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March 30, 2003 8:42 PM   Subscribe

Language Bullies! An interesting somewhat compelling article asking us to forgive Bush's "nuccular." But will you forgive these needless exclamation marks?!!!!!
posted by adrober (25 comments total)

 
I'll bite - I've heard some pretty weak cases for Bush's in-your-face idiocy in mispronouncing the word. But this is one of the weakest.

It even follows its own rhetorical logic, grafting on to "nuclear" the common ending found in "particular" and "spectacular." When a phrase meets those conditions, I'd say it's no longer a matter of blunt right and wrong, but standard and non-standard.

What phrase? Nuclear is a word. And there's the rub.
The author conflates two separate concepts, English usage and English pronunciation. Usage is subject to a much greater variety of complexities and subjective interpretations than is pronunciation, as witness the number of pronunciations given for a word in the dictionary versus the number of possible definitions.

Just because Bush is also bad at English usage doesn't mean his mispronunciation is merely a matter of taste. This isn't potAYto vs. potAHto. Either of those could be a logical way of pronouncing the letters arrayed in that order. Nuclear could "non-standardly" be pronounced NUH-clear, or Nu-clee-ARE. But rescrambling the letters to produce a whole new word, sorry, that's just lazy-ass bushit.
posted by soyjoy at 9:18 PM on March 30, 2003


I wonder what MIT Linguist Noam Chomsky would think of this...

(Okay, I'm finished wondering)
/snark
posted by wendell at 10:02 PM on March 30, 2003


that's just lazy-ass bushit.

I got upbraided by a linguist several years ago when I insisted that the word "ask" should not be pronounced "ax". The rather snide pronouncement was that language is a fluid, constantly changing animal, and such petty nitpicking was primitive.

Guess what I thought about that?

(nobody even noticed when Clinton completely eliminated the letter "g" from any word ending in "ing")
posted by hama7 at 10:14 PM on March 30, 2003


My issue with Bush's speech isn't that he speaks incorrectly, it's that he simply must do it on purpose. Bush is not a stupid man, he's been through some fine institutions where people know how to pronounce the word nuclear.

He chooses to speak poorly, because that 'resignates' with many of his supporters.

I may or may not be correct about this theory, but I prefer to think of my president as a liar than a fool.
posted by mosch at 10:32 PM on March 30, 2003


He chooses to speak poorly, because that 'resignates' with many of his supporters.

Moron! The word is 'resonade'!
posted by hama7 at 10:43 PM on March 30, 2003


adrober: "But will you forgive these needless exclamation marks?!!!!!"

Well, the first "?!" made sense, but the extra three "!" is painting the lilly.
posted by ?! at 10:45 PM on March 30, 2003


But rescrambling the letters to produce a whole new word, sorry, that's just lazy-ass bushit.

That assumes that the written word is the source of the spoken word. It's obviously the other way around. Writing is a way to record speech; speech is not a performance of writing.

There are good physiological reasons some words change in pronunciation; usually, the alterate pronunciations are easier in some way.

The word "bird" used to be pronounced "brid" (and it was spelled accordingly). When the pronunciation changed the spelling eventually followed. That is much less likely to happen today because we have developed the idea of standard spellings. Standards spellings do have advantages; it is immediately obvious that "nuclear" is related to "nucleus" if you know how they're spelled, but if "nuclear" were spelled "nucular" that would be considerably less obvious.

My point is that the pronunciations of words are immutable just because they are written down. If they were, there would be no such thing as French, Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese; the countries that speak those languages would be speaking Latin.
posted by kindall at 10:52 PM on March 30, 2003


I prefer to think of my president as a liar than a fool.

What if he's a liar and a fool?
posted by leaveok at 11:05 PM on March 30, 2003


Been there, done that ...

But it will be nice to see what languagehat is up to when he checks in later.
posted by RavinDave at 11:07 PM on March 30, 2003


I hope your being sarcastic hama...but the word is resonates.
posted by SweetIceT at 11:14 PM on March 30, 2003


I agree with you kindall, but it's the learnedness which accompanies a presidency that defines it. This country is filled with well-read intellectuals. Presidents used to be they.

Not to mention why this issue comes up now, Metafilter touched on it what seems like ages ago.

Who's bitchin' about His verbiage now? Distaractcheeeownnnnn! and written all over it. Presidents end all bets once a war has begun. Anything else is Dear Leader type shit.
posted by crasspastor at 11:36 PM on March 30, 2003


I agree that it's just stupid that Bush can't say nuclear, but sometimes I just want to give up and drop it already. This particular case strikes a particular nerve because one of my professors can't go through 2 lectures without mentioning Bush and nucular. In fact, any time a nucleus or something related to a nucleus (which, as you might imagine, is a lot of things) is mentioned, so is nucular. GRR.
posted by swank6 at 11:52 PM on March 30, 2003


Moron! The word is 'resonade'!

The word is 'moran'.
posted by homunculus at 12:05 AM on March 31, 2003


That assumes that the written word is the source of the spoken word.

I suspect that in this case the written word is the source of the spoken word. I very much doubt that "nucleus" from which "nuclear" comes was in use before written language existed, and anyway, it comes from Latin, a language we know almost exclusively through written works.

We've had this discussion before. And I've heard this argument before, and it still doesn't convince me. What soyjoy said is pretty much how I feel - the letters just aren't in that order, it's not an "equally-corrrect pronunciation" issue (like "toe-may-toe/toe-mah-toe"), I suspect that it's either a habit he just can't break, or a series of sounds he just can't pronounce (like many people can't say "Asimov", but say "Asminov" instead). The word "nucular" is meaningless, they're not atomic nuculi, they're atomic nuclei. I'm all for relaxed rules about a lot of things, but losing the root meaning of words simply because a bunch of people pronounce something incorrectly isn't one of them.
posted by biscotti at 12:49 AM on March 31, 2003


David Foster Wallace hashes out some of the Descriptivism (nukyoulear, whatever) vs. Prescriptivism (nuclear goddammit) debate for y'all in this here (extremely long and entertaining) Harper's article.

This thread, as many others have noted, also dovetails nicely with the one preceding.
posted by LimePi at 1:59 AM on March 31, 2003


But rescrambling the letters to produce a whole new word, sorry, that's just lazy-ass bushit.

That assumes that the written word is the source of the spoken word.


Good point. This is George Bush we're talking about here.</cheapshot>
posted by Space Coyote at 2:04 AM on March 31, 2003


What's the 'spoken' equivalent to prescriptive grammar? Once I find out, I'll yell it whenever this nonsense pops up again.
posted by foot at 6:50 AM on March 31, 2003


oh damn, I should've read LimePi's comment...rest easy soldier.
posted by foot at 6:52 AM on March 31, 2003


While I realize that nuclear simply is the right word and nucular is not, i feel a little partial to hama7's evolution of language idea.
Take ketchup/catchup/catsup for example. All are correct and, as i understand it, share the same etymology. Different pronunciations allowed for different spellings and all versions are acceptable in modern english, albeit with varying popularity.
And [i'm pretty sure] the word/s were first recorded in English during the early 18th century, so they're not even as subject to the complaint of a lack of standardized spelling like, say, Chaucer with phrases like "cruwel furie."
Go figure, eh?
posted by SimStupid at 6:56 AM on March 31, 2003


Here we go again. Thanks for the double-post cite (saving me the trouble of looking up the thread) and the shout-out, RavinDave. I'm afraid I can't jump in with my wonted enthusiasm this time; interested parties can go to thread 20624 and read my long comments there (including the link to my deconstruction of that pretentious and worthless David Foster Wallace essay), or my summary and link here (it's a Feb. 5 entry; you'll probably have to scroll down). But soyjoy and others of the same opinion are never going to change their minds, so the hell with it. Frankly, it boggles my mind that with so much death and suffering in Iraq people can still get so worked up about this alleged "mispronunciation." Let me just say that the National Post article is perhaps the best thing I've read about this issue in any newspaper, despite the careless use of "phrase," and I give it the languagehat seal of approval.
posted by languagehat at 9:14 AM on March 31, 2003


it boggles my mind that with so much death and suffering in Iraq people can still get so worked up about this alleged "mispronunciation."

Oh for crying out loud, not everything has to revolve around Iraq 24/7! You don't get enough of it from CNN and co, and every other thread here?

And no, I won't change my mind about this. Your considered and educated comments in the other thread were appreciated, but unconvincing.
posted by biscotti at 10:15 AM on March 31, 2003


The fact of the matter is that language does evolve, and "nucular" is just a lot easier to say than "nuclear," which indicates that probably, in time, the "nucular" pronunciation will become more accepted, because that's how words evolve.

Besides, we're talking about spoken pronunciation, which varies much more than written language, and evolves much faster.
posted by dagnyscott at 1:40 PM on March 31, 2003


painting the lilly

I believe the phrase is "gilding the lily."

Well it is a grammar flame thread.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:30 PM on March 31, 2003


Salisbury: "Therefore, to be possess'd with double pompe,
To guard a Title, that was rich before;
To gilde refined Gold, to paint the Lilly;
To throw a perfume on the Violet,
To smooth the yce, or adde another hew
Vnto the Raine-bow; or with Taper-light
To seeke the beauteous eye of heauen to garnish,
Is wastefull, and ridiculous excesse."

Shakespeare, King John

As Ralph Keyes wrote, "Shakespeare could be history's most misquoted figure."
posted by ?! at 4:14 PM on March 31, 2003


...and I don't think this is a double thread, it's on the same subject, yes, but it's a different (and new) article.
Love, Adrober
posted by adrober at 6:08 PM on March 31, 2003


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