9:19 AM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Query is pronounced "kweery." Very is "veh-ry" -- a shorter "eh" vowel sound.
posted by chowflap at 9:20 AM on January 3, 2012 [15 favorites]


koeselitz: "Come to think of it, what on earth is a "native speaker of English?" What exactly does that mean"

[Provincial]An Ohioan, of course.[/Provincial]
posted by charred husk at 9:20 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Query does not rhyme with very

I'm guessing you say kwarry and not veery, but I say kweery and varry.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:20 AM on January 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Brush up Your English
By TS Watt

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble but not you,
On hiccough, through, lough and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead--it's said like bed, not bead.
For goodness's sake, don't call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat:
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.

A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there's dose and rose and lose--
Just look them up--and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart.
Come, come, I've hardly made a start.

A dreadful language? Man alive,
I'd mastered it when I was five.
posted by sambosambo at 9:20 AM on January 3, 2012 [37 favorites]


Query does not rhyme with very? What?

In British English, "query" is pronounced "queer-y".

French spelling and phonetics may be difficult, but at least they are reasonably consistent.

They most certainly are not. There is a reason that the dictée is a staple of French education in both America and France -- French spelling is notoriously difficult even for native speakers.
posted by The Bellman at 9:21 AM on January 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Wrong. Also, "loth" is not spelled like that anymore.

Er...query doesn't rhyme with very. Not even in a standard American pronunciation. I'm sure one can find accents where the two do rhyme--but then it would be impossible to produce a poem like this which satisfied all accents of English pronunciation.

And yes there is a variant spelling of "loth"--but the point of the joke is that this spelling of the word exists and competent native speakers recognize how they are to pronounce it, and that it is completely different from their pronunciation of "cloth."
posted by yoink at 9:23 AM on January 3, 2012


The poem drags on so long that it probably also includes more than 90% of English.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:24 AM on January 3, 2012 [22 favorites]


If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem...

I would say "If you can correctly pronounce..."
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:25 AM on January 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


I was able to sight-read that with few mistakes. What do I win?
posted by naju at 9:25 AM on January 3, 2012


In British English, "query" is pronounced "queer-y".

I'm American and I always pronounced it like that, too.
posted by lunasol at 9:25 AM on January 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


I was doing okay until they started throwing the fucking Greek in there.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:26 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah there's some variant pronunciations that this is disregarding. Haunt does rhyme with aunt for me. I don't mind those.

But I do agree that very few native speakers will know all of these words. There's a lot of obscure or archaic words in here. I had to look up e.g., ague, foeffer, & Balmoral. Then I stopped because this was taking too long to get through - even parts with common words everyone knows were slow going.
posted by aubilenon at 9:28 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


the fucking Greek

Snuck up from behind, it did.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:28 AM on January 3, 2012 [25 favorites]


I say queery and veery, they rhyme for me. (But I have a blended international accent. I tend to sound English to most people who aren't actually from the UK :-))
posted by -harlequin- at 9:29 AM on January 3, 2012


Not even in a standard American pronunciation. I'm sure one can find accents where the two do rhyme....

Just like you found one where they don't. Wiktionary gives both alternates, but I've never heard an actual human being in (in either NW or NE US) who says queer-y.
posted by DU at 9:29 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


French has the reputation to be more consistent in the pronunciation but I am not a French speaker.

What always amazed me is that English, like German, does normally not stress specific vocals In Portuguese you have to stress a vocal. If it is note the next to the last one, it is made explicit clear in the written word, which one has to be stressed with rare exceptions. Like "The Last" is "Último" - you stress the "U", ot the i,not the o. But sometimes I think English has this too. Like "aluminum". I think I is pronounced like "alÚminum". But this may just be my impression.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:29 AM on January 3, 2012


You know--this is a fun poem lightheartedly pointing out some of the bizarre inconsistencies of English spelling. If you take "correctly" to mean "correctly according to the broadly shared rules of any community of mother-tongue English speakers" then it's pretty easy to let go of the "OMG fascism!!" grar and just enjoy the cleverness of the poem.
posted by yoink at 9:30 AM on January 3, 2012 [16 favorites]


There is a reason that the dictée is a staple of French education in both America and France -- French spelling is notoriously difficult even for native speakers.

I work in French, in a field in which accuracy in writing is pretty much paramount, and I'm not a native French (or English) speaker. The biggest spelling stumbling stone for French native speakers are verbs (for instance, "penser" vs. "pensé" vs. "pensée"). Perversely, non-native speakers, with a better understanding of the grammar, are less likely to fail there.

There are, of course, other obstacles ("e" vs. "a", for instance), and French spelling bees can indeed be gruesome. But, while not nearly as consistent as Spanish or German, French spelling is nevertheless much more consistent than English.
posted by Skeptic at 9:30 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've never heard an American person who said "queh-ry" or "veery" -- I'm in the northeast. Is that a regional thing? A British thing?
posted by chowflap at 9:31 AM on January 3, 2012


but I've never heard an actual human being in (in either NW or NE US) who says queer-y.

If we ever meet at a meetup, you will have met one (more or less grew up in New England, now live in CA).
posted by rtha at 9:32 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dictionary.com says queery. Not saying that their pronunciation is more valid than yours if you don't, just that there is a reasonable establishment that pronounces it that way. To say it doesn't rhyme with very, generally, is not particularly 'wrong'.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:34 AM on January 3, 2012


I was actually under the impression that it's pronounced "queh-ry" in noun form, but "queer-y" in verb form. No idea where I got that, and it's surely not correct.
posted by naju at 9:34 AM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd say this was posted for the lulz if I had any idea how to pronounce it.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 9:36 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was doing fine (for attenuated South Cheshire variants of fine) reading it aloud until the monkey followed the donkey (your Honour).
posted by Abiezer at 9:36 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure poems like this and statements like "if you can do X, you will be speaking English better than Y% of native speakers" form a special category of snowclones.
posted by daniel_charms at 9:36 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's got to be "queery", otherwise Humph couldn't make jokes about Sven working in the mailroom.
posted by Wolfdog at 9:37 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Come to think of it, what on earth is a "native speaker of English?" What exactly does that mean?

In linguistics being a native English speaker generally means that as a child growing up, English was the language you acquired naturally as you gained the ability to understand language. So a child who grew up in a family that spoke Irish Gaelic at home and only learned English at school, they would not actually be a native English speaker. There's a big difference between learning a language later in life and learning it as a first language, in fact one of the ways that simplified languages such as pidgins or rudimentary forms of sign language become more complex and fleshed out as a true language is by children who learn it as a first language and naturally tack on new language features that are missing.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:37 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


but I've never heard an actual human being in (in either NW or NE US) who says queer-y.

I've never heard it any other way. NE US.
posted by octothorpe at 9:37 AM on January 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Nice to see alert mefites pointing out that pronunciation varies from place to place, however. Good to see nothing slips past our very own sharp tack brigade.
posted by Wolfdog at 9:38 AM on January 3, 2012 [18 favorites]


I don't even own a television.
...oh, wait.

Who uses "gunwale" nukeler scientists? I bet that's not even in the liberry.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:38 AM on January 3, 2012


Query does not rhyme with very? What?

It depends on the dialect.

Is that a regional thing? A British thing?

It might be regional, but it isn't British (not strictly, at least). "Kweery" is the typical pronunciation around my parts (western Canada).

Come to think of it, what on earth is a "native speaker of English?" What exactly does that mean?

Strictly speaking, I suppose it would be someone whose first language is English. However, there are so many different dialects of English that such a definition is still fairly meaningless.
posted by asnider at 9:38 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've never heard an American person who said "queh-ry"

American Heritage Dictionary gives querry (rhymes-with-very) for its pronunciation. Just another data point.

And, again, none of this is remotely important wrt the poem. If you're teaching English you have to teach it in some accent or other. You're not doing your students any favors whatsoever if you teach them every possible English pronunciation of every single word--they'll end up sounding like they're speaking Martian. So it's perfectly correct for someone teaching English to say that "query is pronounced querry (or queery)" and to correct instances of the other pronunciation--and perfectly acceptable for them to write an amusing poem to underscore the point.
posted by yoink at 9:38 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Quehry, like quehstion. Vehry, like... well, like very.

I don't pronounce very and vary the same way, though. Vary like vairy.
posted by emelenjr at 9:40 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Upon closer inspection, I seem to say (and hear from others) something more like a combination of queery and kwarry.
posted by DU at 9:40 AM on January 3, 2012


Merriam-Webster supports both pronunciations of query. The noun rhymes with "leery" and the verb rhymes with "cherry". There's audio files and a list of rhyming words at the link.

The variation in pronunciation was a surprise to me as I've always pronouncer both noun and verb as "queer-y", but then again, I'm from Montreal and pronounce my first name "merry".
posted by maudlin at 9:40 AM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's funny that there's not even a consensus on how to write phonetic versions of "query" and "very". Neatly illustrates the original point.
posted by monospace at 9:41 AM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


But a Frenchman complained that English words aren't spelled the way they sound?

My father tutors kids at his local Boys and Girls Club where one of the other tutors was correcting kids who pronounced Aunt as "ant." A conversation ensued about the proper pronunciation in which the other tutor defended her position by saying that the word should be pronounced the way it's written. There was a U in the word, so you had to pronounce it.

Trying to figure out if the pronunciation issue was a regional one, my father asked her where she was from. The answer? Worcester, Massachusetts.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:43 AM on January 3, 2012 [29 favorites]


EOLOTTHOWGHRHOIGHUAY in English is hard.
(that is an alternate spelling of orthography similar to GHOTI for fish)
posted by joost de vries at 9:46 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The poem was written almost 100 years ago by a Dutchman learning a British English dialect. If you're American, you're going to run into numerous pronunciation differences that break the rhyme scheme of the poem. Hell, even if you're British.

You all should probably let go of the concept of a "correct" pronunciation. Pronunciation, or any other aspect of language, really, will never be correct in the way a math problem or knowledge about something that happens in the world can be. The best you'll get is some arbitrary critical mass of people who happen to pronounce something the same way. The closer you scrutinize actual samples of people speaking, the more you realize that everybody pronounces everything slightly differently, and our magical brains ignore the differences to pick the signal out of the noise. Which is way more amazing than being able to recite that poem "correctly," even though I think it's a fun exercise. Heck, one of the excellent things about poetry, that makes translating it difficult, is how it exploits the quirks of any given language to make your language processor sparkle.

Dictionaries are nice, but they're not geometry textbooks... they're polaroids of language that fade over time, and even introduce their own interference in the life of a language by giving it a life outside of the human animal. Nevertheless, eventually the landscape in the image is totally obscured.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 9:47 AM on January 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


Along the same lines, I always liked this poem, which I read in grade school. (Shorter, cuter, and it gets the same point across.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:48 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was doing okay until they started throwing the fucking Greek in there.

My lack of education in the classics also left me unamused.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:48 AM on January 3, 2012




You all should probably let go of the concept of a "correct" pronunciation.

Hi. Welcome to MetaFilter. You're going to love it here.
posted by The Bellman at 9:52 AM on January 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


I've recently realized that I have no idea how to pronounce pecan. (I've been smoking them in my smoker quite frequently, and so I've had more cause to use that word in the last month than in the last 20 years). I alternate pronunciations, but I don't seem to have one that feels "natural" to me.
posted by rtha at 9:54 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maudlin, you read my mind!
posted by epj at 9:56 AM on January 3, 2012


For a long time I had the spelling of facetious and French cold potato soup confused.


My foe paw.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 9:57 AM on January 3, 2012


Good grief, poems that don't scan are painful to read even when you can pronounce all the words.
posted by desuetude at 9:58 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is remarkably easy if you adopt a BBC newsreader voice during.
posted by The Whelk at 9:59 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who uses "gunwale" nukeler scientists?

Trying hard to parse the sarcasm... but just in case that's a serious question: I would use that word written like that and pronounce it "gunnl". It's a part of a boat. Learned from my Dad, who grew up in southern England.

Having said that, I'd be hard pressed to say when I last actually had to write that word.
posted by illongruci at 10:00 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The use of proper names is cheating.
posted by oddman at 10:02 AM on January 3, 2012


I've recently realized that I have no idea how to pronounce pecan.

I say "puh-cawn", which is apparently only standard in certain parts of the south.
posted by tryniti at 10:03 AM on January 3, 2012


They most certainly are not. There is a reason that the dictée is a staple of French education in both America and France -- French spelling is notoriously difficult even for native speakers.

French spelling is hard, but being fluent in both languages, I'd say French is more regular than English when it come to pronunciation. Rarely will a word in French be pronounced in a way that seems to have almost no connection with the way it is written (like "laugh", for example), although it does happen. That said, there are many ways to obtain the same sound: o, au and eau all give "o" (and always do). There is of course the issue of silent endings. In "je vois, tu vois, il voit, ils voient", for example, all the endings are silent. In both cases, it's just a matter of knowing the rule. English, in contrast, seems like a vast collection of arbitrary exceptions when it come to pronunciation.

Dictée are not only about spelling, but also about grammar and conjugation, i.e. making sure all the articles, adjectives,verbs and nouns agree in the sentence (otherwise, there would only be spelling bees). Given that all the endings that mark agreement are silent, it can be tricky. Consider the following rule:

The majority of French verbs are conjugated with avoir in the compound tenses and do not agree with their subjects. However, avoir verbs require agreement with their direct objects or direct object pronouns when these precede the verb. (There is no agreement when the direct object follows the verb or with an indirect object.)


That's where the biggest difficulties lie with the French language.
posted by bluefrog at 10:03 AM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


@asnider

It might be regional, but it isn't British (not strictly, at least). "Kweery" is the typical pronunciation around my parts (western Canada).

If you can't even spell Canadia right, why even try to argue pronunciation?
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:05 AM on January 3, 2012


My foe paw.

You have committed what my well-meaning but monoglot great-grandmother referred to as a fox pause.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:05 AM on January 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


... and I'm looking forward to getting my angophilic German friends to read this out loud in the pub ...
posted by illongruci at 10:08 AM on January 3, 2012


I've never heard an actual human being in (in either NW or NE US) who says queer-y.

No, we all say "question" unless we're auditioning for Law and Order.

[I] pronounce my first name "merry".
posted by maudlin at 12:40 PM on January 3 [1 favorite +] [!]


Slight derail, My favorite mix-tape, from the days of actual tapes, was called Merry & Maudlin. Finding a merry song by some of my angst-y groups was kinda difficult though.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 10:08 AM on January 3, 2012


Submitted without additional comment: this image.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:10 AM on January 3, 2012


I pronounce 'query' closer to "kwehry" than "kwirry." But then I'm Australian, part of the Commonwealth.

There's South African and Kiwi native English speakers out there too. Not to mention the breadth and depth of British pronunciations. Really, there is no set "right" way to pronounce any of these words. Just accepted common understanding of roughly how they should sound.
posted by Jilder at 10:10 AM on January 3, 2012


> One could make a strong case that the pronunciation of "native" English speakers is, in fact, wrong.

One could not. By definition, the consensus pronunciation of native English speakers is "right". In fact, it's only in recent years that grammarians have started to include usage from non-native speakers of the language who still use it every day (for business, in countries like India).

> Come to think of it, what on earth is a "native speaker of English?" What exactly does that mean?

If this were a science posting, you wouldn't be trying to question the definition of "electron" or "polymer"!

Actually, the Wikipedia has a surprisingly nuanced definition.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:16 AM on January 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm from Rhode Island...I'll have to queerry my auuuuuhnt about this. Have a grinder while you wait.
posted by Biblio at 10:21 AM on January 3, 2012


Also: French spelling is much more regular than English (I was taught in both languages in grade school and high school).

It's difficult because you have to understand the grammar well to disambiguate words with the same sound - if someone says "par-leh", it might be written parlé, parler, parlez, parlais, parlait, parlaient, but each of these meanings is grammatically different, and the verb parler is in general regular.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:21 AM on January 3, 2012


This is the finest poem ending in three exclamation points that I have ever read.
posted by dfan at 10:21 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


> By definition, the consensus pronunciation of native English speakers is "right".

(This doesn't mean that variant pronunciations are wrong, mind you!)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:22 AM on January 3, 2012


Queer-y. New Jersey.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 10:23 AM on January 3, 2012


You have committed what my well-meaning but monoglot great-grandmother referred to as a fox pause.


Are you being vichyssoise?
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 10:24 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Englishman here, living in Canada and the US for the last 5 years. I've never heard anyone say query as anything other than queer-y. Not that I understood as being the same word, anyway.

I am gobsmacked that people think it is pronounced differently, to be honest.
posted by Brockles at 10:24 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm from Rhode Island...I'll have to queerry my auuuuuhnt about this. Have a grinder while you wait.

Okay, but if you tell me to drink from the bubbler*, there will be hell to pay.

*That's right, there's an R in your made up word, deal with it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:28 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Haunt does rhyme with aunt for me.

Also mind blowing. I can't work out which one would be the one to blow my mind, though. Aunt = Carn't, Haunch = hornch to me. Either of those how you'd say it?

(for reference, Home counties native English for accent identification)
posted by Brockles at 10:30 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some background info for the Dutchies: this poem was written by G. Nolst Trinité (1870-1960), aka Charivarius, who gave the name of Tante Betje stijl to the Dutch style affront of inconsistent subject-verb inversion in a conjunction. The Genootschap Onze Taal calls him a taalpurist.
The sentiment of taalpurisme can be noticed quite often on metafilter even if the theoretical groundings are abhorred.
Somebody on metafilter pointed out to me that this may be the american equivalent of class war; showing off your education. Possibly confounded by the nerdy tendencies we on mefi are prone to.
posted by joost de vries at 10:34 AM on January 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


> Who uses "gunwale"

boatswains
posted by jfuller at 10:40 AM on January 3, 2012 [29 favorites]


The premise of this is flawed.

The most obvious example from my everyday life is the word 'data'. In the dictionaries I have (Merriam-Webster & American Heritage) they have two proper pronunciations. First with a long 'a', and second with a short 'a' on the first syllable. The second pronunciation is absolutely proper.

There is only one which is ever advisable to use where I hang out however. Use the wrong one and people think you're stupid. Also see: linux, gif (they were arguing about gif on the metafilter podcast this morning--it's jif just like choosy mothers choose jiff!)

The other day I heard somebody use the second dictionary pronunciation for 'harass' and it was a double-take. She is a college professor, so maybe I should ask.metafilter for the consensus pronunciation for 'harass'.
posted by bukvich at 10:45 AM on January 3, 2012


I've recently realized that I have no idea how to pronounce pecan.

Merriam-Webster and American Heritage list \pi-ˈkän\ first. I'll note that this is the pronunciation prevailing in the parts of the U.S. where pecans actually grow. I'll also note that this pronunciation is the one that doesn't make a delicious delectable sound like a metal receptacle for urine.

I have spoken.
posted by grouse at 10:47 AM on January 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Harass is pronounced "ha-RASS" not "harris" or "her-ass."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:51 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


>> Who uses "gunwale"

> boatswains

And nukyeler physicists may be heard to talk about bosons.
posted by eruonna at 10:54 AM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Don't ask anyone British to pronounce "Maurice" or "garage". You will cry.
posted by maudlin at 10:55 AM on January 3, 2012


Aunt = Carn't, Haunch = hornch

You people put an R in aunt and haunch (presumably because you hear that letter in those words) and you take it out of world? You're all completely insane.

I want to come for a visit.
posted by emelenjr at 10:56 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Haunt rhymes with aunt for me too! I'd say it's pronounced exactly as it looks, but clearly that's not the case for everyone. I pronounce the au like on, as in 'turn the light on.' Hont and ont? With a short o. Possibly hawnt and awnt? Although that's a little more Brooklyn than my accent normally gets. And yes, I am from the northeast US.
posted by Grafix at 10:58 AM on January 3, 2012


ThatCanadianGirl I agree with you but this was a professor of philosophy saying harris. It was Martha freaking Nussbaum.
posted by bukvich at 11:00 AM on January 3, 2012


No, they don't put a proper R in - they put in a schwa. Southern English don't say R at all, not even a Canadian R (without the trill of the Scottish). All of their R's turn to schwa, and they also insert the schwa into other words - that's why "sore" and "saw" sound the same (and both rhyme with door - but with no R sounds). (They also have an o and an "open o" sound where many North Americans have an o and a long a or don't differentiate.)

The most obvious example from my everyday life is the word 'data'. In the dictionaries I have (Merriam-Webster & American Heritage) they have two proper pronunciations. First with a long 'a', and second with a short 'a' on the first syllable. The second pronunciation is absolutely proper.

One is the plural of datum, and the other is a Star Trek character. I don't see the confusion.

There is only one which is ever advisable to use where I hang out however. Use the wrong one and people think you're stupid. Also see: linux, gif (they were arguing about gif on the metafilter podcast this morning--it's jif just like choosy mothers choose jiff!)

Wow, that's just ... wrong. It's clearly a hard-g, like graphic.
posted by jb at 11:02 AM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


sorry - bit about gif should have been italicized.

Also, about Linux: Linus Torvald has given his official pronunciation, and it's halfway between a short and a long I. So we're all wrong.
posted by jb at 11:04 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


My mom says "harris" - and she was raised by two serious language snoots. I have picked up some weird things from her, but "harris" is a bridge too far.
posted by naoko at 11:04 AM on January 3, 2012


> American Heritage Dictionary gives querry (rhymes-with-very) for its pronunciation.

No, you read their symbol wrong: it's (what we're calling) "queery." (Which is how I say it; I am currently living in Massachusetts but have lived in California, Connecticut, and New York.)
posted by languagehat at 11:07 AM on January 3, 2012


Haunt rhymes with aunt for me too! I'd say it's pronounced exactly as it looks, but clearly that's not the case for everyone. I pronounce the au like on, as in 'turn the light on.' Hont and ont? With a short o. Possibly hawnt and awnt? Although that's a little more Brooklyn than my accent normally gets. And yes, I am from the northeast US.

Actually, after telling the fairly amusing story I related above, my father, my wife, and I had a fairly interesting conversation about Aunt. As a Yankee(Rhode Island), my wife does not pronounce it like the insect; I think this is standard Yankee talk, but I might be wrong. In the South, the split seems racial. White people say "Ant," Blacks say "awnt." At least, this has been my observation including in my own family, which is fairly racially split, and feature the same person who will be addressed by both pronunciations in the same gathering.

My mom says "harris" - and she was raised by two serious language snoots. I have picked up some weird things from her, but "harris" is a bridge too far.

Hey, my mother says "heighth" which I occasionally say accidentally. Of course, my mother for a while pronounced genre as if it had a D in it (Jahn-dra), so her pronunciation is, shall we say, idiosyncratic.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:08 AM on January 3, 2012


Another weird bit: the line with "George ate late" is probably supposed to show a contrast between "ate" and "late". Which is to say, the writer pronounces them differently, probably pronouncing "ate" as "et". And considers this more correct than the more common pronunciation.
posted by baf at 11:09 AM on January 3, 2012


Though the cough, hough and hiccough so unsought would plough me through,
Enough that I o'er life's dark lough my thorough course pursue.
posted by KChasm at 11:11 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jahn-dra sounds like a character from a B-list fantasy novel.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:13 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


You have committed what my well-meaning but monoglot great-grandmother referred to as a fox pause.

My in-laws have a family story about one of their relatives going on and on about this fancy fox leather jacket she had recently purchased. For Christmas, I received a faux leather pen from them. I guess I'm part of the family now, since I understood why this was a funny gift.
posted by asnider at 11:17 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, they don't put a proper R in

Yes we do. You just don't hear it because you're too used to being clubbed over the head with a giant American super-over-emphasised ARRRR!

Just because I don't hit you over the head with my R's doesn't mean they're missing. We can tell the difference if they were missing, even if it escapes your R-deafened ears :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:18 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


jb I agree with you about gif but I may have been corrected about that more than any other pronunciation since becoming old enough to drink legal. Tell it to Cortex, tell it to Jessamyn.
posted by bukvich at 11:20 AM on January 3, 2012


you take it out of world

What? I can't think of a way that we take the 'r' out of world. MY HEAD IS ASSPLODING WITH SOME OF THIS.

Just because I don't hit you over the head with my R's doesn't mean they're missing.

Hearing that sentence out loud gives a whole new disturbing slant.

I agree with you about gif .....Tell it to Cortex, tell it to Jessamyn.

Don't even get me fucking started on Mee-figh.
posted by Brockles at 11:24 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Worcester, Massachusetts.

WOOSTAH!!!
posted by bpm140 at 11:25 AM on January 3, 2012


Worcestershire Sauce and the naming thereof nearly caused the first proper fight between my (now) wife and I when I first visited her in her native California back in dating-land...
posted by Brockles at 11:28 AM on January 3, 2012


Worcester, Massachusetts.

Pronounced WOO-stuh of course. The OO sounds like "rough".
posted by scalefree at 11:28 AM on January 3, 2012


Possibly interesting data point - when I was travelling in Uganda a few years back, I got into a conversation with a couple of native Luo speakers who had learnt English at their local schools, and were pretty fluent in it. I took the opportunity to help with a project of one of my friends from back home - he was trying to collect the phrase "[language], you need it because you're weak" in as many different languages as possible.

So, after explaining this slightly odd project, these guys happily wrote the phrase out in Luo for me. They handed me the paper, and I read it out loud.

I looked up to find the two of them staring at me in surprise. Apparently, I had read the sentence with perfect Luo pronunciation on the first attempt despite knowing precisely none of the words. Turns out that growing up with a language where pronunciation maps onto spelling only by chance is incredibly good experience for reading a language where the mapping is more or less one to one.
posted by ZsigE at 11:29 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I once cringed and sobbed through a meeting that featured my project manager tapping her inch long nails on the glass monitor while saying to the client that the logo was going to be in 'universe fox bold', over and over and over again.

It's Wissta.
posted by dirtdirt at 11:29 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's Wissta.

Oh god, no it isn't. Scalefree has it right. Woo-stuh. Seriously, I can't go back down that particular rabbit hole. It's only just become amusing this year - 3 years later.
posted by Brockles at 11:32 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


It was Martha freaking Nussbaum.

I know. CBC pronounces it like that, too. I liked it when they talked about "harrissment" during the dreadful Mike Harris regime, but other than that, it sounds weird to me.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:32 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's Westchester.
posted by oddman at 11:38 AM on January 3, 2012


And being from Philadelphia I know that it's spelled water but pronounced wood-er.
posted by scalefree at 11:38 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I somehow can't help but think that my Irish Gaelic speaking friend would read complaints about how weird English spelling/pronunciations mashups are and would think, "how quaint."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:39 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I work in English language training, and for a long time I've been bothered by how difficult it is for learners to learn how to spell in English. The poem is a great example of how unstructured English spelling can seem.

However, I recently read a great book about the psychology of reading (Reading in the Brain: the Science and Evolution of a Human Invention), and it make some interesting counter-arguments about English spelling. The main take-away is that the orthography we have is, in some ways, well-suited.

Here are a few points:

- There’s a hidden logic to the spelling system for all languages. From the book: ”The linguistic differences between English, Italian, French, and Chinese are such that no single spelling solution could ever suit them all.” Some languages are better suited for phonetic writing than others.

- Also from the book: “Written language is not a high-fidelity speech recording. Its goal is not to reproduce speech as we pronounce it, but rather to code it at a level abstract enough to allow the reader to quickly retrieve its meaning.”

- Multiple dialects and accents mean that a purely phonetic spelling of English would favor one region over others, and exclude all others. As much as I’d love for all English words to be written in my native Minnesooootan pranunci-Yeyshin, it’s probably best if we allow for a bit of “flex” in the way we represent words. Likewise, Chinese characters, although incredibly difficult to learn, allow speakers of wildly different dialects to communicate.

- English has 40-45 phonemes, while Italian, a language with a very phonetic orthography, has around thirty. To be perfectly phonetic, English spelling would require at least 40-45 letters, accounting not just for the sounds we can already express with our alphabet but also for the various dipthongs (buy, flew, toy, etc.) and long vowels (beef, boot, bird).

- Languages with highly phonetic writing — like Czech, Turkish, Italian — tend to have longer words and therefore fewer homophones. This is usually a reflection of their grammar; these languages have more word formation. English, which almost never changes word forms (one exception is the plural s) ends up having more words. In particular, English has more homophones — for example two, too, to — if we wrote them all the same, it would make reading texts much more difficult.

- In this sense, English shares grammatical similarities with Chinese, although Chinese is even farther removed from languages like Czech, Turkish, or Italian. The vast majority of Chinese words consist of only one or two syllables.

- English’s non-phonetic spelling can reveal to learners the relationships between words. For example, insane and insanity; these should be spelled differently, but the pattern of letters allows learners to better see their relationship (that insanity is the noun form of insane). The same is true for column, autumn, or condemn, which have a silent “n” which nonetheless helps us connect them with words like columnist, autumnal, and condemnation.

In sum, certain features about English render it unsuitable for a purely phonetic alphabet. That’s because writing is not about representing pronunciation, but efficiently conveying meaning. For that reason, our bizarre and irrational spellings have more in common with Chinese characters than they do with the clearly patterned words of Italian or Turkish.

Cold comfort for English language learners, but I think it helps put things into perspective.
posted by mammary16 at 11:40 AM on January 3, 2012 [30 favorites]


I'm referring to pronouncing "world" as "wuhld," as in "BBC Wuhld News."
posted by emelenjr at 11:42 AM on January 3, 2012


Oh god, no it isn't.

I don't know about a rabbit hole, but we moved to Shrewsbury (across the lake from Worcester) from Illinois when I was 9, and I spent a LOT of time trying to wrap my head around the local speech patterns, and it was absolutely not Woo-stuh. It was Wisstah. Wisstah Centrum. Wisstah County. Wisstah Telegram and Gazzette. Maybe even Wistah. The first vowel is not long, in my experience.
posted by dirtdirt at 11:44 AM on January 3, 2012


It's difficult because you have to understand the grammar well to disambiguate words with the same sound - if someone says "par-leh", it might be written parlé, parler, parlez, parlais, parlait, parlaient

All of your examples don't sound the same - the first three are pronounced /paʁle/, the rest /paʁlɛ/.
posted by martinrebas at 11:51 AM on January 3, 2012


I'm referring to pronouncing "world" as "wuhld," as in "BBC Wuhld News."

It's Whurld, not Wuhld. The "h" sound comes from the W :-p
posted by -harlequin- at 11:56 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm referring to pronouncing "world" as "wuhld," as in "BBC Wuhld News."

This has to be that US weird ear thing. My wife swears blind she hears 'r's in my speech that simply aren't there (as have several Canadian friends). What you hear as 'Wuhld' is World. The 'r' is there as plain as day to me.

My wife says things to me after (possibly willfully) misunderstanding what I am saying. She will then say 'no you said (something that sounds to me exactly like I said but that apparently would be spelt completely differently to her with that pronunciation when she says it). It drives me batty. She is convinced I am adding letters here and there and it makes no sense to me.

it was absolutely not Woo-stuh. It was Wisstah.

Oh wow. So LOTS of people get it wrong, even those who live there. How bizarre.... ;)

Worcestershire (the sauce, the county and the county town) is Woo-stuh. I claim precedent by some several hundred years (at the least). Wikipedia, interestingly, gives the same pronunciation for both, but I'm not sure where that leaves us, as it agrees with the English pronunciation (but who added the phonetic stuff?).
posted by Brockles at 11:56 AM on January 3, 2012


Some of the other loan words are arguable, too, but those two are straight-up proper nouns from another language.

So how long do we have to squat on a word before we can say it's and English word ("from the Greek ...") instead of calling it a Greek word?
posted by straight at 12:00 PM on January 3, 2012


What gets me most in english is when pronunciations switch base on whether they're a noun or adjective. Octagon, and octagonal, for example.
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:01 PM on January 3, 2012


it was absolutely not Woo-stuh. It was Wisstah.

There are accents that will pronounce woo-stah in a way that sounds like wisstah to others (and I'm guessing that this accented pronunciation got picked up in turn by people whose accent would normally give woo-stah). So I'm going to assume that this isn't a case of being wrong, so much as a mess of accents influencing each other :)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:01 PM on January 3, 2012


A lot of people still don't know
How to say "Etobicoke"
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:15 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


LOL this reminds me of when I used to meet with exchange students from Japan, learning English at my university. We're in Iowa so they come here to learn our famously neutral Midwest accent. They'd come in with textbook exercises that baffled them. They sought advice of what we called "native speaker intuition," we may not know why the language is a certain way, but we have internalized the rules and use them unconsciously.

So one day I was stunned when a Japanese student showed me a homework assignment. They were expected to be able to distinguish between paired words when they were spoken. He asked me to speak this pair aloud:

Flower - Flour

There is a subtle difference that I tried to enunciate without making it too obvious. They couldn't hear it. They made me repeat it over and over, trying to catch the difference. I made it increasingly different, they still couldn't hear the difference. Soon, some other native English speakers heard what was going on, they listened to me and couldn't hear the difference. I tried to have English speakers guess which version I was speaking, even with an overemphasis on the differences, some could tell, some couldn't. Some insisted there was no difference.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:16 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mirriam-webster gives exactly the same pronunciation for both charlie!
posted by pharm at 12:31 PM on January 3, 2012


Here's the latest BBC World News one minute newscast. The "r" is soft in words like "world" and "first", but they are there. The type of vowel that is adjacent to the r makes a difference, I think. The shorter (?) vowels in "first" and "world" nestle up to a soft r, while the long vowels in "gearing", "Gary", and "broke" each accompany a much more distinct "r".

On preview: "flour-flower"? Yeah, that's a subtle distinction. I find myself sounding out "flower" in my head as two reasonably distinct syllables, but when I say the words, they sound the same unless I self-consciously enunciate the difference.
posted by maudlin at 12:34 PM on January 3, 2012


How to say "Etobicoke"

"WishesitwereToronto".

Flower - Flour

There is a subtle difference that I tried to enunciate without making it too obvious.


Er. Not that I am aware of or have ever seen, heard or known about. It's not like the pane/panne italian pronunciation difference that I was so flummoxed by when I lived in Italy. Those two DO sound different to native speakers (not that I could ever replicate/understand it in my 8 month Italian crash course), but the only difference between flower and flour is spelling.
posted by Brockles at 12:34 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting and fun, but wow, that poem is too long.
posted by freakazoid at 12:35 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


This post and thread go a long way toward helping me understand why Geoffrey Pullum and Mark Liberman are often so irritable.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:44 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Howe'er you say Terpsichore
On my word, is fine with me
Lest you make speaking into chore
It's worth it to see Terpsichore.
posted by Twang at 12:44 PM on January 3, 2012


mammary16 touched upon what I was going to say*, which is wanting to express one of the things I love, love, love about English's wacky 'n deep orthography system...when you have a global lingua franca with literally thousands of dialects who more or less share the same spelling conventions, it's pretty darned neat to have that system be so out there that it favors no one dialect at all. It's the great unifier of all of them. In fact, the closest thing the English orthography system represents phonetically is the Early Modern English it was created for. Which is to say, it's a spot on reflection, in written form. How cool.

*That '16' changes everything.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:46 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.


no, i don't think so
posted by pyramid termite at 12:50 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course it's a bubbleR. I'm from the civilized side of Rhode Island!
posted by Biblio at 12:53 PM on January 3, 2012


Of course it's a bubbleR. I'm from the civilized side of Rhode Island!

My wife, who has only a slight trace of a Rhode Island accent, thankfully pronounces the R, most of the time. Of course, like all Rhode Islanders, she pronounces the name of the state with a sound that is only slightly more appealing than listening to someone strangle a dog. (something like "Rahd'ilan")

I'm guessing this is late enough in the thread that she won't read that last comment.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:03 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


but the only difference between flower and flour is spelling

Spelling and the number of syllables, yes? "Flower" having two and "flour" having one, obviously.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:04 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


"It's actually pronounced like this...."

Shall I assume your name should be pronounced as "pedant"?
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:11 PM on January 3, 2012


This thread clearly needs a "prescriptivist" tag.
posted by TedW at 1:11 PM on January 3, 2012


I say "queer-y", & I live in Oklahoma.
posted by broken wheelchair at 1:15 PM on January 3, 2012


Spelling and the number of syllables, yes?

I meant in how they are pronounced. I thought it obvious that spelling pretty much dictates how many syllables a word has.
posted by Brockles at 1:16 PM on January 3, 2012


"I thought it obvious that spelling pretty much dictates how many syllables a word has."

If by "obvious" you mean "entirely false", then yes.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:18 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm non-native, but I agree with scalefree: Pronounced WOO-stuh of course. The OO sounds like "rough". In fact, it drives me nuts when people put woo in what I type out as Wuhster (because leaving off the 'r' when you are non-native makes you sound like Zazoo). "No, no, no. WOO-burn, Wuh-ster."

>>I've recently realized that I have no idea how to pronounce pecan.
>I say "puh-cawn", which is apparently only standard in certain parts of the south.


I was taught by a North Carolinan that a pecan and a pee can are two entirely different things.
posted by maryr at 1:25 PM on January 3, 2012


No, you read their symbol wrong: it's (what we're calling) "queery." (Which is how I say it; I am currently living in Massachusetts but have lived in California, Connecticut, and New York.)

Actually, I was going by their little recording--I didn't think to look at their phonetic transcription. That's really interesting, that they should contradict themselves! Shows how strong a division there is in the US on that word.
posted by yoink at 1:26 PM on January 3, 2012


Flower - Flour

Some insisted there was no difference.


Um...that's because there isn't. The two words are pronounced exactly the same way in every dialect of English that I have ever heard spoken.
posted by asnider at 1:27 PM on January 3, 2012


are you serious? "Flower" has two syllables, "flour" has one. How is a syllable not a matter of pronunciation?
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:31 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes we do. You just don't hear it because you're too used to being clubbed over the head with a giant American super-over-emphasised ARRRR!

We're all pirates here.

At least we only have one 'R', to the best of my knowledge. The French have 3 bloody ways of pronouncing R's. And one sounds like you are hacking up a hairball. (Having two different ones in my name makes me embarassed to speak my poor French from the very introduction.)
posted by maryr at 1:36 PM on January 3, 2012


One cup of flow-er ... that's the only way I've ever heard it.

Also here in North Carolina I say "queer-y" as in "Structured Queer-y Language" or "See-kwul". (Aside: Now and then I meet a programmer who says "ess-queue-ell" which comes off as a bit much, like saying "portable personal computer" every time instead of "PC" or "laptop").
posted by freecellwizard at 1:37 PM on January 3, 2012


Worcestershire Sauce and the naming thereof nearly caused the first proper fight between my (now) wife and I...

me
posted by The Bellman at 1:37 PM on January 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


are you serious? "Flower" has two syllables, "flour" has one. How is a syllable not a matter of pronunciation?

Wait, how do you pronounce flour? I use two syllables and so does everyone I know (I think). Sounds exactly like flower. I think if someone said it as one syllable, I wouldn't know what they were talking about.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:41 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The two words are pronounced exactly the same way in every dialect of English that I have ever heard spoken."

Okay, ya'll, a bit of advice: it's very, very often the case that how people think they pronounce words is not actually how they pronounce them. And how they hear other people pronouncing words is not how other people are actually pronouncing them. And orthography has a subtle but real affect on how people believe themselves to pronounce words, independently of how they actually do.

The combination of these factors, and more besides, very frequently cause people to be greatly mistaken about the sorts of assertions people are making in this thread.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:41 PM on January 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


Huh, I spell it y'all. Or is y'all singular and ya'll plural?
posted by maryr at 1:44 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wait, how do you pronounce flour? I use two syllables and so does everyone I know (I think). Sounds exactly like flower. I think if someone said it as one syllable, I wouldn't know what they were talking about.

When I say "flower" my lips mostly close on the "w" and then pop back open again for the "er". When I say "flour" I make the same sound with my throat and tongue, but my lips don't close to break up the syllables.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:46 PM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, what the inside of your mouth is doing when you pronounce a word may not be evident to the person you're speaking to. It may sound exactly the same as when you do something slightly different with the inside of your mouth, eg flower, flour. So you think ypu're saying it differently, but it sounds the same to your audience.

Also, how many syllables do you get when you pronounce fire?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:47 PM on January 3, 2012


fahy-er!!
posted by TheKM at 1:52 PM on January 3, 2012


Huh, I spell it y'all. Or is y'all singular and ya'll plural?

Ya'll (or Y'all) is NEVER singular. It's always plural. All ya'll is an intensifier that sometimes confuses this. As to spelling, I prefer ya'll, because I think it captures the pronunciation better, but y'all is pretty common.

When I say "flower" my lips mostly close on the "w" and then pop back open again for the "er". When I say "flour" I make the same sound with my throat and tongue, but my lips don't close to break up the syllables.

I'm trying to do this, but I can't make my mouth do that without sounding like a hillbilly. There must be something I'm missing, perhaps I'll look for a recording of this after work.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:52 PM on January 3, 2012


ThatCanadianGirl: That depends, fire in a crowded theater, or fie-uh on the mountain?
posted by The Bellman at 1:54 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I say "flower" my lips mostly close on the "w" and then pop back open again for the "er". When I say "flour" I make the same sound with my throat and tongue, but my lips don't close to break up the syllables.

I can't do what you are describing (as I understanding it) without saying "Flower" and "FLAURGH". The two words are formed and pronounced exactly the same way in all of my experience and usage. Same lip usage, everything.

If by "obvious" you mean "entirely false", then yes.

So which letters a word has, how many of them and in what order they come in has no bearing on syllables? Interesting perspective you have.
posted by Brockles at 1:56 PM on January 3, 2012


"as I am understanding it"
posted by Brockles at 1:58 PM on January 3, 2012


Huh, I spell it y'all. Or is y'all singular and ya'll plural?

Y'all is a contraction for "you all." As such, it is spelled y'all, and it is always plural because it indicates a second-person plural.
posted by Houstonian at 2:04 PM on January 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


I say "queer-y", & I live in Oklahoma.

Do you pronounce "wash" as "warsh"?
posted by TedW at 2:04 PM on January 3, 2012


When I say "flower" my lips mostly close on the "w" and then pop back open again for the "er". When I say "flour" I make the same sound with my throat and tongue, but my lips don't close to break up the syllables.

This may or may not be true of you, but it's definitely untrue for the vast majority of English speakers. For them, the two words are homophones.

So which letters a word has, how many of them and in what order they come in has no bearing on syllables? Interesting perspective you have.

How many syllables a word has relates to it's pronunciation and not its spelling. Spelling will help you predict the number of syllables in an unfamiliar word because most words in English are spelled with some regard for pronunciation--but it will often lead you astray. Leicestershire, Worcestershire, Featherstonehaugh, Chomondelay etc. are famous examples (three, three, two and two respectively).
posted by yoink at 2:06 PM on January 3, 2012


Or "Pilot".
posted by Brockles at 2:07 PM on January 3, 2012


"Huh, I spell it y'all. Or is y'all singular and ya'll plural?"

I made a typo. In my neck of the woods, y'all is always plural, with the ambiguous exception where an individual is being addressed as a representative of others or an institution. Some people have attested to singular y'all, but I've personally never heard it outside of clumsy television attempts at Southern dialect and I remain a bit suspicious about its existence.

"Also, what the inside of your mouth is doing when you pronounce a word may not be evident to the person you're speaking to. It may sound exactly the same as when you do something slightly different with the inside of your mouth, eg flower, flour. So you think ypu're saying it differently, but it sounds the same to your audience."

As a Canadian, you no doubt had Canadian raising in mind when you wrote the above. It's a good example of this because while the (non-upper-midwest) Americans hear "a-boot" when a Canadian says "about", the different pronunciation of those two, er, words (boot and bout) is quite distinct to a Canadian. That's because those Americans don't really have that particular diphthong phoneme in their speech and so they just don't hear it as it is. Instead, they hear it as whatever is closest in their dialect. Thus, "boot".

There's basically two reliable ways to get at the phonemes that people speak. Most basic, and pretty reliable, is actually knowing what's happening inside the mouth. You can learn a lot about how you actually pronounce words by become mindful of what your tongue is doing in your mouth with specific words. The flour/flower pair is perhaps a bit subtle, but pay attention to the timing of when the middle/back of your tongue moves upward relative to the tip of the tongue at the roof (for the L) which precedes it.

"So which letters a word has, how many of them and in what order they come in has no bearing on syllables? Interesting perspective you have."

Syllables are phonetic, not orthographic. They are defined by their phonetic properties, not their orthographics. By definition, you can determine the syllables of a particular pronunciation of a word by carefully examining its phonemes. In contrast, the degree to which a written word reveals its syllables is entirely contingent and not very reliable.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:08 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


This may or may not be true of you, but it's definitely untrue for the vast majority of English speakers. For them, the two words are homophones.

Amazing - I had never noticed that. I have always thought it comical to see people write "flower" in a recipe when they obviously mean "flour", but did not realize this was a simple homophone substitution for them. I'll have to ask my kiwi/aussie wife to say these words for me when I get home and see how her pronunciation compares.

After a few dozen times repeating this to myself, I wonder if it has to do with the strength of the "r" on the end of the word. If I try to say "flour" with a strongly enunciated "r", as in Brockles' example, it does come out sounding like two syllables, much more like "flower".
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:13 PM on January 3, 2012


Amazing - I had never noticed that. I have always thought it comical to see people write "flower" in a recipe when they obviously mean "flour", but did not realize this was a simple homophone substitution for them.

American Heritage Dictionary sound clips for "flower" and "flour." See if you can tell which is which:

Clip 1

Clip 2

(Make sure you don't look at the URLs).
posted by yoink at 2:20 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, the word "bass" without context is not really kosher.

They have scales, so they're kosher.
posted by atrazine at 2:28 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


yoink: both of those links point to the same apparently corrupt sound file... the odd noise that comes out doesn't sound like either word.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:29 PM on January 3, 2012


Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

no, i don't think so


I was trying to figure this out, too. I can't see Arkansas (which to a California-raised I pronounced as if sas were saw) being pronounced Arkansour, so maybe the four is "fawh"?

Yeah, I don't get that.

Flower and flour on the other hand is easy. They sound the same when you speak normally, but when you ask how to pronounced them I say flower with a "wer" and flour as if it were one syllable.. but only when asked to pronounced them.
posted by linux at 2:30 PM on January 3, 2012


I've got some sound clips for you, yoink.

smartass

smartarse

Yeah, I still can't hear a difference when I say the words, but my brain insists, just looking at the letters, that there must be a difference. There isn't (at least, not when the words are being pronounced naturally.)
posted by maudlin at 2:32 PM on January 3, 2012


Oh, almost forgot: The Two Ronnies sum up this thread.
posted by maudlin at 2:34 PM on January 3, 2012


So which letters a word has, how many of them and in what order they come in has no bearing on syllables? Interesting perspective you have.

The written spelling of a word has no bearing on the number of syllables as far as I know because the concept of a syllable is specific to speech sounds that are irrelevant to how the word is presented in written text. So squirrelled would have the same number of syllables if it was instead spelled as skwurld but was still pronounced the same way.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:38 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


but the only difference between flower and flour is spelling

Also, you can't make croissants with tulip bulbs.
posted by atrazine at 2:45 PM on January 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yes we do. You just don't hear it because you're too used to being clubbed over the head with a giant American super-over-emphasised ARRRR!

Firstly, American Rs have nothing on Canadian Rs (which are more heavily influenced by Scottish and Irish dialects). Canadians (of which I am one) do pronounce R's very strongly.

Secondly, you probably don't say Rs at the ends of words or in front of consonants if you have a southern English accent, most of which are non-rhotic - rhotics being "r-like" consonants (because there are several). Scots often have a trilled or rolled R - IPA [r] - while Canadians and rhotic-American dialects have an Alveolar or retroflex approximant - IPA [ɹ].

from wikipedia - "English pronunciation can be divided into two main accent groups: a rhotic ...speaker pronounces a rhotic consonant in words like hard; a non-rhotic speaker does not. That is, rhotic speakers pronounce /r/ in all positions, while non-rhotic speakers pronounce /r/ only if it is followed by a vowel sound in the same phrase or prosodic unit...
Loss of coda /r/ apparently became widespread in southern England during the 18th century; John Walker uses the spelling ar to indicate the broad A of aunt in his 1775 dictionary and reports that card is pronounced "caad" in 1791..."

and if you note the map, most of southern England is non-rhotic, with the notable exceptions of Cornwall and the West Country (where pirates come from).

I love wikipedia - I didn't have to try to remember a linguistics lecture from 12 years ago.
posted by jb at 2:46 PM on January 3, 2012


How to say "Etobicoke"

"WishesitwereToronto".


Either that, or "TooclosetoMississauga".
posted by jb at 2:50 PM on January 3, 2012


I've got some sound clips for you, yoink.

smartass

smartarse


Well, in my defense, American Heritage Dictionary uses exactly the same soundfile for both words (i.e., they use the same URL for both). But I was interested to see if someone would hear the two samples as distinguishable. I'm always fascinated by how little people who have not had some linguistic or prosodic training actually hear of what they are saying. When I teach prosody I'll ask students which syllable in a word gets the primary stress, and in most cases they'll just guess at random--despite the fact that they pronounce the word perfectly orthodoxly every time they say it. It really takes training to hear yourself as you speak. There is almost always a huge variance between the way people actually pronounce words and what sounds actually come out of their mouths.
posted by yoink at 2:51 PM on January 3, 2012


both of those links point to the same apparently corrupt sound file

Odd. It plays fine for me on two different computers.
posted by yoink at 2:54 PM on January 3, 2012


I have a PhD and make my living on the written word, I also have a mild speech defect that's only noticed by kindly speech therapists and unkindly assholes.

It's a nice poem for highlighting many of the problems of English spelling and pronunciation, but as a diction litmus test, it's bullshit.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:56 PM on January 3, 2012


Whether two words are homophones or not depends on your dialect. The following word-pairs are homophones for me (urban Canadian) and not homophones for my husband (northern English) - he says a vowel for some of them that I can't say (that open-o thingy, and I can't even remember which for which) - I say a low back sound for all four words.

Don - Dawn
caught - cot

Similarly, combined with his non-rhotic accent, the use of that same vowel means that his "saw" sounds very close to his "sore" - whereas I have two different vowels and a rhotic in one but not the other.
posted by jb at 3:00 PM on January 3, 2012


"Secondly, you probably don't say Rs at the ends of words or in front of consonants if you have a southern English accent, most of which are non-rhotic - rhotics being "r-like" consonants (because there are several). "

Ben Zimmer wrote an informative post on Language Log a few years ago about how non-rhotic British speakers, attempting an American accent, frequently botch it in several different ways, including what he calls the "intrusive intrusive /r/" (non-rhotic speakers will often add an /r/ in certain words like drawing).

Quoting a bit of his post:
Since Smith doesn't use the "Louisianer" pronunciation in all of his American-esque voices (including impersonations of Christopher Walken and Al Pacino), I assume he's trying to simulate varying levels of rhoticity in different regional accents. That's all well and good, except that even the most /r/-ful speakers in the contemporary United States would be unlikely to render a word-final schwa as [-ər], as in "Botswaner" or "Louisianer." It is, however, typical of non-rhotic speakers' attempts at approximating rhotic accents. Perhaps most famously, when the Beatles covered "Till There Was You" (a song from "The Music Man"), Paul McCartney sang, "There were birds in the sky / but I never sawr them winging." Peter Trudgill discussed McCartney's hyper-rhotic pronunciation in this song in "Acts of Conflicting Identity: The Sociolinguistics of British Pop-Song Pronunciation" (in On Dialect, Blackwell, 1983).
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:03 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


There were birds in the sky / but I never sawr them winging

Huh--I never heard that at all, till there was your post. I'm a native non-rhotic speaker and when I try to pronounce words in the American way I sound like I'm pretending to be a pirate.
posted by yoink at 3:17 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


My non-native English speaking husband can't grasp that there's no second H in the fine town of "Holyoke" so it's just a damn good thing we don't live in Worcester is what I'm saying.
posted by sonika at 3:28 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


query doesn't even rhyme with query.

Or Kweer-y and kwhere-y for some of you.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:57 PM on January 3, 2012


Growing up listening to the original broadway cast album of Follies, I learned that query rhymes with cheery.

(you're gonna love tomorrow)
posted by betweenthebars at 4:23 PM on January 3, 2012


Growing up listening to what is now "classic rock", I learned that flower rhymes with hour. Although I am with those who think "flower' and "flour" are distinct. In my case, watching myself pronounce the two words in a mirror makes it clear that "flower" is more labialized, at least when I say it.

Good to see you still hanging around, languagehat!
posted by TedW at 4:40 PM on January 3, 2012


I snarled before I even got to the poem. "If you can pronounce correctly every word of this poem..." AARG it'd flow so much better if it was "If you can CORRECTLY PRONOUNCE".

Then I started reading it out loud. When I got to the line ending in Terpsichore, I knew to pronounce it to rhyme with "trickery" without that cue, and I was all "aaargh you are so close to making an actual sentence here fuck you" and quit.
posted by egypturnash at 4:42 PM on January 3, 2012


Okay, ya'll, a bit of advice: it's very, very often the case that how people think they pronounce words is not actually how they pronounce them. And how they hear other people pronouncing words is not how other people are actually pronouncing them. And orthography has a subtle but real affect on how people believe themselves to pronounce words, independently of how they actually do.

This is good advice.

Worcester: They are saying WOO-stah, (oo like rough or was), but it sounds kind of like wistah. In "Mr. Johnson is from Worcester," mister and worcester wouldn't be identical. Actually, they are saying Wor'ster, but the non-rhotic R becomes nearly silent.

Query: I have always heard it queer-y, but not quite as dipthongy. Queer has a bit of a kwee-er dipthong to it (like "ear"), and I've never heard it pronounced that way in query. Sounds more like kwir-ee, where the ir is like irritate or irrational.

Flower/flour: It's the strength of the dipthong. Flower is more like FLOW-wer (ow like now or wow), and flour would be closer to FLAR (like jar or far). Sort of how "hour" and "our" can be pronounced slightly differently. ("Ar train leaves in an ow-er.")

My sociology professor in college enjoyed demonstrating to our Midwestern tin ears that "Mary", "merry" and "marry" could indeed sound different. It was "MAY-ree", "murray" and "mah-ree", if memory serves.

Let's not even get into different pronunciations depending on what sounds precede or follow a word. Or a coupon shitstorm.
posted by gjc at 5:08 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


French spelling is notoriously difficult even for native speakers.

Going from spoken to written French is notoriously difficult. Going from written to spoken French is quite easy, as it's quite regular.

English, beyond having hard to predict pronunciation, has impossible to predict emphasis. (It took me years before someone took pity on me and told me that French has predictable stress.)

I do not think Flower and Flour are distinct, and I bet if you recorded yourself saying just those two words, and played them back in random order, no one could predictably tell which one was which. Unless you pronounce flour 'flar', which I have never actually heard.
posted by jeather at 5:13 PM on January 3, 2012


Flower/flour: It's the strength of the dipthong. Flower is more like FLOW-wer (ow like now or wow), and flour would be closer to FLAR (like jar or far). Sort of how "hour" and "our" can be pronounced slightly differently. ("Ar train leaves in an ow-er.")

I've never heard anyone make that distinction in actual speech--though I can imagine someone doing that if they were elaborately pantomiming the distinction between the two words. In my experience, anyone who says "flar" for "flour" also says "flar" for "flower."

My sociology professor in college enjoyed demonstrating to our Midwestern tin ears that "Mary", "merry" and "marry" could indeed sound different. It was "MAY-ree", "murray" and "mah-ree", if memory serves.

The three are natively distinct for me (I remember being stunned by my undergraduate linguistics textbook when it confidently asserted that these words all sounded the same). It's MARE-ee, MEHree and MAree (in that last one the "ma" is the same as in "mat.")
posted by yoink at 5:18 PM on January 3, 2012


Unless you pronounce flour 'flar', which I have never actually heard

Posh Brits (the ones who pronounce house to rhyme with mice) would pronounce "flar" and "flour" the same--not that either would sound at all like any American's pronunciation of either.
posted by yoink at 5:20 PM on January 3, 2012


Dammit, now I'm sitting hear saying: "Flower / Flour" over and over to see if there really is a subtle difference in the way that I say the two.

the ones who pronounce house to rhyme with mice

What? How would you even?
posted by asnider at 5:35 PM on January 3, 2012


the ones who pronounce house to rhyme with mice

Queen Elizabeth does that.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:42 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


yoink: "when I try to pronounce words in the American way I sound like I'm pretending to be a pirate."

I've noticed this in a few British programs with speakers either faking or stressing an "American" accent. I'll why the speaker is hitting their terminal r's so hard. In one case I only figured out that a character was supposed to be American based on his vocabulary (trunk for boot, elevator for lift, that sort of thing.)
posted by Karmakaze at 5:53 PM on January 3, 2012


the ones who pronounce house to rhyme with mice

What? How would you even?


I've heard that too, but it's more like hayce to my ear. I think it happens with "count" too.

I've noticed that many times, UK versions of American accents come off as generic Texas-sounding accents. Very harsh. Mostly because, I would imagine, doing a non-rhotic American accent wouldn't sound nearly as funny.
posted by gjc at 6:15 PM on January 3, 2012


Dammit, now I'm sitting hear saying: "Flower / Flour" over and over to see if there really is a subtle difference in the way that I say the two.

ROFL. It is kind of infectious, as you can see from this thread. You should have heard a room full of people, about a dozen native English speakers, and about 6 native Japanese speakers, all saying this word pair over and over. I think the problem that confused the Japanese was the R. I got to see the flip side of that problem. I remember my Japanese teacher used to give us diction lessons, making us pronounce over and over and over the L/R sound, which are the same in Japanese. There's even an old Japanese instruction book called "Is that R like in London, or L like in Rome?"
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:53 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Wuh-ster" is a place in Massachusetts. "Woo-ste-sher" is an ingredient in a Bloody Mary.

(at least in my part of Michigan)
posted by LiteOpera at 7:11 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wooster is in Ohio, if that helps.
posted by maryr at 8:19 PM on January 3, 2012


SF Bay Area native, and I say query like DU: something more like a combination of queery and kwarry. Also, flower and flour are spoken exactly the same way.

It was written in 1920 by a Dutch person.
I was in Netherlands for a bit, and was made fun of for my pronounciation of a few choice Dutch words (the language has some wonderful sounds, with strong variations across the tiny country). I got my revenge with the word horror, which they were unable to pronounce. It drove them crazy.
posted by eye of newt at 9:31 PM on January 3, 2012


Apparently the British pronounce it "Horrah":
Howjsay
Macmillan
vs
Macmillan American

Here's Howjsay's Query
posted by eye of newt at 9:39 PM on January 3, 2012


I just want to know how everyone pronounces "Rural Juror".
posted by maudlin at 9:47 PM on January 3, 2012


I just want to know how everyone pronounces "Rural Juror".

I usually pronounce it r̥ͯ̀̏̔͜ʊ̹̟̀ͫ̓ͧͮ̃ͨͧ͘ə̧̮͍̬͙̖̰͔̈́̒͊́ͭ̇ͨ̊́̀͢rͧ̒҉͍̱͚̤͚̞̕ə̹̠̆ͬ͞l̡̩̙͎̝̰̠͈̰̯ͥͬ͠ ͚͇̜͕̩̞͔ͭ̽ͮ̌̽͡ˈ̧̫̬̟̥͑̅d̸͈̙͉͆ͤ̒ʒ̣̩̭̣̻̆ͮ́͜ʊ̶̶͖͕̠͈̝̹̋ͅə͓̺͔̣̱͈͛͐̌̾̒͡r̸̤̲̻͕̫͂̉ͤ̀ͭ̍̓̚͢ə͖̬̅̅̚͟r̖͖̩̼̦̺͌ͫ,̵̱͍̠̼͍̮͊̄ͪ͛̅͟͝.

incidentally also the name of my new witch house band
posted by en forme de poire at 10:42 PM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Another weird bit: the line with "George ate late" is probably supposed to show a contrast between "ate" and "late". Which is to say, the writer pronounces them differently, probably pronouncing "ate" as "et". And considers this more correct than the more common pronunciation.

Now I don't care where the hell you're from, if you're speaking English "ate" and "late" rhyme, period. If they don't, you're doing it wrong. Obviously pronunciation of many English words can vary widely from region to region but this particular case is simply not up for debate.
posted by MattMangels at 10:50 PM on January 3, 2012


That said, a lot of my relatives in Northern Ireland say "et" instead of "ate" (mostly older people I should note), but I still consider this a deviation from the norm and incorrect. Rules are in place for a reason. Otherwise if everyone has their own pronunciation rules what's stopping someone from pronouncing this sentence "Fuck you MattMangels"?
posted by MattMangels at 11:01 PM on January 3, 2012


Now I don't care where the hell you're from, if you're speaking English "ate" and "late" rhyme, period. If they don't, you're doing it wrong. Obviously pronunciation of many English words can vary widely from region to region but this particular case is simply not up for debate.

The common pronunciation of "ate" has changed over time. ZOMG, I know.
posted by desuetude at 11:02 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a Brit (home counties) living in the US, the R sound and the word "water" give me the most trouble. When spelling my name to an American on the phone, I have learned to pronounce the letter R as "arr", because I eventually learned that my pronunciation sounds like "ahh" to an American ear.

A recent reverse translation episode with the letter R, that made me giggle. I said the word "naugahyde" to a USian co-worker who had never heard it before. He applied some kind of British translation filter to what he heard, and repeated it back to me as "nor-ger-hide".

The word "water" is the single most difficult one for a USian to understand from the mouth of a Brit. Best misunderstanding of that one:
Me: do you have any bottles of water?
Her: uh, I'm sorry?
Me: do you have any bottles of water?
(Repeat exchange several more times, with increasing levels of distress for both parties. Eventually, she leads me across the store with a look of great unease)
Her: Umm, these are the only... books... we have?
posted by Joh at 11:28 PM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


In a previous post on this topic, someone pointed out, for the benefit of those of us who live nowhere near any worcestershishershire, that it's worce-tershire, not wor-cester-shire. Getting all the way down to "wister" still seems like it's pushing it...but seeing "worce" at least gets us away from "warchester."
posted by I've a Horse Outside at 11:28 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a restaurant here in York called "ate o'clock". My supervisor speaks a dialect of English where 'ate' and 'eight' are pronounced differently, and we're both linguists, so we find this a hilarious and ever-repeating topic of conversation.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:11 AM on January 4, 2012


MattMangels, as a UK native speaker I use the two pronunciations of ate pretty much interchangeably. I think I use the short version in more informal conversation and the longer form when I want to emphasise the word itself, but that's just my subjective impression fwiw.

As an occasional user of Google Navigation in the car, the manifold ways in which the speech system can mispronounce UK place names are a continuous source of hilarity. Is it as bad in the US?
posted by pharm at 2:12 AM on January 4, 2012


As a UK native speaker I use the two pronunciations of ate pretty much interchangeably

As an Australian speaker I sometimes say "et" but it seems to be fading out. I easily might say "I'm fine, I et something before". But I would not say "We et sushi for lunch yesterday" as it sounds somehow incorrect :)
posted by dave99 at 4:48 AM on January 4, 2012


[Insert joke about two Englishmen who can't meet each other without hating the other one's pronunciation/accent]

Personal pronunciation of the following words

Worcester ---> Wuhsster
Query --> Queer-y
Very -->vare-y
Vary--> vare-y
Pen --> Pen
Pin --> Pen (What? I am a Southerner.)
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 5:33 AM on January 4, 2012


Now I don't care where the hell you're from, if you're speaking English "ate" and "late" rhyme, period. If they don't, you're doing it wrong. Obviously pronunciation of many English words can vary widely from region to region but this particular case is simply not up for debate.

Traditional English in classical literature and poesy (pre-dating, I may say, the establishment of the US by centuries), treats the "et" pronunciation of "ate" as perfectly acceptable.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 5:43 AM on January 4, 2012


Now I don't care where the hell you're from, if you're speaking English "ate" and "late" rhyme, period.

I have a southern UK/London accent and for me "ate" is pronounced "et". This is not an incorrect pronunciation, just a variant.
posted by ob at 5:46 AM on January 4, 2012


> This is not an incorrect pronunciation, just a variant.

Not according to MattMangels, for whom the only correct English is English as spoken by MattMangels.
posted by languagehat at 7:49 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is a random observation, but I should say that amused me immensely when, as I was recently rereading some Chaucer, I realized that "axe" was actually the Middle English rendering of "ask."

I really can't wait until somebody makes a snooty comment about a rapper or something saying "axe you a question" so I can correct them and point out that "axe" is actually the Middle English word.
posted by koeselitz at 7:58 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I prounounce "query" as "queh-ry" bordering on "quare-y." I'm from North Carolina and reputedly have a not-recognizably southern accent unless I drink too much (and then "line" becomes "lahn" and so on).

I will point out that I'm pretty sure I inherited my "query" pronunciation from my mother. She is from Virginia and has a particular northern Piedmont/southern Virginia sort of accent ("own" for "on," "oll" for "oil," "burra" for "borough," "pee-in" for "pin" and "pen").

And it's puh-cawn, y'all .
posted by thivaia at 8:40 AM on January 4, 2012


"Not according to MattMangels, for whom the only correct English is English as spoken by MattMangels."

Heh. You've been remarkably restrained in this discussion.

Actually, now that I think about it, it really could have been much worse. Possibly the result of having a number of linguists here at MeFi, including yourself, and some more of us who are interested laypeople.

Also, the impulse to prescriptivist peeving is lessened in the context of pronunciation because people are more aware of regional/dialect differences, and that they are at least arguably, and in some cases, valid. (Qualifications are the point of view of the prescriptivist minded, not mine.)

Oh, also, something else occurs to me—a lot of people probably have an unconscious bias like that of Brockles, above, regarding a sort of primacy of written language over spoken language. Because the written version is, as a matter of practicality, more regular than the spoken version, there's a sense that it's the standard and the spoken variations are a kind of natural corruption that happens in the real world. This is all completely backwards and wrong, of course, but I suspect that it's a unconscious idea that a lot of people hold. And so written language ends up being more the battleground for prescriptivism because it seems like it's the one that matters.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:55 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was in New Zealand years ago. We asked for a restaurant recommendation and were completely stumped when we were told that the place on the corner had nice "freesh fesh." Or was it "frish fush." Anyway, it didn't sound anything like "fresh fish" to us. We almost had to ask her to write it down for us so we could just read it.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:29 PM on January 4, 2012


couldn't help but come back to this thread and make a belated comment after reading A. E. Stallings's "After a Greek Proverb" in this month's Poetry Magazine--she rhymes "query" with "temporary" (and that's how I'd say it, too; grew up in San Diego) about six times.
posted by i'm offended you're offended at 7:28 PM on January 19, 2012


... and also with "cheery", "carry", "theory", and "bury". which makes me strongly suspect she follows the metafilter front page.
posted by i'm offended you're offended at 7:46 PM on January 19, 2012


Or else she just likes slant rhymes.
posted by maudlin at 7:54 PM on January 19, 2012


So, long after this thread died I finally got around to looking up the etymology of "flour" and "flower"--turns out that they are exactly the same word. Up until the late C18th there wasn't even any distinction made in spelling (Johnson's Dictionary recognizes no distinction). So if anyone does, in fact, pronounce the two differently (which I still think extremely unlikely) they are pronouncing the same word in two different ways because of a rather historically recent quirk of orthography.
posted by yoink at 10:39 AM on January 20, 2012


"...they are pronouncing the same word in two different ways because of a rather historically recent quirk of orthography."

That's not necessarily true. You're assuming they were originally homophones because they were spelled the same, and that's not necessarily true. And even if it were, as they're not synonyms, they well could have diverged in pronunciation in some dialects independently of the orthography.

The point is, it's a mistake to make assumptions about pronunciation on the basis of orthography. As came up already, the spoken language is primary, not secondary.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:03 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's not necessarily true. You're assuming they were originally homophones because they were spelled the same, and that's not necessarily true. And even if it were, as they're not synonyms, they well could have diverged in pronunciation in some dialects independently of the orthography.

No, I'm assuming they were pronounced the same because they were the same word. They were spelled the same because they were the same word. Here's the OED's definition of "flour":
Originally, the ‘flower’ or finest quality of meal; hence, the finer portion of meal (whether from wheat or other grain) which is separated by bolting.
I'm also pretty confident that they were pronounced the same because every single "-our" word in the dictionary has variant spellings of "-ower" (lour/lower, hour/hower etc.). "Flower" had two variant spellings (in BOTH meanings) up until the late C18th. People chose to associate one of those variants--late in the day--with one particular meaning.

I'm also confident they were pronounced the same because "-ower" words are rhymed with "-our" words indiscriminately throughout English poetry in all centuries. "Hour of Power" anyone?

But all of that is pretty clearly secondary to the fact that the "two words" could not have been "pronounced differently" because there weren't "two words." There was one word--"flower"--that got spelled, randomly, two different ways.
posted by yoink at 2:34 PM on January 20, 2012


And just to make this quite clear, here's Johnson's entry for the word "Flower" in his dictionary. The first definition he gives is this:
1. The part of the plant which contains the seeds.
The fourth definition of the same word is this:
4. The edible part of corn; the meal
The fifth definition of the word is this (the one that the OED is definition is drawing on):
5. The most excellent or valuable part of anything; quintessence.l
He, quite clearly, considers these to be three (closely related) meanings of the same word.
posted by yoink at 3:51 PM on January 20, 2012


You're weirdly hung up on this "same word" thing. If you can't even see just how slippery that ground is upon which you're making your stand, I don't know where to begin.

I mean, you're making universal assertions about the pronunciation of an English word based upon an OED entry and your experience with English poetry. Well, but you're not stopping with that, you're also arguing in the conditional that if they are pronounced differently, then you know exactly when and why those pronunciations diverged. All without recourse to any authority on historical linguistics other than an entry in the OED.

You could be lucky and be correct in your assumptions and assertions. I don't know. But your argument sucks.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:30 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, I'm apparently trying to argue about the history of the English Language with someone who does not know who Dr. Johnson was or when his dictionary was compiled. That is obviously a bad idea.
posted by yoink at 7:59 AM on January 21, 2012


Of course I know who Johnson was. I apologize for trying to help you avoid making a fool out of yourself by pointing out that your sources don't prove what you think they prove and that it requires specific scholarship to settle the question. If you're less interested in scholarship than being foolish, then there's not much I can do to help.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:49 AM on January 21, 2012


So if anyone does, in fact, pronounce [flour and flower] differently (which I still think extremely unlikely)

Here in Singapore, 'flour' is usually pronounced "flaaar" and not as "flower". (To be fair, though, it seems that proper pronunciation is at best an afterthought here - we have a tendency to just cram the stresses in a word anywhere they'll fit, and sometimes not bother putting a stress where there should be one.)
posted by WalterMitty at 12:22 AM on January 30, 2012


If you're less interested in scholarship than being foolish, then there's not much I can do to help.

'Help'? It's hard to tell from where I'm sitting, I have to confess. You may be 100% correct, for all I know, and terribly helpful but it's difficult to see through the fog of pompous arsehole.
posted by Brockles at 6:04 AM on January 30, 2012


That was "irony".
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:31 PM on January 30, 2012


In the Alanis Morissette sense?
posted by Brockles at 12:43 PM on January 30, 2012


No, in the traditional sense.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:55 PM on January 30, 2012


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