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Taticular Nucyoular Weapons
October 7, 2002 7:00 PM   Subscribe

Taticular Nucyoular Weapons Dubya mispronounced the word "nuclear" "\nu"cle*ar\" in his speech 17 times this evening (take your own tally here). Wait. That's not a simple mispronunciation. It's a "folk etymology." Thanks, Ike. (Thanks, Homer.) Thanks also to Merriam-Webster. Apparently, this scourge of English is in the dictionary.
posted by NedKoppel (105 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
reminds me of frank miller's recent sequel to his 'dark knight' comic book saga (3 issues, dc comics) which just like his original series, is true to the political times - the president turns out to be a computer generated hologram run by a crime syndicate and every once in a while he 'glitches'. but, hey, maybe the man really is the first lady. with opal arms. maybe he could get reelected that way, if he just comes clean.
posted by buffalo at 7:30 PM on October 7, 2002


Jimmy Carter mispronounced that word all the time.
posted by konolia at 7:35 PM on October 7, 2002


I don't remember how Carter pronounced it, but LBJ used pretty much the same pronunciation - not that LBJ is a particularly reassuring comparison here.
posted by raysmj at 8:09 PM on October 7, 2002


"The problem with nuclear fizzicks is that it's not all that new and not all that clear." --- Howland Owl (Pogo).
posted by SPrintF at 8:10 PM on October 7, 2002


The winner is nu cle ar
posted by madamjujujive at 8:11 PM on October 7, 2002


It's no more annoying than watching a documentary with, say, a British host. Speaking as a North American, I find the foreign accent and inflection a bit irksome. That said, I live with it...

It's not that big a deal...
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:13 PM on October 7, 2002


When he bought his house did he use a relitter?"
posted by jaronson at 8:18 PM on October 7, 2002 [1 favorite]


I seem to recall Clinton and Reagan both saying it like that, not to mention Bush pere.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 8:18 PM on October 7, 2002


HAR HAR THAT DUMB PRESIDENT PRONOUNCES A WORD IN THE SAME MANNER (ALBEIT TECHNICALLY INCORRECT) THAT A SIZEABLE PERCENTAGE OF THE COUNTRY'S POPULATION DOES WHAT A BUFFOON!!!11

[This is a shite MetaFilter post.]
posted by Danelope at 8:23 PM on October 7, 2002


Jimmy Carter mispronounced that word all the time.

And he did graduate work in nuclear physics.

I have also known highly educated black people to inadvertently say "ax" instead of "ask"; another misuse that's commonly, and wrongly, attributed to ignorance. In fact it seems to have more to do with conditioned speech patterns resulting from dialect.

(Mightily resisting the temptation to point out what actually is wrong with Bush's use of the word nuclear when speaking of Iraq ... something to do with truth and accuracy... oh, I didn't say that.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:25 PM on October 7, 2002


Carter's referred to in several of the pieces. It seems to be a presidential bugaboo, beginning with Ike.

The other one that's in this category is "ath-uh-lete". It's a consonantal shift, much in the same spirit that sees "sk" and "x" sounds transposed -- e.g. "I axed him", but also "Iskander" as the local name for what was once "Alexandria". I hate someone to say it in my presence, of course, but I've given up on getting worked up over every time I see or hear it. I think we'll have to grit our teeth and accept that in time it may well become the primary accepted pronunciation.

Indeed, one of the pieces linked does clue in a suggested explanation for why so many presidents continue to say it -- even as they accept all sorts of coaching on what sort of haircut or tie to wear. It's probably something that certain consultants think humanizes the guy among certain sectors of the electorate, who bridle at the thought of someone putting on airs and acting better than they are. So there may well be a reason it's one of those things that never gets fixed. (God help us, of course, if they're doing it deliberately.)
posted by dhartung at 8:26 PM on October 7, 2002


Whoops, wit of the staircase: Most of us accept the pronunciations com fter ble and wenz day, and there are any number of different ways to get through feb wary.
posted by dhartung at 8:31 PM on October 7, 2002


At least he doesn't say "Warshigton" ... although strangely, that would be appropriate right now.
posted by moonbiter at 8:33 PM on October 7, 2002


And what about Favre?
posted by Darth Vader at 8:35 PM on October 7, 2002


"Jimmy Carter mispronounced that word all the time."

Yeah, but he was attacked by a giant swimming rabbit, so he can probably be forgiven.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:39 PM on October 7, 2002


HAR HAR THAT DUMB PRESIDENT PRONOUNCES A WORD IN THE SAME MANNER (ALBEIT TECHNICALLY INCORRECT) THAT A SIZEABLE PERCENTAGE OF THE COUNTRY'S POPULATION DOES WHAT A BUFFOON!!!11

[This is a shite MetaFilter post.]


Hi. I'm Dan. I'm very very concerned about television.
posted by NedKoppel at 8:42 PM on October 7, 2002


Jesus Christ, people, get a grip. I dislike Bush as much as anyone, but his pronunciation of "nuclear" has nothing to do with anything. As Danelope so dramatically points out, his pronunciation is shared by a large number, perhaps the majority, of his countrymen (i.e., more than voted for him); as the poster points out, it's in the dictionary. So why post it? Why complain about it? Why is it an issue?

All of you who say "Wed-nes-day," raise your hands. Mm-hm, I thought so. So what exactly is wrong with "nu-kyu-lar"? Take a deep breath and go back to worrying about imminent war.
posted by languagehat at 8:43 PM on October 7, 2002


A tremendous percentage of Americans say "lie-burry" for "library." That doesn't make it right. It makes them idiots.
posted by waldo at 8:47 PM on October 7, 2002 [1 favorite]


To support dhartung's observation, you can hear Eisenhower mispronounce "nuclear" in this film, Atomic Power at Shippingport, in the Prelinger Archives. It really seems that most presidents prefer the "nookyooler" pronunciation.

Incidentally, a quick browse through the Prelinger archives reveals that Eisenhower got the chance to participate in all kinds of cool scientific firsts: e.g. he's the first person whose voice was transmitted via satellite. Lucky son of a gun.
posted by tss at 8:55 PM on October 7, 2002


Next we'll be hearing how people who say "supposably" are at the pinnacle of literacy, too.

Look, "febuary", "libary", "axe", and "nukular" are signs of people who simply don't read very much. In fact, I've never heard a well-educated person say "i axed you." If you don't read very much, then you don't see the words in print, and the correct pronunciation doesn't get embedded into your mind.

Maybe I'm a little biased... my father's first language was not english, and to appear educated, he had to have an impeccable command of english grammar and pronunciation, and he raised his children like that.

But come on... our third grade teacher beat "library" and "february" into our heads. If it didn't take, it means that someone "let you slide by" when growing up, and that's a bad sign, too.

(I also thought that this metafilter discussion was a great find, so you may want to take this with a grain of salt)
posted by deanc at 8:57 PM on October 7, 2002


Feb-yoo-ery is completely acceptable.
posted by raysmj at 9:02 PM on October 7, 2002


Look, "febuary", "libary", "axe", and "nukular" are signs of people who simply don't read very much.

Do you have any information to back this up? Does logic even support you? What on earth does reading have to do with pronunciation? Do you suppose that Jimmy Carter managed never to read the word "Nuclear" while studying nuclear physics? And see my post above about "axe".
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:04 PM on October 7, 2002


Thanks for the thread. Yes, it caught my ear, and annoyed me. I wondered about how nu -cue - lar has become tolerable in educated company. My hunch - he knows better, but wants to look like a "regular guy". Johnson and Ike probably had genuine issues pronouncing the word. .
posted by kcmoryan at 9:07 PM on October 7, 2002


Sigh... Waldo, deanc, I understand where you're coming from, I really do. But you're wrong. Just because your third-grade teacher beat pronunciations into your head doesn't make them right. Just because William Safire castigates something doesn't make it wrong. The only measure of correctness in language is what native speakers say. Suppose "nu-kyu-lar" and "feb-yu-ary" become as ubiquitous as "wenz-day"; suppose, in other words, that no one uses the "correct" pronunciations any more. Are they still "correct"? Is the entire English-speaking population wrong? Are we all wrong for saying "wenz-day," and using "agenda" as a singular when it's historically a plural, and... you get the idea. Think about it, will you? I wouldn't be so vocal about this if it were harmless fun, like rooting for sports teams, but in fact these attitudes are used to keep people down. I know someone who's better read than me and almost certainly than you, deanc, who uses every one of those pronunciations; it's how he was raised. Doesn't keep him from being smart, doesn't keep him from writing well, but it does hurt him in the employment arena. You may say he needs to go back to third grade and get whacked some more; I say the attitudes are elitist and need to be changed.
posted by languagehat at 9:09 PM on October 7, 2002


That's odd that people say they have heard libery. I honestly don't think I have ever heard an adult say that one, and I'm in the South. Maybe there's one word we don't have a problem with!
posted by rhyax at 9:18 PM on October 7, 2002


There's a difference between changing the syllabular (is that a word?) emphasis (British pronunciation vs American), or changing how you pronounce certain groups of letters ("resp-uh-ra-tory", "resp-eye-ra-tory"), and changing the order of the letters (the l comes after the c in "nuclear", period). There's a street in Toronto called Balliol, named after a college at Oxford. It's correctly "Bailey-ol", or at very least "Balley-ol", just look at how it's spelled, but Torontonians insist on pronouncing it "Buh-loyle", even though there's no way those letters in that configuration could ever be pronounced that way.

languagehat: I don't think just accepting that lots of people say "nukeyoular" is the right thing to do, this is about people being able to read and pronounce a common written language (if we had no written language and people wanted to change it, fine, but that's not the case). The letters in that order cannot ever be correctly pronounced as "nucular", so it's not just a matter of changing pronunciation, it's a matter of changing either spelling (which loses the root of the word, since comes from "nucleus", not "nuculus") or the way we use our alphabet. It's more far-reaching than you imply.
posted by biscotti at 9:19 PM on October 7, 2002


I get more than reasonably worked up about people who pronounce 'specific' as 'pacific', and 'pronunciation' as 'pronounciation'. Then I take a deep breath, recite the languagehat creed ["it's how he was raised"], and go back to work.

NO PUNCHLINE...
posted by dash_slot- at 9:25 PM on October 7, 2002


A tremendous percentage of Americans say "lie-burry" for "library." That doesn't make it right. It makes them idiots.

We can all wear that mantle if the pronunciation must match the spelling or at least remain consistent with it. Many English words have been spelled more or less the same way for centuries and yet their pronunciation has changed with the passage of generations and travel through geographical areas, both factors producing different dialects. What you may be witnessing and reacting to is a dialect that is different from your own. But it doesn't make anyone an idiot.
posted by holycola at 9:28 PM on October 7, 2002


Listening to GW's speech, I tried to not let it get to me, but he kept saying "nookyooler" over and over, like twelve times in a minute, each one like a poison blowdart to my eyeball.

It's hard for me to muster any faith in someone in that position whose oratory sounds like a 4th-grader reading a book report.
posted by yalestar at 9:30 PM on October 7, 2002


Stop arguing before someone needs an AMbaLANCE!
posted by HTuttle at 9:31 PM on October 7, 2002


In Austin there is a street called Manchaca, and people pronouce is Man-chak! Also, in Texas there is a town called Mexia, pronounced Muh-hair! HA!
posted by rhyax at 9:33 PM on October 7, 2002


biscotti: Did you actually read my comment? What sense does it make to say that everybody in Toronto mispronounces the name of their own street? How do you say Wednesday without "changing the order of the letters"? English spelling is notoriously weird; not many words are pronounced "the way they're spelled," which is why there are so many proposals for reform. (Chaucer wrote the way he spoke; since then, it's been all downhill.) I personally like our spelling system, just as I like irregular verbs, but I can appreciate the case for changing it; changing the way people speak is a) impossible and b) silly. The way people speak is the language; the writing system is a representation of it, lagging further and further behind.

On preview: Thank you, holycola, and Texas is a treasure trove of weird spelling/pronunciation matchups --- besides the two Rhyax mentions, there's Bexar "bear" and Pedernales "purdenales" (very familiar from LBJ days).

Test: What's the correct pronunciation of "forte" (as in "That's not my forte")? Wrong! There is no "correct" way to say it, since it's from French fort, where the t is silent, and "for" is an impossible pronunciation in English for the spelling we somehow adopted. So say it however you choose, and if enough people agree with you... that's how it's pronounced.
posted by languagehat at 9:38 PM on October 7, 2002


biscotti: Balliol College (pronounced, as you say, 'Bay-lee-ol', and named after John de Balliol) sits on the corner of Magdalen Street in my hometown. It is correctly pronounced 'Maudlun' in Oxford, as is Magdalen Bridge (about a half a mile away), as I'm sure you all know, the choristers sing to welcome the spring at 6am on May Morning.

Half a mile from Magdalen Bridge is a street called Magdalen Street, which is pronounced 'Mag-dalen'.

Go figger. (",)
posted by dash_slot- at 9:39 PM on October 7, 2002


In England, we would (mis)pronounce 'forte' as 'for-tay', which dictionary.com would allow as equally valid. What they do say is that you should pronounce the 'T' - it's the acute accent which is 'optional'.
posted by dash_slot- at 9:44 PM on October 7, 2002


At least he doesn't say "Warshigton"

dude. i knew a kid who did that in the fourth grade. hated it. hated. it.

[This is a shite MetaFilter post.]

maybe you should change your mefi handle to D FENS.

(also, this has sort of come up before, but i can't seem to find the really long, more recent thread where it did.)
posted by donkeyschlong at 9:48 PM on October 7, 2002


NedKoppel: Hi. I'm Dan. I'm very very concerned about television.

Is that the best you could do? A single post from nine months about a television show in which many people were apparently interested? You should consider investing some genuine effort into future flames, as the febrile-infant-shaking-rattle routine doesn't suit you.

(Then again, you posted yet another HAR HAR BUSH IS DUMB thread, so you're obviously well-acquainted with the intricacies of tired, feeble insults...)
posted by Danelope at 9:49 PM on October 7, 2002


Hey, let's all help the world out and participate in an important Harvard study.
posted by McBain at 10:03 PM on October 7, 2002


languagehat: it doesn't matter whose street it is (and it's as much mine as anyone's since I practically lived on it), the people who mispronounce it: a) didn't name it and b) just can't be bothered to read the order of the letters. This isn't "house-ton"/"hyews-ton" for "Houston", it's the equivalent of "hustyew-on".

How do I say Wednesday without "changing the order of the letters? "Wed-nes-day".

Sure English is a funny language, but there are very few English words of any root where the order of the letters in the correct spelling are reversed in any correct pronunciation (if you can come up with any, please let me know, because I can't), letters may be silent or pronounced according to the word's root language, but they're rarely completely bass-ackwards the way they'd have to be to make "nucular" acceptable (both pronunciation examples of "Magdalen" keep the letters in the same order, even though they change which letters are silent).
posted by biscotti at 10:10 PM on October 7, 2002


Wait guys, I'm channeling Geoffrey Chaucer.. he's saying.. whoa, it's coming through now.. he's saying "you're hypocrits!"
posted by Hildago at 10:15 PM on October 7, 2002


Aw, let's call the whole thing off.
posted by DakotaPaul at 10:49 PM on October 7, 2002


There's a difference between changing the syllabular (is that a word?) emphasis (British pronunciation vs American), or changing how you pronounce certain groups of letters ("resp-uh-ra-tory", "resp-eye-ra-tory"), and changing the order of the letters.

What you seem to believe is a inerrant barometer of intelligence is, in fact, a well-known linguistic phenomenon called metathesis. It occurs in virtually every language and doesn't have the slightest thing to do with intelligence. It'd be analogous to calling Bostonians imbeciles for clipping the /r/ from "car". It's more accurate as a measure of your own "intelligence" -- not theirs.

Good god, the general state of linguistical knowledge is deplorable. It is a continual online irony that the biggest language nazis are almost always the most clueless.

Save me from the pedantic fools who somehow imagine that dictionaries dictate pronunciation instead of merely attempting to document select common usage (and they are typically 10-15 years behind the times regardless, as ANY lexicographer will readily admit).
posted by RavinDave at 10:58 PM on October 7, 2002 [1 favorite]


The only measure of correctness in language is what native speakers say.

This is a very important point, linguistically speaking, from the standpoint of the descriptivists. It is, unfortunately, also indefensible.

Which native speakers does one mean when one says 'native speakers'? We could be talking about "Black English, Latino English, Rural Southern, Urban Southern, Standard Upper-Midwest, Maine Yankee, East-Texas Bayou, Boston BlueCollar, on and on" (see below for link) to limit ourselves to America only.

This is a readable discussion of this point, amongst many others, by David Foster Wallace (this is the third time I've used it in the last couple of weeks, I know - I'm as surprised as you are.)

The meat of the argument against descriptivism is on page 14, but pages 10 onward deal with this question.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:03 PM on October 7, 2002


Or, what RavinDave said, but turning down the arrogance a notch or two....
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:04 PM on October 7, 2002


wens.day = shorter, easier to say than wed.nes.day
but nuc.u.lar - just as complicated as nuc.le.ar, ditto "ax", therefore I conclude that persons who use such pronunciation are doing it to piss me off, and deserve a smack in the chops.
posted by Catch at 11:11 PM on October 7, 2002


So what exactly is wrong with "nu-kyu-lar"?

"Nuclear" describes something related to a nucleus or nuclei. Does anyone accept the pronunciation "nu-kyu-lus?" "Nu-kyu-leye?" (Hopefully) the answer is no, which is why this bothers the hell out of me.
posted by Galvatron at 11:21 PM on October 7, 2002


Arrogance is taking a word, even though it's been brought to the attention of the one mis-using it that his pronunciation isn't phonetical with the way it is spelled, and he uses it that way anyhow.

His speech was polished so that he would use the down-home texan nuclyeear insofar as he had stupidly, inadvertently (I surmise because he doesn't read much), used the term nuclyeear in the past. This prez doesn't make mistakes.

It's worth noting that a jimmied linguistic mistake, made right by his "stature" and Perception Writers making it subvertedly much like the ebonics debate, puts a new word into the field of play. Like a footnote in an interesting text about a leader's incorruptible bad habits that "made him cute". Except this is 100% perception and obviously not the prowess of our leader's 100% genius absentmindedness. Yet it's played off as though it is. I guarantee, noo-cyu-lar was in some way phontetically inserted into Bush's script or his practicing of the speech.

Did anybody notice his hair-do either? It seemed quite Reaganesque to me. Pulling on subconscious heartstrings if you ask me.
posted by crasspastor at 11:31 PM on October 7, 2002


And it's not like there aren't other words that follow that pattern. Circle becomes circular, particle becomes particular, so extrapolating from nucleus to nucular isn't a big stretch.

I really do wonder if he's saying it that way on purpose. I'm sure that he's quite happy to have people who have the ability to make reasoned critiques of his arguments making themselves look silly instead by fixating on his pronunciation.
posted by jaek at 11:35 PM on October 7, 2002


jaek: For the sake of being argumentative, "circle" and "particle" are pronounced with a schwa between the 'c' and the 'l', while "nucleus" is not. I don't see that the pattern really follows. If we're looking for patterns, I would point to cochlea->cochlear. [chortles at the idea of "coke-yoo-lar"]
posted by Galvatron at 12:19 AM on October 8, 2002


nuclyeer
Good lord, I'm phoneticising the right way to pronounce it.

I got it wrong later however.
posted by crasspastor at 12:29 AM on October 8, 2002


Galvatron: Hmm. Good point. But "coke-yoo-lar" doesn't even sound horribly wrong to me. A little wrong, yes, but horribly... nope.

Of course, I'm one of those people who finds the best part of riding on public transportation to be hearing the accents of the bus drivers, so my judgement in this area is definitely suspect.

And also of course, my statements about the wisdom of criticizing pronunciation over substance and the possibility of deliberate mispronunciation still stand.
posted by jaek at 12:32 AM on October 8, 2002


[This is a shite MetaFilter post.]
posted by Danelope at 8:23 PM PST on October 7

Agreed. What is the fucking point? Oh right... Bush-bashers haven't had a chance to get each other off with their smarmy little quips yet.
posted by Witty at 1:21 AM on October 8, 2002


1) The pronunciation "nucular" is a pet peeve of mine. I find it really annoying. Like "liberry". It sounds ignorant.
2) Mr. Bush is almost certainly aware of his mispronunciation, and his carefully polished appearance of endearing stupidity is contemptible.
3) To laugh at someone's minor error in pronunciation--an error having no bearing on the content of their speech--is the act of a swinish, ill-minded pedant with no sense of decency, propriety, or proportion.
4) Is pronouncing the first 'r' in 'February' even correct? If you'd asked me a few minutes ago, I would have said that "Febuary" was the only acceptable pronunciation.
posted by moss at 1:36 AM on October 8, 2002


loyer = lawyer

offin = often

expresso = espresso

There are also words that are offin mispronounced by the way a certain syllable takes the emphasis.

electoral is e-LEC-toral... not elec-TOR-al

Only in sports do we pronounce the word defense...
DEE-FENSE.

How about this word... Of or relating to marriage or the wedding ceremony.

I know it... it's NUPTUAL (nup-shoo-ul)

Oh wait... I mean NUPTIAL (nup-shul).
posted by Witty at 1:54 AM on October 8, 2002


Agreed. What is the fucking point? Oh right... Bush-bashers haven't had a chance to get each other off with their smarmy little quips yet.

Nah. Could be they wanted to see how worked up a little harmless fun poked at Bush would get ya. Hard to tolerate for some of you, ain't it?

'Course, I think those Republican Guard boys around Saddam are supposed to shoot anybody that dares criticize him, too.

Looks like a few of you fellers'd fit right into their ranks, what with your oh so self-righteous indignation if we don't worship your King's English.

~wink~
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 1:57 AM on October 8, 2002


Witty - Bush : "Why He Drives Them Crazy"
posted by revbrian at 2:07 AM on October 8, 2002


Its the american pronunciation of Warrior which always gets me. Wharf claiming to be a Klingon Whor-ya.

Lhor-yas is an annoyance too.

Hmmm. Just occurred to me that the attempt at writing the accented warrior above would only work if you talk like me (in a lapsed welsh accent). Must learn the phonetic alphabet...
posted by couch at 3:01 AM on October 8, 2002


languagehat,

"forte" is Italian. As in "Non è il mio forte", literally translated as "that's not my forte"

Plus, of course, I agree with

Jesus Christ, people, get a grip. I dislike Bush as much as anyone, but his pronunciation of "nuclear" has nothing to do with anything.
posted by matteo at 3:42 AM on October 8, 2002


forte, adj, means "strong"
posted by matteo at 3:42 AM on October 8, 2002


The people who really bug me are those people who insist on dropping the "K" from words like "knee" and "knife". And don't get me started on those who say "laughter" and "daughter" differently.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:54 AM on October 8, 2002


matteo ... Though it's an easy mistake to make, just for the record, the version of "forte" used in English is from the French according to the OED:

[a. F. fort, absolute use of fort strong: see FORT a. As in many other adoptions of Fr. adjs. used as ns., the fem. form has been ignorantly substituted for the masc.; cf. locale, morale (of an army), etc.]
posted by RavinDave at 5:13 AM on October 8, 2002


Ah... who cares? It's a mute point anyway....
posted by ph00dz at 5:16 AM on October 8, 2002


Very coot, ph00dz.
posted by RavinDave at 5:19 AM on October 8, 2002


"Aks" was a common usage in Shakespeare's time, I'm told. Also, "bird" and "brid" have been switching places pretty regularly for centurites. Then there's "pervert" and "prevert" and "performance" and "preformance."
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:26 AM on October 8, 2002


How about this argument: if we say that Bush isn't doing anything 'wrong' in using a dodgy pronunciation that many people themselves use by force of habit and upbringing, shouldn't we also say that there's nothing 'wrong' with those people who find that pronunciation instinctively as grating as someone scratching fingernails down a blackboard?

Because if it's all down to 'what you've learned', then it's obvious that plenty of people -- including, I might add, the hundreds of millions of English speakers outside the USA -- will find that 'nucular' just sounds silly, especially when you say it forty-seven times in quick succession. There's no point in rationalising it, by looking at etymologies or dictionaries, because the linguistic forces that make it 'okay' for Texan Bush to say 'nucular' are the same ones that make other people want to plug up their ears and beat him with sticks for doing so. That seems to have been missed some by those who say that prescriptivism is elitist. It's not some kind of imposition: norms are as much a part of language as aberrations.

The problem here is one of register, as much pronunciation. Because Bush was doing, as the BBC said, an 'ABC of Saddam Is Bad And Evil', and if you're going to play teacher, you should set a linguistic example. Does Laura Bush say 'nucular', I wonder?
posted by riviera at 5:31 AM on October 8, 2002


In my humble opinion, the President has quite a few more things to be worried about than the pronunciation of "nuclear".

And yes, Carter mispronounced it the same way, and he got ribbed for it at the time as well. As the previous poster pointed out, he DID do graduate work in nuclear physics. Who knows-maybe that's how his professors pronounced it. heh.

I think we should be more concerned re his plans for Iraq than his grammar and pronunciation skills. But that's just me.
posted by konolia at 7:04 AM on October 8, 2002


Skookill! Balmer!

BTW, this is what Merriam-Webster has to say about "nu-q-lar" (no link available):

Though disapproved of by many, pronunciations ending in \-kyoo-lur\ have been found in widespread use among educated speakers including scientists, lawyers, professors, congressmen, U.S. cabinet members, and at least one U.S. president and one vice president. While most common in the U.S., these pronunciations have also been heard from British and Canadian speakers.
posted by werty at 7:12 AM on October 8, 2002


i have to go with riviera here. mr. bush is supposed to be standing as the representative of americans to the world. as such, you'd think americans would want someone to properly pronounce the words in a speech he has practiced hundreds of times.

it isn't folksy, it isn't how he was raised (they don't teach english at yale?), it isn't a matter of accent, it's that he should be held to the standards of his political role. part of that role is making speeches. part of that role is performing those speeches well. part of performing those speeches well is that he takes care to pronounce the words in the speech properly. i'm not saying every word should be perfectly spoken, but it's another thing to willfully mispronounce a word that appears 17 times in a speech.

it's bad enough that he's on with this whole axis-of-evil, evildoers, terrorist thing. the least he could do is not be a homer simpson-sounding halfwit.

you'd also hope that he could deliver his speech without 10 second intervals of staring at his 'cue cards,' but that is another matter.
posted by callicles at 7:33 AM on October 8, 2002


I'm sure Mr. Bush enjoys mamato sauce on his busghetti, as well. But, like so many people here say, it's not the way he talks that makes him an idiot.

It's what he says.
posted by dfowler at 7:35 AM on October 8, 2002


RavinDave: Thank god you're here! I was getting tired of carrying the weight of truth and justice all by myself.

Stavros: Or, what RavinDave said? I'm confused. What you said (attacking "descriptivism," i.e. scientific linguistics) is the exact opposite of what RavinDave (an actual linguist, like me) said. Which native speakers does one mean when one says 'native speakers'? We could be talking about "Black English, Latino English, Rural Southern... Yes, all of those dialects have native speakers, and what those speakers say is "correct" for those dialects. Whatever we grow up learning to say is our language. I can't believe this point is so hard for people to grasp. "Correct language" is simply the dialect whose speakers are currently in power. The reason there's no standard version of Irish is that no native speakers have any power at all (being fishermen scraping out a living on the west coast), so no dialect has the clout to prevail. And as for fucking David Foster Wallace, since you've cited him three times I can repeat my link to my attack on him (scroll down to "DAVID FOSTER WALLACE DEMOLISHED"). Please, take the time to read it (it's a great deal shorter than his sprawling screed), and get back to me with any concerns you may have. The man is eloquent in his mixed-up, rambling way, but he doesn't know what he's talking about. Like you, like most people, he has strong feelings about his language, but since he hasn't studied it scientifically (the way doctors study medicine) he's basically just shooting off his mouth. Which is fine -- this is America -- but it's no more authoritative than anyone else.

GhostintheMachine: That's perfect, and if people take the trouble to read it and think about it, they'll get the idea and this whole discussion will be moot. Or mute.
posted by languagehat at 7:39 AM on October 8, 2002


RavinDave: I'm pretty well done here, but please, if you're going to quote someone, take a moment to ensure that the person you're quoting is the person whose comments you're addressing. While I said a lot, I said nothing about mispronunciation having anything to do with intelligence, not in the bit you quoted, not anywhere else.
posted by biscotti at 7:43 AM on October 8, 2002


"It's in the dictionary."

Just because it's in the dictionary doesn't mean it's right. Webster's Third New International is notoriously descriptivist, and as such, should be taken with a grain of salt. Stavros beat me to the punch with David Foster Wallace's excellent essay on prescriptivists vs. descriptivists, but I'll leave you with a juicy quote therefrom:

Try, for instance, to imagine an "authoritative" ethics textbook whose principles were based on what most people actually do.
posted by spacewaitress at 7:51 AM on October 8, 2002


Come on, discussing nuclear/nucular? What a waste of time! I'm going outside to enjoy the lovely autumn foilage.
posted by hari at 7:57 AM on October 8, 2002


"Though disapproved of by many, pronunciations ending in \-kyoo-lur\ have been found in widespread use among educated speakers including scientists, lawyers, professors, congressmen, U.S. cabinet members, and at least one U.S. president and one vice president."

So what do you wanna bet "aks" doesn't make it into Websters? That's what really hacks me off. If you're a member of the ruling class and speak like an illiterate, you'll get plenty of slack (see Harding and that atrocious word "normalcy"). But if you're poor and speak non-standard English...
posted by Gilbert at 8:21 AM on October 8, 2002


What about how we form in our mouths the words we speak. I think that's the third leg of the stool. An authoritative spelling or even an authoritative pronunciation key can't hold the line unless there is an authoritative description of how the sounds are shaped in our mouths. There's no consensus on how we form "s" or "t" or any other consonant, but how we do affects what sorts of habits and (mis)pronunciations we might slip into. Classical Arabic instruction for the purposes of reciting the Quran (from what I've gathered) starts with this sort of training: where the tongue is placed, how the mouth is held, how the lips are shaped. I imagine other languages with a strong oral tradition would also be like this. You linguists, correct me.
posted by BinGregory at 8:39 AM on October 8, 2002


spacewaitress: From my attack on Wallace, this response to the part you quote: "...linguists describe the observed facts of linguistic usage, not people's beliefs about it; the comparison would be not to an ethics textbook but to a textbook of human behavior, and what would such a catalog of behavior be worth if it included only behavior the author approved of?"

I'll ask the same thing of you (and anyone else who thinks well of that Wallace piece) as I did of Stavros: read my link above and let me know if you find anything to dispute. (And of course I would also welcome any admissions that Wallace was wrong...)
posted by languagehat at 8:45 AM on October 8, 2002


Jesus, people.
Why defend this? What's the point? Are you trying to say that George isn't really dumb? Haven't we established this? Even my father, a shrub voter, readily admits he's not the sharpest crayon in the barrel.

I mean really. What a waste of time.

He mispronounces words. This isn't the first time. Stop defending blatant stupidity.
posted by Espoo2 at 8:45 AM on October 8, 2002


more than nookular or nucular, it is scary to think that bush jr's linguistic carefree style will give legitimacy to "a differing way of speechifying". well, some may argue that at least bush jr. would not be capable of sophistry (like clinton). that may be his only peaceful legacy to us. *shudders*
posted by taratan at 9:06 AM on October 8, 2002


You feel sorry for this president. That is because you are crazy. And besides, the new one will be much better.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:18 AM on October 8, 2002


Gilbert: puhleeez.

Espoo2: I guess you didn't notice that there's an entirely different direction the thread has taken... but thanks for trying.
posted by Witty at 9:18 AM on October 8, 2002


languagehat: Well, fine, linguists can observe and describe any linguistic behavior they choose to, and that's what books on linguistics are for. My point, however, is that people look to dictionaries and grammar manuals as an authoritative source, a reference for proper usage, and because people turn to the dictionary to determine what proper usage is, improper usage should be labeled as such.

I should mention that I don't care as much about pronunciation as I do about grammar and usage
posted by spacewaitress at 9:26 AM on October 8, 2002


D'oh!!!!!

I meant to put a period at the end of that last sentence.
posted by spacewaitress at 9:26 AM on October 8, 2002


Links! Everything is better with links. Take the word "cool" - you could pronounce that a dozen different ways depending on how you enunciate "c", the "u" sound, and the "l". Changing the spelling to Kewl, Kul or Kuwel or the pronunciation key to Koo/-uhl won't help unless there is an understanding of what physically constitutes the K, the oo and the L. And if you pronounce "cool" with that thick, back-of-the-palate "C", your tongue is that much more likely to want to say nucular instead of nuclear. We can have gradeschool teachers drill kids in articulation points too, but who really wants to take it there? There's prescriptivism and then there's prescriptivism...
posted by BinGregory at 9:29 AM on October 8, 2002


languagehat: I just read your attack on DFW and it seemed mostly to be ad hominem attacks on his status as a "famous writer" interspersed with criticisms on his usage of English and Latin. Congratulations, you know more about the finer points of these two languages than any of us here. Nonetheless, I stand by my original point, which is that dictionaries ought to have a prescriptive bias, since most people depend on them to. Might I add that, if dictionaries did not have this prescriptivist purpose, your petty attacks on DFW's grammar would have no basis whatsoever.

Also, I'm willing to bet that he didn't go to Webster's Third New International to find his quirky and creative little verb "Wedgied," but rather, that he made it up. I heartily approve of this kind of freewheeling linguistic creativity, as long as both the author and the reader know it's all in good fun.

Also, incidentally, one subplot of DFW's novel Infinite Jest concerns actual violent rioting between Prescriptivists and Descriptivists. Participating in this conversation makes me feel like I understand how such a thing could come about
posted by spacewaitress at 9:48 AM on October 8, 2002


Witty: Puhleez? Brilliant retort. Thanks. To paraphrase Chomsky (I think), a language is a dialect with an army. The point is that Websters, American Heritage, et al, will include your non-standard pronunciations in their big book of learned speech if you're powerful and, in most cases, white. You think that if only minorities said "nu-cu-ler," we would be having this discussion?
posted by Gilbert at 9:55 AM on October 8, 2002


spacewaitress: Okay, you love DFW like a brother and don't want to hear anything bad about him. Fine by me. But (to make one last effort): ad hominem attacks on his status as a "famous writer" I make a point of his status because that's the only thing that gives him his claimed authority, the only thing that allows him to get his ignorant ranting printed in a major magazine. you know more about the finer points of these two languages [one being English] than any of us here So why don't you listen to me?? (*shakes spacewaitress gently*) I'm not just pointlessly showing off with all that stuff, I'm trying to establish my own credentials -- I may not be a famous writer, but I do know what I'm talking about. your petty attacks on DFW's grammar As opposed to... his weighty attacks on everyone else's grammar? Either grammar is petty or it's not; if I'm right and he's wrong, it's no more petty than if it were the reverse. I'm willing to bet that he didn't go to Webster's Third New International to find his quirky and creative little verb "Wedgied," And I'm willing to bet that he did -- wanna put money on it? There's no other explanation for the capital letter. Which, as I said, makes no sense. Look, if you don't want to think about this stuff, that's fine, go on as you were. But don't tell me I'm petty (unless you think DFW and the entire subject are petty), and don't tell me I'm wrong unless you can back it up with something other than injured feelings.

On preview: Right on, Gilbert.
posted by languagehat at 10:04 AM on October 8, 2002


Espoo2: I guess you didn't notice that there's an entirely different direction the thread has taken...


My point, exactly. Witty.
posted by Espoo2 at 10:44 AM on October 8, 2002


when i came across this post, it didn't occur to me that this was an attack/ribbing/whatever of Bush. i took it as a "I was watching Bush's speech and I heard this usage 17 times, so I did a little research and learned about THIS" post.

thinking it would be a linguisticaliscious discussion, i entered and see that there is a real discussion going on around the "What's the fucking point" comments. some people bitch about the Bush Bashers getting each other off while getting themselves' off with "See You Always Make Fun of Bush!" gratuitous Bush Bashing and Bashing Bush Bashing are boring and old. get a new tune. get over the whole Us vs. Them thing, please?
posted by tolkhan at 10:57 AM on October 8, 2002


languagehat: Okay, "petty" was the wrong word to use. I understand that you were critiquing his grammar usage in order to undermine his authority as an arbiter of prescriptive grammar. And I agree that grammar is not a petty subject; else I wouldn't care what DFW or you or anyone else has to say about it.

However, I STILL maintain that the prescriptive grammar has a purpose. If it didn't, what basis would your amply demonstrated "credentials" as a highly-educated user of the English language have?
posted by spacewaitress at 11:25 AM on October 8, 2002


Tolkhan sed: when i came across this post, it didn't occur to me that this was an attack/ribbing/whatever of Bush. i took it as a "I was watching Bush's speech and I heard this usage 17 times, so I did a little research and learned about THIS" post.

Thank you for saying that. I did not mean this post to be a simple ribbing of President Bush. My Web search last night was simply in hopes of finding some documentation explaining the origin or at least shedding a bit of light on this linguistic anomaly.
posted by NedKoppel at 11:35 AM on October 8, 2002


here's slate's explainer on it! Why Does Bush Go "Nucular"?

i go wensdays, but i do do february with the 'r' :D
posted by kliuless at 11:42 AM on October 8, 2002


Actually, as far as I can tell not a single person actually referred to the words that like drive me crazy. Not because they are like actually misspelled, but because they like are used as every other like word in a like sentence, actually. ;)
posted by terrapin at 11:52 AM on October 8, 2002


Nonetheless, I stand by my original point, which is that dictionaries ought to have a prescriptive bias, since most people depend on them to.

Not at all. People depend on dictionaries to give them information about words so they can decide for themselves whether a given word, or a given pronunciation, is appropriate for what they're trying to accomplish. If you pronounce a word a certain word because a dictionary tells you to, you have learned nothing at all.
posted by kindall at 3:00 PM on October 8, 2002


binGregory:What about how we form in our mouths the words we speak.

I realize I've excised the rest of your (IMO cogent) argument about vocalization, but in the case of "nuclear" I don't see it as a reasonable defense. People who say "new-kyuh-ler" aren't pronouncing the letters differently -- they're lazily not pronouncing the written letters at all. The insertion of a vowel sound between the 'c' and the 'l' is the smoking gun. It is, regardless of your take on the validity of the usage these days, abberant.

languagehat: I make a point of his status because that's the only thing that gives him his claimed authority, the only thing that allows him to get his ignorant ranting printed in a major magazine.

Well, that and the fact that he's a witty and engaging writer. Yours is not the only (nor the best) denunciation of that DFW essay that I've seen, but in either case the essayist clearly has some sort of bone to pick with Wallace that is orthogonal to how much fun it is to read Wallace's stuff.

Don't get me wrong on this -- though I'm mostly a casual observer, I love hardcore word-geekery and applaud efforts by word nerds to call out other word nerds. I really dig the details of your response to DFW, for example. It just seems like somewhere in all that grammar flaming, the 'fun' got forgotten.
posted by cortex at 4:51 PM on October 8, 2002


People who say "new-kyuh-ler" aren't pronouncing the letters differently -- they're lazily not pronouncing the written letters at all.

You're assuming the written word is primary. But we could speak long before we could read or write, both individually and as a species. People don't learn to spell "nuclear" and then learn to pronounce it.
posted by kindall at 5:37 PM on October 8, 2002


kindall -- fair enough. However, assuming people ever DO learn to read, they ought to try and rectify learned mispronunciations. Folks still aren't giving the written word its due, there, old habits or not.

And I nonetheless feel inclined to be more pedantic about words with specific scientific meanings. I realize that over the last six decades "nuclear" has become intertwined with all sorts of political and cultural baggage, but it is still a word that has, in that popular usage, to do with atomic science. Nucleus, yes? Although I imagine there are plenty of folks who say "nu-kyuh-lus", so there we are.

And, yes, I know I'm being pretty silly here.
posted by cortex at 6:17 PM on October 8, 2002


http://www.toostupidtobepresident.com
posted by Babylonian at 8:58 PM on October 8, 2002


If you pronounce a word a certain word because a dictionary tells you to, you have learned nothing at all.

Umm... riiiight.

I'll let the absurdity of that statement stand on its own.
posted by spacewaitress at 8:59 PM on October 8, 2002


Sorry, obviously I meant a certain way. It should be somewhat less absurd with that correction in place. To expand on it a bit, if you learn something by rote, you cannot claim to understand it. Being able to regurgitate something on demand is not the same as true knowledge.
posted by kindall at 9:32 PM on October 8, 2002


worst metafilter thread ever!

why do dems always fall for the bait?

nucular is a regionalism from the region the bush family transplanted itself into.

oh wait, i'm contributing to the thread now...
posted by xian at 9:16 AM on October 9, 2002


spacewaitress: prescriptive grammar has a purpose Yes it does -- it gets me paid! (I'm an editor by profession.) Seriously, rules are useful for formal expression (in part so you can get the effect of breaking them), and I enjoy both the rules themselves and nitpicking about them with fellow word nerds (thanx, cortex!). What bothers me is when these rules, fine in their place (formal expression), get used to put down people who for whatever reason haven't had access to the long process of formal education required to absorb the rules. Furthermore, the "rules" are actually a complicated set of sometimes contradictory conventions; give me a sufficiently long piece of text by anyone and I guarantee I'll find "mistakes" using a fine enough comb. (Check out The Reader Over Your Shoulder for amusing examples of this.) So I live off the rules, but I don't let the rules run my life.

cortex: the fact that he's a witty and engaging writer Yeah, I know, and maybe I should have acknowledged that somewhere in my rant, but it's precisely that fact that makes people so ready to take his word for things; people are far more willing to listen to an engaging rogue peddling nonsense than an earnest but boring truth-teller. (I could give political examples, but this thread is contentious enough already.) So when I'm reading him on other subjects I can enjoy him, but when I read this goddam essay (which everybody who cares about language seems to know and love) it just pisses me off. Thanks for enjoying my nitpicking, though!
posted by languagehat at 9:56 AM on October 9, 2002


people who for whatever reason haven't had access
Oh, and before anyone jumps on me about this: obviously I'm not talking about Bush. I don't know or care why he says "nu-kyu-lar." What bothers me is that he wants us to go to war on his say-so and doesn't want any dissent (yes, yes, I know we're not being arrested for dissenting). But I have no interest in taking part in that argument; in the language argument, people not only stay reasonably civil, they occasionally listen to each other.
posted by languagehat at 10:06 AM on October 9, 2002


languagehat: concession for concession -- I can understand how DFW's essay could bug the shit out of you, from a specialist's point of view, so point taken.

And now, a discussion of what exactly the hell is or isn't wrong with Pauline Kael's reaction to Kubrick's 2001. In 5...4...3...
posted by cortex at 4:54 PM on October 9, 2002


Whoa, I just came back to this long after the party was over.

My two-and-a-half bits?

What you said is the exact opposite of what RavinDave (an actual linguist, like me) said.

Yeah, my bad, although I was agreeing more with his lament that people pay so little attention to language. I posted that in a hurry, on my way to my next class (at the university (where I teach English)), and should have taken the time to read more closely.

an actual linguist

What makes you so sure that I'm not An Actual Linguist? Can't be my tendency to not bother getting worked up about things like this, that's for damn sure (a hush falls over the crowd).

I read your piece on your site, there, languagehat, and all I really take away from it is that you believe the point of DFW's piece (and I admit find his use of language as simultaneously amusing and annoying as anyone) to be "You've got to learn and use all those fourth-grade grammar rules—it's really important!"

I'd argue that you're missing the point, there, although it seems true that in 'The Usage Wars' he would align himself with prescriptivists. I've got to say the venom with which you attack comes off just a little silly, though.

But fair enough. We all get bees in our bonnets sometimes. I would have preferred to see some refutation of DFW's arguments against descriptivism from page 8 and 9 of his article, if you were so inclined.

[DFW]
Gore's now classic introduction to Webster's Third outlines this type of Descriptivism's five basic edicts: "1--Language changes constantly; 2--Change is normal; 3--Spoken language is the language; 4--Correctness rests upon usage; 5--All usage is relative."

These principles look prima facie OK--commonsensical and couched in the bland simple s.-v.-o, prose of dispassionate Science--but in fact they're vague and muddled and it takes about three seconds to think of reasonable replies to each one of them, viz.:

1--OK, but how much and how fast?

2--Same thing. Is Heraclitean flux as normal or desirable as gradual change ? Do some changes actually serve the language's overall pizzazz better than others? And how many people have to deviate from how many conventions before we say the language has actually changed? Fifty percent? Ten percent?

3--This is an old claim, at least as old as Plato's Phaedrus. And it's specious. If Derrida and the infamous Deconstructionists have done nothing else, they've debunked the idea that speech is language's primary instantiation.(18) Plus consider the weird arrogance of Gove's (3) w/r/t correctness. Only the most mullahlike Prescriptivists care very much about spoken English; most Prescriptive usage guides concern Standard Written English.(19)

4--Fine, but whose usage? Gove's (4) begs the whole question. What he wants to imply here, I think, is a reversal of the traditional entailment-relation between abstract rules and concrete usage: Instead of usage ideally corresponding to a rigid set of regulations, the regulations ought to correspond to the way real people are actually using the language. Again, fine, but which people? Urban Latinos? Boston Brahmins? Rural Midwesterners? Appalachian Neogaelics?

5--Huh? If this means what it seems to mean, then it ends up biting Gove's whole argument in the ass. (5) appears to imply that the correct answer to the above "which people?" is: "All of them!" And it's easy to show why this will not stand up as a lexicographical principle. The most obvious problem with it is that not everything can go in The Dictionary. Why not? Because you can't observe every last bit of every last native speaker's "language behavior," and even if you could, the resultant dictionary would weigh 4 million pounds and have to be updated hourly.(20) The fact is that any lexicographer is going to have to make choices about what gets in and what doesn't. And these choices are based on ... what? And now we're right back where we started.
[/DFW]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:58 PM on October 11, 2002


I've gotta stop posting before my first coffee in the morning.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:02 PM on October 11, 2002


Lisa: "Mom! It's not foil-age, it's fo-li-age."

Marge: "Lisa, I don't have to be a noo-kyoo-ler engineer to know that it's foil-age."

Or something like that...
posted by Brewer at 11:51 PM on October 11, 2002


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