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A pronounced deficiency in IQ
January 27, 2005 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Redneck ebonics triumphs. Merriam-Webster online now gives "nu-kyu-lar" as an alternative pronunication of "nuclear." While dictionaries have become more descriptive and less prescriptive over the years, shouldn't they at least list it as [idiotic variant]?
posted by QuietDesperation (160 comments total)

 
Please, just because one idiot in particular can't pronounce the word? I guess axe should there too, as an alternative to ask, right? Pitiful.
posted by LouReedsSon at 11:12 AM on January 27, 2005


Interesting and relevant reflection upon "descriptive vs. prescriptive" grammar at Language Log.
posted by rushmc at 11:13 AM on January 27, 2005


Februrary. Wednesday.
posted by zsazsa at 11:17 AM on January 27, 2005


Can someone explain why ask pronounced axe is considered a dialect, but "nu-kyu-lar" is not? This irritates me like bloody hell for some reason.
posted by MrMulan at 11:17 AM on January 27, 2005


Fucking "liberry" is in there too. It's like saying lettiz is an alternate spelling of lettuce, and not A MISTAKE.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:19 AM on January 27, 2005


Lie-berry should be in there too, if we're going to add nu-cu-lar.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:19 AM on January 27, 2005


Although I despise the pronunciation "nookyular" I've previously settled on the following rule: descriptive alterations in dictionary definitions should be accepted as long as they don't compromise the precision of the language. Even though saying "nukular" brands you as a retard listeners understand what you're saying. On the other hand, I believe some dictionaries treat "infer" as a synonym of "imply" which is a tragedy.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 11:19 AM on January 27, 2005


Oops. PinkStainlessTail beat me to it.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:20 AM on January 27, 2005


I don't think either party would appreciate the term 'redneck ebonics'.
posted by Arch Stanton at 11:21 AM on January 27, 2005


I don't understand the point in this. Nobody is going to hear "nukular" and think "wow, I don't know what that means - let me reference this dictionary by looking up all the pronunciations and seeing what... OH he meant NUCLEAR!!!! OOOOH"

Shouldn't the dictionary remain an authority on how words are actually pronounced and what they actually mean rather than taking a "Whatever the hell you want it to mean/how you want to say it" approach?
posted by odinsdream at 11:23 AM on January 27, 2005


I fall on the descriptivist side, but it might be best to mark a pronunciation as "'nü-ky&-l&r" as non-standard.

Also, if you are going to refer to the way rednecks talk, please do not use the term ebonics. Ivorics is far preferred in this tower.

Precision and all.
posted by Gnatcho at 11:23 AM on January 27, 2005


Ore-gawn-o. Foy-lage.
posted by sian at 11:24 AM on January 27, 2005


Hmm, there should be a "such" in that first sentence.
posted by Gnatcho at 11:24 AM on January 27, 2005


Can someone explain why ask pronounced axe is considered a dialect, but "nu-kyu-lar" is not?

Because dialects are regional pronunciations. You can take a sample of 5000 people throughout the US, and probably 1000 of them will say "nu-kyu-lar".
posted by schlaager at 11:25 AM on January 27, 2005


Arch stanton beat me to it.

What the hell is "Redneck-ebonics" supposed to mean? In pointing out that others are dumb for mispronouncing a word you've manage to insult a wide swath of people with what you've made into a classist/racial slur. Idiot.
posted by elwoodwiles at 11:26 AM on January 27, 2005


What about "Warshington"? Is that regional, or is it all over the place with just certain people (as schlaager refers to)?
posted by matildaben at 11:27 AM on January 27, 2005


"descriptive alterations in dictionary definitions should be accepted as long as they don't compromise the precision of the language."

Please.....is this to benefit those retards that are going actually look this up in the dictionary (does anyone see the obvious conflict here)? Nothing like giving some tacit acceptance to the uneducated dolts out there. Even better that our President is considered one of them....lovely.

Maybe I'm just unedumacated. Matt's going to have to update his spell checker now.
posted by j.p. Hung at 11:27 AM on January 27, 2005


Please, just because one idiot in particular can't pronounce the word?

One powerful idiot can do more to change the language than a whole boatload of linguistics professors.

And now, if you'll all excuse me, I'm off to the lieberry to get me some edumacation.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 11:28 AM on January 27, 2005


And CUMF-terble is there too. grrrrr

Wait, I actually say it like that.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:28 AM on January 27, 2005


It just seems like a lot of people think the President is an "idiot" so they find nitpicky things that really have no indicative value of his intellect and use that as proof of his idiocy.

This is the fault of the Dems that will cause them to give even more power to the already slightly majority "reds". They (yes, we) see you calling us idiots and morons and making fun of our dialects and the way we choose to live our lives. We will remember the name calling and the poking fun.

Just because someone calls it nu-ku-lar, or someone calls it a dawg, or decides to drink a coke instead of a pop or soda doesn't mean that they are idiots. It just means there is regional diversity even in our own country. Take a lesson from your own school of thought and take pride in that diversity instead of putting those different from you down.

Back in the day, they called forms of what you are doing "racism".
posted by mychai at 11:29 AM on January 27, 2005


While we are at it, let's add "real-uh-tee" (realty) and "real-uh-ter" (Realtor) to the list of mispronounced words.
posted by Possum at 11:29 AM on January 27, 2005


IANA Linguist Oh wait, I am a linguist. Here's something to consider- lots of people pronounce it nu-kyu-lar, and just because you don't like it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with it. There're phonological reasons why people pronounce things in different ways, simple as that. It has nothing to do with intellect.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:30 AM on January 27, 2005


Gnatcho: I fall on the descriptivist side, but it might be best to mark a pronunciation as "'nü-ky&-l&r" as non-standard.

They do, as indicated by the obelus mark, ÷, which they discuss in this letter.

Bush is still a moron though.
posted by knave at 11:30 AM on January 27, 2005


Shouldn't the dictionary remain an authority on how words are actually pronounced and what they actually mean rather than taking a "Whatever the hell you want it to mean/how you want to say it" approach?

Actually, it's worse than that, because if that were really their message, they would simply not provide any pronunciation guide at all. By including erroneous variants, they are not only reporting them but giving them the very prescriptivist seal of approval that they claim to eschew!
posted by rushmc at 11:31 AM on January 27, 2005


Main Entry: spa·ghet·ti
Pronunciation: sp&-'ge-tE, 'pahs-get-ih'
Function: noun
Etymology: Italian, from plural of spaghetto, diminutive of spago cord, string, from Late Latin spacus
1 : pasta made in thin solid strings
2 : insulating tubing typically of varnished cloth or of plastic for covering bare wire or holding insulated wires together
- spa·ghet·ti·like /-"lIk/ adjective
usage Though disapproved of by many, the pronunciation 'pahs-get-ih' has been found in widespread use among many early-education students, teachers, and adults in early parenthood.
posted by odinsdream at 11:32 AM on January 27, 2005


* and at least one family-oriented daily comic strip, which appears in a circle.
posted by odinsdream at 11:33 AM on January 27, 2005


schlaager: I'm no linguist, but I bet 'axe' fits in the same way at a national level. As blacks moved up the socio economic ladder, they had better mobility, could move far away, and take their regional dialects, and some words became national.
posted by MrMulan at 11:34 AM on January 27, 2005


zsazsa: Wednesday = wens-DEE? I have never heard a single person say that in my life.
posted by AstroGuy at 11:35 AM on January 27, 2005


'Worshington' is a midwest thing, matildaben. I never say it that way, but my dad does. Even says 'car worsh'.
posted by Arch Stanton at 11:36 AM on January 27, 2005


Ok, so I cringe when I hear it too, but let's not pretend that Bush is the only one who pronounces it this way. Many, many people in the Midwest say it that way. I can't speak about other areas of the USA.

Yes, the spelling lacks any presence of the 'yuh' sound, but we wouldn't want people going around pronouncing all words as they are written. SUREly that would be a mistake.
posted by ontic at 11:36 AM on January 27, 2005


j.p. Hung : Language evolves with use. I'll venture you don't say "flaksid" for "flaccid" although that is or was the correct pronunciation. My point again is that the important thing is that the English language retains its phenomenal ability to specifically and accurately describe things. Even if you're a pronunciation snob, as I'm afraid I am (I say "fort" not "fortay" for a person's strong suit) changes in pronunciation are going to occur and in the end you just have to accept them.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 11:37 AM on January 27, 2005


odinsdream: I like saying spaghettis even though I know no such word exists. Too bad I'm not the Prez, cause then everyone would want to eat 'spaghettis", and the dictionary would list it to boot!
posted by MrMulan at 11:37 AM on January 27, 2005


It just seems like a lot of people think the President is an "idiot" so they find nitpicky things that really have no indicative value of his intellect and use that as proof of his idiocy.

He's an idiot for much more concrete reasons than the way he pronounces words, my friend. To pretend otherwise is to ignore a great deal of what he apparently believes is his "legacy."
posted by odinsdream at 11:39 AM on January 27, 2005


Hey Turtles, friendly question, has a language ever lost its ability to specifically and accurately describe things?
posted by ontic at 11:48 AM on January 27, 2005


JIMMY CARTER used to pronounce it that way....now go google what he used to do before he became president and see how deliciously ironic that is.
posted by konolia at 11:48 AM on January 27, 2005


If you think Bush is bad speaker you hadn't heard Jean Chretien, he was largely incomprehensible in Canada's both official languages, he would get hung up on words like "the". Still Chretien was regarded as being very intellegent. I've heard it suggested that both Bush and Chretien may have a similar type of speech defect.

Wikipedia has a pretty good write up on this en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nucular. One explanation I've heard is that the word nuclear is a particularly awkward combination of consanant and vowel sounds, in addition to how rare it is for words to end in -clear. Dictionaries are suppossed to reflect language right?

Wonder if they can just fix how colonel is pronounced. And why do Americans pronounce 'sorry' as 'sari'?
posted by bobo123 at 11:49 AM on January 27, 2005


Turtles, I'm not saying don't tolerate the misuse of language for the sake of being a pronunciation snob. I'm saying don't validate it for the sake of the asswipes that seem to have a problem with education. Your point of "flaccid" is well taken, however I believe a reasonable time frame surrounded this accepted change in diction. Many of the words being bandied about here are relatively recent bastardations of the English language.

Mychai, thanks for the derail. You may have noticed that people speak well about the things they know well. You act as though people vilify Bush for some word mispronunciations but his idiocy is a thousand times deeper than that. You may wish to listen to say....oh....any one of handful of press conferences.
posted by j.p. Hung at 11:49 AM on January 27, 2005


Jimmy Carter called it nookyoolar, and he was a nuclear tech in a sub.

Bush is still a moran, though.
posted by delmoi at 11:50 AM on January 27, 2005


i've always viewed the dictionary pronunciation guide as a way of saying, "hey, if you've never heard this word spoken before, follow this guide and everyone will understand the word because this is the standardly accepted pronunciation." as such, i like to communicate with as broad an audience as possible, so i stick to as standard a pronunciation as i can. what does that make me? not president, that's for sure.

but let's say you're a foreigner (you're cold as ice--oops, sidetracked) and someone comes up to you and says, "excuse me, can i axe you a few quershtions about the nookuler testing in warshington?" their attempt at verbal communication, what knave's link describes as "primary," fails. what then?
posted by Igor XA at 11:51 AM on January 27, 2005


AstroGuy -- my dad's side of the family is in southwest Michigan, and all of them (indeed, everyone I know in that region) pronounce the -day suffix that way. MON-dee. TOOZ-dee. WENS-dee. Etc-dee. Oddly, no one I know from southeast Michigan (a much smaller sample, granted) uses this pronunciation, nor anyone I know from upper Michigan (a much bigger sample).
posted by aaronetc at 11:52 AM on January 27, 2005


Here's an Op-Ed that Roger Ebert wrote back during the 2000 election about Bush's way of speaking. "The president should be MORE articulate than the average person. Bush does not speak "the way ordinary people speak." The average American is more articulate." and "...proper speech and grammar were signs of self-respect."
posted by Arch Stanton at 11:53 AM on January 27, 2005


mychai -
While I cannot fault your extreme correctness on pointing out the absurdly petty insults and mean-spirited verbal bashing of the president and his constituency of support (mainly those who are grouped with him for similar mispronounciation of the common language of English), you will have to understand that most of those who spew such amazingly insipid blatherings are the little dweebs that were shoved into lockers and beat up by the football team for being 'nerdy' or too 'bookish'.
They are also using their own system of judgement (the academic world values a person who can speak and think clearly and communicate their exact intentions) to evaluate a person (and in the Presidents case, there is plenty of evidence that he has never, nor will he ever, spoken in a clear and consise manner with clear definitive statements. His speach writers are excellent at metaphor and rhetoric, and even in off the cuff comments, he shows his own mental agility at never stating anything in so concrete a term that he can be held to it as any type of oath or promise). It has been noted in many articles (and noted with a strange sense of "can you believe this is true") on the web and in print that many of the Presidents supporters do not value the empirical study of language and the need for clear and consise speach, instead value an "honest face" or someone who "shows conviction in their beliefs" even if those beliefs are not stated in concrete terms. George Bush says he "is a man of faith", yet that could just as easily mean he has faith that his Lord Satan will rule the Earth (not saying he's a Satanist, just stating that since he does not specify what his beleifs are in concrete dogma, the listener might easily assume that he could worship the blood gods of the Aztecs). In being vague, yet using emotionally charged words and phrases, he garners support from people who do not value empirical evidence, but would rather "trust thier instincts" or "feel someone out" than look at facts and figures. The question you have to ask is which camp do you fit in. You may fit in neither camp (as I like to delude myself), but either way, you must decide whether the trust and power you give someone is warranted by what they say or by what they do. And really, if you have a head on your shoulders that's not filled with rocks, hopefully you will realize that what a person does can hurt you, where as what a person says, means nothing more than hot air.

These are simple differences, but will be divisive until the end of time (or at least the end of humans, which ever comes first).

- end philosophical and echo-chambery over intellectualization.

All that and stupid people suck.
posted by daq at 11:54 AM on January 27, 2005


that should be a foreigner who is learning english.
posted by Igor XA at 11:54 AM on January 27, 2005


Why don't we get cumfterble in the liberry? We can axe about orderin' some pahsgetih and talk about nukyular prolifferashun.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 11:55 AM on January 27, 2005


Bush is still a moran, though.

Now we're picking on the Irish?
posted by QuietDesperation at 11:55 AM on January 27, 2005


"Redneck ebonics" has been triumphing for more than 40 years: as a matter of fact, M-W has included "nucular" since 1961. I initially took (and still kind of take) the context of the post to be some kind of comment on M-W's bowing to the Bush administration.
posted by heydanno at 11:57 AM on January 27, 2005


>>One powerful idiot can do more to change the language than a whole boatload of linguistics professors<<

Is it true that Spanish speakers from Spain lisp because there once was a Spanish king who lisped?
posted by scratch at 12:00 PM on January 27, 2005


they prolly won't accept supposubly nohow.
posted by effwerd at 12:07 PM on January 27, 2005


My theory about "nucular" is that Bush started off his career saying it correctly, and that part of the grooming process to make him more electable involved him saying it the Homer Simpson way.

I would love someone to do the research on this.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:07 PM on January 27, 2005


If, by common usage, an alternate pronunciation can be added to the dictonary, beginning immediately I suggest we all use the following in everyday speech:


Bush (fuk wit)
Cheney (hal i bur tn stooj)
Rumsfeld (wur mung ger)
Rice (pre fes ser uv fols hoodz)
Weapons of Mass Destruction (non ig-zistent boo gee men)
posted by m@ at 12:10 PM on January 27, 2005


Since language necessarily changes over time, as does much of human behavior, thereby creating differences across social and physical distance, it is not only futile and foolhardy to be prescriptive in grammar, it also reveals a lack of understanding of the nature of language. Though convention has its place, the notion of prescriptive grammar beyond mere convention is wrong-headed.

Also, the pronunciation of 'ask' as 'aks' dates back to the 14th century. Just, you know, fyi.
posted by JT at 12:10 PM on January 27, 2005


They somehow overlooked joo-ler-ee.
posted by pmbuko at 12:12 PM on January 27, 2005


How about ruficollibonics?
(bad latin hack but it sort of works)
posted by milovoo at 12:12 PM on January 27, 2005


Americans have been bastardizing the English language for hundreds of years. Lieutenant as LOO-tenant, Laboratory as LAB-ratory, Aluminium as A-LOO-minum. The list is endless.
posted by rocket88 at 12:13 PM on January 27, 2005


Castilian speakers lisp at least because of that. Not sure about Spanish speakers in Aragon, Asturias, Andalusia, etc. or if they even still have distinct dialects still.
posted by Captain_Tenille at 12:13 PM on January 27, 2005


I'm with you Ambrose.

I think the reason Bush's malapropisms and mispronunciations irritate me so much is because his is a cultivated regionalism. He's a child of Northeastern, prep school privilege. His saying nookyular is one of a variety of affected (and effective) tics he uses to convey the impression that he's a folksy guy.

I'm more than happy to dust off the prescriptivist stick to beat on him every now and then.
posted by felix betachat at 12:14 PM on January 27, 2005


The term redneck-ebonics sure has got sand in a bunch of drama-queens' vaginas.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:14 PM on January 27, 2005


While I do not like the "nu-kyu-lar" pronunciation, I understand their reasoning:
usage Though disapproved of by many, pronunciations ending in \-ky&-l&r\ 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.
If it were just Bush who couldn't speak properly (prescriptively speaking), it would be different, but America (among other places, apparently) is full of people like him.

The world needs prescriptivists and descriptivists, just as it needs political conservatives and liberals. If there were no prescriptivists, we'd have to contend with junk l33t-speak everywhere. If there were no descriptivists, there would be no English language. Admirers of literature older than yesterday's magazines (including, one would hope, English teachers) generally will be prescriptivists. But kidz, in fine descriptive fashion, generally will make up whatever they feel like (all-lowercase writing, for example) and will insist that the rules don't matter as long as their, like, komunikatin. And some of their inventions will become law.

How long do you think it will be before "wanna" and "gonna" (to quote at least the three most recent US presidents and the current British prime minister) become acceptable contractions?
posted by pracowity at 12:16 PM on January 27, 2005


Another one that I can't stand is "idear".
posted by jefbla at 12:16 PM on January 27, 2005


George Bush says he "is a man of faith", yet that could just as easily mean he has faith that his Lord Satan will rule the Earth (not saying he's a Satanist, just stating that since he does not specify what his beleifs are in concrete dogma, the listener might easily assume that he could worship the blood gods of the Aztecs).

[insert Cheney joke here]

Is it true that Spanish speakers from Spain lisp because there once was a Spanish king who lisped?

No.
posted by me & my monkey at 12:18 PM on January 27, 2005


Here's an Op-Ed that Roger Ebert wrote back during the 2000 election about Bush's way of speaking.

Ah yes, Roger Ebert, noted protector and defender of democracy.

"The president should be MORE articulate than the average person. Bush does not speak "the way ordinary people speak." The average American is more articulate." and "...proper speech and grammar were signs of self-respect."

The majority of the electorate obviously did not hold this view -- either that or they didn't think it was important. I'm not a huge fan of the President, but this is a widely used variant of the word where I grew up. The view expressed in the FPP is typical pantywaist elitist Yankee bullshit. Maybe Bush is an idiot, maybe not, but the pronunciation of this one word is not indicative one way or the other.

Hey jefbla: I hain't got no idear whatcher gone on about.

Also, I've lived for several years in the Warshington, D.C. area, and I've always been under the impression that that particular pronunciation is actually common to a regional dialect in this area. You'll hear many locals from older generations use it (e.g. Diane Rehm). Just as many people refer to the city somewhat north of here as Bawlmer.
posted by casu marzu at 12:25 PM on January 27, 2005


Embiggens? That's a perfectly cromulent word.
posted by Freen at 12:27 PM on January 27, 2005


rocket88: British pronunciations are not the gold standard. The pronunciation "vitt-a-min" is just plain wrong: the origin of the word is "vital amines", no "vitt" about it.

ontic: You raise an interesting philosophical point indeed. I wonder what would happen if dictionaries were to become entirely descriptive, and further if the teaching of spelling and grammar were someday to be considered entirely superfluous, as everyone could learn what they needed to know 'on the street'. I'm not being facetious: while I think that the ability to use language precisely on those occasions when one needs to, normally while writing, would suffer, I don't have any really good argument at hand to support that assertion.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 12:27 PM on January 27, 2005


How long do you think it will be before "wanna" and "gonna" (to quote at least the three most recent US presidents and the current British prime minister) become acceptable contractions?

How about a word I see all the time here: "prolly"?
posted by Turtles all the way down at 12:28 PM on January 27, 2005


"It's chowdah. Say it right!"
posted by boaz at 12:29 PM on January 27, 2005


me & my monkey: That explanation is not entirely correct. For some reason the author of the article only mentions the "lisp" (or the "th" sound) when it comes to the letter "z". In actuality many Spaniards, at least in the south-western region of Spain pronounce the usual "ess" sound with that "th" instead. This includes words like "gracias", which can sound like "grathias" or even "grathiath".

It really can throw someone who learned Spanish in the U.S.
posted by melt away at 12:31 PM on January 27, 2005


"prolly"

Sorry effwerd, I see you beat me to it!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 12:32 PM on January 27, 2005


Something interesting (sorry if I'm repeating someone above): 'nuclear' is the adjectival form of 'nucleus', which comes from the Latin 'nuculeus', from 'nucula' the diminutive of 'nux', meaning 'nut'. So the at some point the 'u' between the 'c' and 'l' was dropped (and at that point would have probably been considered a mispronunciation).

My theory - it's Bush's comprehensive knowledge of and fluency in Latin that leads to his pronunciation.
posted by adamdegen at 12:33 PM on January 27, 2005


Australian: "that's not a knife, this is a knife!"

Marge: "No, it's a spoon."

Australian: "I see you've played Knify-Spoony before, then."
posted by Freen at 12:33 PM on January 27, 2005


The list is endless.

No it's not. Your comment nicely illustrates the problem with the prescriptivist position. Are you aware that Brit English has also changed since the American Revolution? And that it's changed just as much? In both varieties there are words which are pronounced more similarly to their spelling and words which are pronounced less similarly to their spelling.

18th Century British English can't be the standard because contemporary Brits use a variety of English that is substantially different. By that standard, contemporary British and American English are both incorrect.

Nativity can't be the standard because there's no birthplace for a language.

Neither British nor American English is more correct than the other.

As to this post: people above have pointed out that a large number of words are "correctly" pronounced differently than the phoneticization of their spelling. Given that a large portion of native English speakers say "nukular", it's as correct a prounciation as any other.

Except, perhaps, in terms of prounciation as a class/status signifier. Is classism the sort of thing that the left-leaning mefites want to endorse?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2005


The function of a mirror is to reflect rather than project.

Similarly with dictionaries, which are naught but annotated lists of words.
posted by walrus at 12:44 PM on January 27, 2005


Is internets next?
posted by lobstah at 12:47 PM on January 27, 2005


adamdegen has it.

Turtles: The only way I could come up with would be if things got super-Orwellian enough such that people never learned words for important distinctions. But even then, I think the problem wouldn't be a lack of precision in the language so much as a deficiency in learning the language. But perhaps after enough generations.... well, I guess that was Orwell's genius.

The authors of your purely descriptive dictionary would be very powerful people indeed if somehow they could corner the market on dictionaries.
posted by ontic at 12:47 PM on January 27, 2005


walrus: but that's the debate--who says dictionaries should be a mirror? If you want a reference as to the latest way English is spoken watch MTV.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 12:49 PM on January 27, 2005


Is classism the sort of thing that the left-leaning mefites want to endorse?

I think there are plenty here who are willing to speak grammatical prescription to power.
posted by felix betachat at 12:50 PM on January 27, 2005


urp. Make that "phonic" prescription.
posted by felix betachat at 12:51 PM on January 27, 2005


"who says dictionaries should be a mirror?"

Dictioneers. Look it up in one.
posted by walrus at 12:51 PM on January 27, 2005


Cromulent is in at least one dictionary.
posted by Gimpson at 12:52 PM on January 27, 2005


That explanation is not entirely correct. For some reason the author of the article only mentions the "lisp" (or the "th" sound) when it comes to the letter "z". In actuality many Spaniards, at least in the south-western region of Spain pronounce the usual "ess" sound with that "th" instead. This includes words like "gracias", which can sound like "grathias" or even "grathiath".

I think that's Catalan, not Spanish. I spent a week in a hospital in Barcelona, where everyone spoke like that. Unfortunately, I spoke no Spanish, and they spoke no English. There's nothing quite like trying to explain that you need to defecate to someone who can't understand you.
posted by me & my monkey at 12:54 PM on January 27, 2005


Are the three pronunciations that you can listen to supposed to represent three different pronunciations? For the life of me I cannot hear any difference. For that matter, I can't tell the difference between any of the phonetic spellings used to distinguish the incorrect pronunciation from the correct one. I'm usually a stickler for pronunciation and correct usage of language. But I've always been stuck on the "nuclear" issue, it all sounds the same to me.
posted by dipolemoment at 12:55 PM on January 27, 2005


Turtles all the way down, meh, who's keeping track? I was taking a risk with supposubly. I did a search on the page but who knows how that "word" is spelled. I ain't been learn't in them fancy tongues cuz my mah done r-u-n-n-o-f-t.

BTW, is "meh" considered a word? It's one of my favorites. My new favorite phrase is "typical pantywaist elitist Yankee bullshit." Thanks casu marzu.
posted by effwerd at 12:55 PM on January 27, 2005


Dictioneers. Look it up in one.

Wha?
posted by Turtles all the way down at 12:55 PM on January 27, 2005


What is the dictionary definition of "dictionary"?
posted by walrus at 12:57 PM on January 27, 2005


Regarding the loss of clarity and distinctions in language: Something that has bothered me for some time (less now, though) is the use of 'literally' as a mere intensifier. It's easy enough to see how this happened, but it's lead to 'literally' meaning both 'literally' and 'figuratively' (e.g. "I was literally drowning in paperwork"). This sense has been endorsed by many dictionaries for descriptive reasons.
posted by adamdegen at 12:58 PM on January 27, 2005


Although I guess this isn't an instance of pronunciation leading to loss of clarity.
posted by adamdegen at 12:58 PM on January 27, 2005


EB: Classism is not something I want to endorse.

However, intelligibility is something I want to endorse. Standards are also something i want to endorse. You are using a system right now, the internet, that is basically an agreement to use a very specific set of languages, very strictly in order to facilitate communication that, on a bit by bit level retains a very high signal to noise ratio. This is because when you have standards for information transfer, and people use them, thus increasing the efficiency and utility of using them at an impressive rate.

If you want to use Your-Own-Damn-Protocol for your webserver, in lieu of TCP/IP be my guest, but don't expect me, or the rest of the internet to understand you, nor expect to participate in the kind of benefits that arise from standards based communication systems.

I'm talking about the internet, but i think the same argument can easily be applied to other means of communication as well.

Language is an agreement on a set of syntax and semantics, among other things. You get too far away from the agreement, and you know what, no one understands you.

Do you grok? Is grok a perfectly cromulent word? what if i decided to spell it groq. Can you cogniscate the minutiods of what i'm impointing at?
posted by Freen at 12:59 PM on January 27, 2005


Usage, pronounciation, and punctuation all vary. While (to use a familiar example) languagehat is a descriptivist he does not make the claim that all possible usages are equally suited for all situations.

Seems to me that these variations generally follow regional and socioeconomic distinctions (along with some other distinctions such as, for example, technical usage). A dictionary that could perhaps satisfy both the descriptivists and prescriptivists would be one that comprehensively (but usably) describes all these variations. Thus, with a little context, the prescriptivist-minded person would be able to ascertain which usage is likely to be considered correct by other prescriptivists.

"Well educated, white, western1 US natives" would probably be the usage that the US prescriptivists would prefer. An added benefit would be to make explicit the socioeconomic aspect of it and how the prescriptivist position can be (and is) used to cement class distinctions. For example: how to pronounce "ask"? Pronounce it the way that white people pronounce it, of course.

1 Based upon the recent PBS hosted post that showed that most Americans consider the western US regional pronounciation most "correct".
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:00 PM on January 27, 2005


Ugh.

If no one ever "mispronounced" anything, we'd all still be speaking Proto-Indo-European. Get over it.
posted by sellout at 1:00 PM on January 27, 2005


Yikes... Lets try that one sentence again.

This is because when you have standards for information transfer, and people use them, the efficiency and utility of using them increases at an impressive rate.
posted by Freen at 1:03 PM on January 27, 2005


Americans have been bastardizing the English language for hundreds of years.

We prefer to call it pimping.
posted by probablysteve at 1:03 PM on January 27, 2005


Do you grok?

Ah, the irony. Yes, I do "grok". It also proves you wrong given that "grok" was a neologism that was comprehensible by almost no one when it was introduced.

Human language is not at all like TCP/IP. TCP/IP and other machine communication protocols are barely in the same universe as human language and about a billion miles from the ballpark. When machine comm protocols are self-modifying, evolving with usage, and context sensitive with regard to content, then maybe your example would be apt. But then, in that case, if two thousand machines chose to use the (metaphorical) machine comm version of "nukuar", your machine comm protocols would handle it and the other machines would understand it. So there goes your whole comparisn.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:06 PM on January 27, 2005


Using a computer protocol as a retrospective definition of human language is perhaps to miss a point. To err is human.
posted by walrus at 1:07 PM on January 27, 2005


If you want to use Your-Own-Damn-Protocol for your webserver, in lieu of TCP/IP be my guest, but don't expect me, or the rest of the internet to understand you, nor expect to participate in the kind of benefits that arise from standards based communication systems.

This is a terrible comparison. We have to be very specific when providing instructions for computers, because computers do exactly as they're told. They have no capability for interpretation. People, on the other hand, can interpret with a great deal of flexibility. Do you think that any English-speaking listener, hearing "nucular", couldn't figure out what was meant? Do you ever make grammatical errors? Would you expect others to discard your statements in those cases, rather than just interpreting them sensibly?

For example, the sentence of yours that I've quoted is poorly constructed enough to make English grammar teachers cringe, yet I can understand what you're trying to say.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:09 PM on January 27, 2005


To err is human

And that's "err" people, not "air".

/getting all my Grammar/Pronunciation Nazi pet peeves out at once. It feels good.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:12 PM on January 27, 2005


fo shizzle, my niggas on me-fi be breaking it all down and shit.
posted by wah at 1:14 PM on January 27, 2005


adamdegen: "literally" and "ironic". I've actually caught myself amid puzzled stares until I say, "No, he literally literally put his foot in his mouth."

Personally, I would really like to know what the brain does when it processes the phrase literally (x), where it's not just the intensifying usage.

I think it's funny that we get annoyed with communication that is successful, but non-standard. It's not like we can't devote the extra brain cycle. Must be something about "Hey, I had to pay my dues..." (or something more sinister).
posted by ontic at 1:23 PM on January 27, 2005


It's fascinating to me that some people are always claiming that we "bastardize" the language and that English is "dying." The so-called language purists (or, as Robyn Lakoff put it, Language Guardians), some of whom are quite liberal in other aspects of life, cling to the notion that we need to halt the tide of poor language. However, these people, I'm sure, use words/phrases like "business" (officially pronounced now as "bizness"), "awful" (used to mean just the opposite), "apron" (used to be "napron," arose through confusion between "a napron" and "an apron"), "It's me" (even though "me" is an inflected form of the word "I"), and so forth. It's hard for some people to accept the fact that one of the main causes for language change is mistakes/variations.

Another interesting related topic is that romance languages evolved from Vulgar Latin, or "Low" Latin. So even though many of us hold Latin high up on a pedestal of world languages (because Latin was the language of power for so long), romance languages reflect the common spoken kind of Latin rather than the "more correct" kind.

This is to say, things are changing, and that's the way it is. I see no reason why "nucular" won't be the standard pronunciation hundreds of years from now. We may grimace at this thought, but it's no stranger than "business" or "colonel." Look how rapidly we've come to say things like "the media is," and "everyone knows their own name" and "hopefully I'll get into college."
posted by ORthey at 1:25 PM on January 27, 2005


"Hey, I had to pay my dues..."

Definitely that, with a soupçon of "I'm so smart, here's how."
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:26 PM on January 27, 2005


I agree with you. All of you. I'm not arguing for a dead language. And TCP is a poor comparison to make to language. I was trying to make a very specific point about communication. Specifically, if what you call a 'tree', i happen to call a 'splazz', it might be difficult to have a conversation about trees. And yes EB, I used the term 'grok' specifically because it was a neologism, one I was fairly certain a significant number of people would understand, yet some would be completely confused by, more so by suggesting that changing the spelling of gibberish could somehow alter make it more or less meaningful.

I'm just saying that there comes a point when you loose the ability to understand someone, and you get a whole new language, and sometimes that is sub-optimal. Sometimes that is optimal. I think what's happening here is that some people are a little bit weirded out that the president's dialect, among others has deviated ever so slightly more from their dialect.


No one ever thinks they have an accent, or that their own way of speaking is incorrect, unless they've been around lots of people who speak differently than them. This whole issue doesn't matter until you reach that point when you don't actually understand what the other person is saying, despite the fact that you are both speaking the same language. Or when regional areas or subcultures dialects deviate so far from the norm that they become unintelligible. That's when it's problematic. That hasn't happened in respect to the term "nuclear" etc. but that is what most of us are up in arms about.
posted by Freen at 1:26 PM on January 27, 2005


Shouldn't the dictionary remain an authority on how words are actually pronounced and what they actually mean rather than taking a "Whatever the hell you want it to mean/how you want to say it" approach?

No. A dictionary is a reference to a language. And a language evolves. Which means people say 'whatever the hell they want' and if something catches on, it becomes part of that language. People make up new words (like ain't), or pronounce words differently (like nucular), or change the meaning of a word (like Michael Jackon's 'bad'). Those words become part of the language, like it or not. People who say "Ain't ain't a word." (or "Ain't isn't a word" if they're REALLY uptight) are kidding themselves. It IS a word. As soon as it's used. I can make a word right now. Flerpy. There ya go. If it catches on, it will end up in the dictionary. And it should. Otherwise the dictionary would have two or three words. Ug, oog, and ugoog. And it would be useless.
posted by gummo at 1:33 PM on January 27, 2005


From this thread I take it for now on; when a word's pronunciation becomes news, look for the dictionary to update its pronunciation(s) as correct.

No on in the lime light/news better pronounce the “h” in "Thom" or I’ll be called "Thumb" one day.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:33 PM on January 27, 2005


A few more relevant links:
"nucular" traced to 200 BC-
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000290.html
Kerry's version?
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001561.html
posted by myl at 1:40 PM on January 27, 2005


dictionary:
[Medieval Latin dictionarium, from Latin dictio, diction-, diction. See diction.]

Which way to the betting pool for l337$p34k spellings?
posted by petebest at 1:42 PM on January 27, 2005


if something catches on, it becomes part of that language

It strikes me that this is actually the heart of the debate: I'd say that nucular hasn't caught on, because I rarely hear it on, let's say TV, except when George Bush says it. I rarely hear it in real life, either. So, I'll commit myself here: unlike, for example "till" for until, which everyone says, it's too early to dignify "nucular" with an appearance in any dictionary other than one devoted to a particular regional dialect.

Excellent thread, all. It's heartening to see that a post centred (I'm Canadian) on language has generated this many comments in such a short time!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:44 PM on January 27, 2005


Turtles - I feel like you've hit on an interesting gray area. Exactly how common does a word/variation need to be to be recognized by a dictionary? I mean, the word "thy" is in the dictionary, but it certainly isn't used (anymore). I don't hear "nucular" a lot either, but I live in San Francisco. I'm sure there are areas where it's the norm. Therefore, it should be in the dictionary.
posted by ORthey at 1:52 PM on January 27, 2005


Specifically, if what you call a 'tree', i happen to call a 'splazz', it might be difficult to have a conversation about trees.

I don't see anyone here denying that.

This whole issue doesn't matter until you reach that point when you don't actually understand what the other person is saying, despite the fact that you are both speaking the same language. Or when regional areas or subcultures dialects deviate so far from the norm that they become unintelligible. That's when it's problematic. That hasn't happened in respect to the term "nuclear" etc. but that is what most of us are up in arms about.

And I think the rest of us don't see that happening, ever. It's not as if half the English-speaking population is going to wake up one day and suddenly start using new pronunciations for thousands of words. If that happened, sure, you'd have a disastrous bifurcation of the language, but that's not what's happening, and I don't see it ever happening. (At least not until humanity establishes colonies outside the solar system, where communication limited by the speed of light takes literally years, so you have two or more independently evolving language groups.)

First, the evolution is not going on to major portions of the language, but dozens or maybe hundreds of words at one time. When you consider the tens of thousands of words in the language, it's a pretty small chunk of the language. Second, "nuclear" to "nucular" isn't exactly "tree" to "splazz." I'd wager that the listeners of even the very first person who mispronounced "nuclear" as "nucular" understood what he meant. Third, it's not half the population adopting the previously nonstandard pronunciation overnight. It gradually becomes more widespread, allowing other speakers of the language to adjust to it and understand it.

To summarize, I fail to see the slippery slope you seem to be asserting, which would lead from the varying pronunciations of "nuclear" to a situation in which subgroups of English speakers are unable to understand each other.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:52 PM on January 27, 2005


"It strikes me that this is actually the heart of the debate: I'd say that nucular hasn't caught on."

Should a dictionary then, only give the most popular meaning of a word? Or does this argument extend merely to pronunciation? "Nucular" being arguably the second most popular pronunciation. I suggest the disagreement here mostly pertains to momentum.
posted by walrus at 1:54 PM on January 27, 2005


I think the point about both descriptivists and prescriptivists being necessary is an interesting one, given that it only applies to languages that have become somewhat standardized. There are many more languages in the world than European ones, and many of them demonstrate a great deal of variation from one village to the next, especially if there's a lack of standardized spelling due to the nonexistence of widespread literacy in that language. They still demonstrate significant levels of mutual comprehension.

Hey Turtles, friendly question, has a language ever lost its ability to specifically and accurately describe things?

Not completely, unless the language is dead, but language makes compromises of clarity all the time. English third person plural ("they") for example has evolved to no longer include gender distinctions.

Special thanks to Turtles and EB for helping to put my head back together after the several times it exploded over the course of this thread.
posted by purtek at 1:54 PM on January 27, 2005


At least not until humanity establishes colonies outside the solar system, where communication limited by the speed of light takes literally years, so you have two or more independently evolving language groups.

Speaking of heads exploding (mine, now, that is), that, I believe was exactly the situation with English in England 400 plus years ago: people in villages 20 miles separated couldn't understand each other. Without frequent travel and, of course, TV and radio, the language evolved at its own pace and along its own course in each local population.

(I may be wrong on the time frame and please correct me but I believe that was the case at some point.)
posted by Turtles all the way down at 2:10 PM on January 27, 2005


For "villages" insert "communities of interest", and the situation has not altogether changed.
posted by walrus at 2:17 PM on January 27, 2005


Well, Google seems to accept it as an alternate. Incidentally, the fifth reference on this list points to our own languagehat's take on "nucular."
posted by coelecanth at 2:21 PM on January 27, 2005


You can take a sample of 5000 people throughout the US, and probably 1000 of them will say "nu-kyu-lar".

No doubt true, but it's *still* going to sound like 1,000 fingernails scraping a really retarded chalkboard.
posted by Mr Pointy at 2:23 PM on January 27, 2005


What a pointless post (and a double to boot). At least mychai made the necessary point right off the bat, but everyone just kept hauling out their pet peeves as usual. More recently ORthey (here) and EB (passim) have also said the necessary, so I'll just respond to some particular points:

I'll venture you don't say "flaksid" for "flaccid" although that is or was the correct pronunciation.

I do. That doesn't make it "right," but it somewhat deflates your point.

Even if you're a pronunciation snob, as I'm afraid I am (I say "fort" not "fortay" for a person's strong suit)

I'm afraid you're not a very good one. As I said here, "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."

For some reason the author of the article only mentions the "lisp" (or the "th" sound) when it comes to the letter "z". In actuality many Spaniards, at least in the south-western region of Spain pronounce the usual "ess" sound with that "th" instead. This includes words like "gracias", which can sound like "grathias" or even "grathiath".

I think you're a bit confused, if by "the usual ess sound" you mean the letter s. The letter s is pronounced s (often tending towards sh in the north) everywhere in Spain; the letters z and c are pronounced th in the north (not the southwest). And nobody says "grathiath."

I think that's Catalan, not Spanish.

Nope. Catalan doesn't even have the voiceless th (as in think) sound (which is very rare among world languages).

If no one ever "mispronounced" anything, we'd all still be speaking Proto-Indo-European. Get over it.

Good point, bad example: PIE was just one episode in a long chain of ever-changing forms of language; it just happens to be the (postulated) ancestor of the modern Indo-European languages. If you could go back to 5000 BC (or whenever it was spoken) you'd hear PIE snobs decrying the PIE equivalent of "nucular" and insisting the language was purer back in granddad's day.

I'm just saying that there comes a point when you loose the ability to understand someone

Ow! The irony... it hurts!

I rarely hear it in real life, either.

Either you move in very restricted circles or you don't have a good ear (not a sin -- most people don't). It's extremely common. Listen for it; you'll be surprised.

This post (like its predecessor, and the triple that will doubtless be posted next year) exists only because people hate Bush and pick on everything associated with him. News flash: lots of perfectly ordinary people use this increasingly common pronunciation (which, contrary to various absurd comments, causes no one any confusion and impedes no communication). If you want to pick on Bush (and I hate the man myself), why not concentrate on his actual policies? Would they be any better if he spoke like an Oxford don (or your granddad, take your pick)?
posted by languagehat at 2:46 PM on January 27, 2005


For "villages" insert "communities of interest", and the situation has not altogether changed.

Members of a "community of interest" may well use jargon, slang, etc. among themselves which is unintelligible to outsiders. This is not the same as being completely unable to communicate with outsiders even if they wish to.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:46 PM on January 27, 2005


The term redneck-ebonics sure has got sand in a bunch of drama-queens' vaginas.

Well, five fresh fish, at least no one called it wh*te trash ebonics... Then we really would have seen some shit hit the fan.
posted by Specklet at 2:51 PM on January 27, 2005


For everyone who thinks this listing is *because* of George Bush, you should know that the mangled pronounciation of "nuclear" is also in Webster's Tenth. It's not a new thing.
posted by interrobang at 2:54 PM on January 27, 2005


that, I believe was exactly the situation with English in England 400 plus years ago

Did I make your head explode? Damn, now I feel like a bit of an idiot. Didn't mean to imply that it had never been the case for English, just trying to say that standardization is not, by any means, the norm for most of the languages in the world right now, which makes any discussion of what is "right" or "proper" in these languages totally irrelevant. Extrapolate point for English.
posted by purtek at 2:54 PM on January 27, 2005


I'm afraid you're not a very good one. As I said here, "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.

But equally, languagehat, there's no reason to pronounce the "e" other than it looks foreign so people think you should pronounce it fancy. Again we return to prescribing vs. describing, and the O.E.D. still, I believe, lists "fort" as the preferred pronunciation.

I agree that "fortay" is the way it's going to end up. I wouldn't take the time to quibble were it not for your mild insult quoted at the beginning of this comment.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 2:55 PM on January 27, 2005


Meh. I guess I was really wrong.

Oh well.
posted by Freen at 2:55 PM on January 27, 2005


Ivonics.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:59 PM on January 27, 2005


Did I make your head explode?

Just for pure enjoyment of ideas, purtek. I wasn't criticizing your comment at all; to the contrary I just thought your quite accurate point about language evolving independently in space colonies separated by light years surprisingly mirrored a similar historical situation in English hamlets separated by mere miles.

(Once again, difficulties arise when a higher order conversation is carried out purely in text without any situational cues!)
posted by Turtles all the way down at 3:00 PM on January 27, 2005


Good point, bad example: PIE was just one episode in a long chain of ever-changing forms of language

Oh, I'm well aware. It's just difficult to make the comment I made by naming a single original ancestor language that probably began evolving before modern humans were modern humans. I wouldn't know what to call it. Does it have a name? (Honestly curious.)

Glad you appreciate the point, though. Too few people do.
posted by sellout at 3:08 PM on January 27, 2005


My objection to Bush and 'Nucular' isn't just because I think he's an idiot. It's that I think, with the smart people he has working for him, he retains it as a nod to classism, or specifically the class that by and large elected him.

I met a Ugandan at a party once, where he and I were the only English speakers. At first we were both jubilant, but after a few minutes we both gave up in confusion. The only thing I understood was when he said, "I don't get it."
He spoke English, but every word he used was different than a word I would have used to state the same idea. Not wrong, just different. Different enough to be unintelligible.
posted by atchafalaya at 3:18 PM on January 27, 2005



My 1982 Oxford Dictionary has "trait" being pronounced "tray".

ie. The correct pronunciation.

My 1990 Oxford Dictionary has "trait" as a CHOICE of being pronounced "tray" or "trait".

Too many morons pronounced it the wrong way so the boffins at Oxford had to give in, I suppose.



...Hands up if you were one of those morons :)
posted by uncanny hengeman at 3:19 PM on January 27, 2005


moron here with hand up...

(it's still "fort" though dammit! Put it on my headstone.)
posted by Turtles all the way down at 3:22 PM on January 27, 2005


Sellout, I think "ur-language" might be the word you want.
posted by mokujin at 3:26 PM on January 27, 2005


I learned the proper pronunciation of nuclear from MAD magazine, in about the second grade (yes, I was a precocious child). The storyline was that a nuclear scientist/professor had been kidnapped, and in order to foil the kidnappers, the hero took some old recordings of the scientist's speeches and spliced them together to make it appear as if he was giving a morning lecture, as such:

"Good morning, class. It is a brand nu ... clear day! Perfect for going ... fission!"

So, even to this day, when I read "nuclear", in my head I hear "new clear", at least when the other voices in my head have quieted enough.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:26 PM on January 27, 2005


Crash: As per The Vapours' seminal album "New Clear Days" featuring the classic "Turning Japanese".
posted by Turtles all the way down at 3:28 PM on January 27, 2005


More recently ORthey (here) and EB (passim) ...

I find it a teensy bit humorous that you'd use a word like "passim" in a thread discussing (among other things) the clarity of language.
posted by me & my monkey at 3:29 PM on January 27, 2005


Funny how often I read what you people write, yet this thread has made me think if I ever spoke to you in person, I'd think you were uneducated & ignorant. No doubt you'd think the same of me, since we'd barely be speaking the same language...

Re. 'fortay', I've always read it as the Italian 'forte', not the French 'fort'. So strangely, I got the etymology wrong, but still end up pronouncing it correctly (by modern standards). The French originally stole it from the Italians, so it's really just coming full circle.

I still shake my fist when I see color/armor/honor/harbor insated of colour/armour/honour/harbour, but as EB would say, that's perspectivist.
posted by cosmonik at 3:49 PM on January 27, 2005


but let's say you're a foreigner...and someone comes up to you and says, "excuse me, can i axe you a few quershtions about the nookuler testing in warshington?"

A better example might be the foreigner who looks up those unfamiliar words and then uses them with those pronunciations with no knowledge of the negative connotation his words are going to be received with. In such a case, I think it is fair to say that the dictionary has done him a disservice.

But equally, languagehat, there's no reason to pronounce the "e" other than it looks foreign so people think you should pronounce it fancy.

I would dispute that. English already has a word spelled and pronounced "fort," and enunciating the "e" on the end of "forte" is a useful distinguisher.
posted by rushmc at 3:49 PM on January 27, 2005


Re. 'fortay', I've always read it as the Italian 'forte', not the French 'fort'. So strangely, I got the etymology wrong, but still end up pronouncing it correctly (by modern standards). The French originally stole it from the Italians, so it's really just coming full circle.

English already has a word spelled and pronounced "fort," and enunciating the "e" on the end of "forte" is a useful distinguisher
.

All good points. (The English word is derived, as languagehat will testify, from an old French word pertaining to the strong part of the sword next to the hilt.) But there is no reason for sticking it out and not pronouncing it "fortay". I began pronouncing it the other way after seeing an episode of M*A*S*H* when Charles Emerson Winchester did so. I thought "that must be wrong" and looked it up in the dictionary. Lo and behold that's how they 'prescribed' it too.

But in the grand scale of things it's stupid to quibble. c.f. the previous comments re: why do we insist on resisting the tide.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 4:01 PM on January 27, 2005


English already has a word spelled and pronounced "fort," and enunciating the "e" on the end of "forte" is a useful distinguisher.

Really? If you heard someone say "that subject isn't my fort," would you think they were talking about a fortified defensive position? We have plenty of other homonyms and can still communicate despite this.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:06 PM on January 27, 2005


What? I have an ally? me & my monkey you mah homie.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 4:08 PM on January 27, 2005


I picked up some Learn Russian CDs the other week for a long drive up the coast. The beginning has a little introduction piece that describes the dialect that the speakers in the CDs will be using. The concept being, even though Russian is spoken in several different dialects depending on where you are, the CDs are going to go with the, for lack of a better word, most bland dialect; as dialect-less as possible, the kind of russian you'd be speaking if you were trying to be as precise as possible.

The point being - when you speak russian in this way, you maximise your audience, instead of reducing it. I'm thankful that the CDs aren't teaching me how to speak Russian in a dialect akin to Minnesota's version of English, because that isn't what I paid for.

Like it or not, there is such a thing as "educated" english, all other points aside about the bastardization of the foundations of the language, etymology, etc. When you speak this kind of english, you maximise your audience, rather than limit it. The dictionary is doing someone a disservice by pretending that nucular is going to be recognised in the same way nuclear is. It won't be. We all know the stigma attached to the word, but if you were reading this entry for the first time, you'd think "gee, presidents...scientists...wow. this is the better version to use."
posted by odinsdream at 4:45 PM on January 27, 2005


In Seville, 'grasias' is pronounced 'grathia'. The 's' is pronounced like a th when it appears in the middle of a word, and it is silent at the beginning, except that you should pronounce the 'e' sound that comes before the 's' sound. So something like spears would be 'apea'.
posted by goneill at 4:48 PM on January 27, 2005


I recently read "The Queen and I" by Sue Townsend of Adrian Mole fame. Bottom line: a republican government is elected and one of theirf first acts is to dispense with the Royal Family, assigning them to council housing to kind of rub their noses in it. In the book, their neighbours can't understand them, as they speak with such a different accent than they're used to. "'Hame'--what's that then?" ("Home")
posted by Turtles all the way down at 5:00 PM on January 27, 2005


odinsdream --your analogy to language tapes doesn't make any sense. The dictionary isn't intended to teach you English. It is a reference which describes English in whatever form you might find it (assuming that the usage is reasonably widespread, which is certainly true of "nukyular"). That's what "descriptivist" means. It is no disservice whatsoever.

As for "educated" English, I don't think that anyone would dispute that different settings require different levels of discourse, and that sometimes precludes certain uses and colloquialisms (often at the same time licensing some really obscure jargon, as in most scientific literature). However, I don't think it's clear that the President's use of a particular pronunciation makes him appear less educated (indeed, I have known many educated people who use this pronunciation. It is simply the local dialect). If you think it does, I assume that you would agree that Carter's similar usage makes him appear less educated, as did John F. Kennedy's provincial accent (since it didn't "maximize his audience", per your argument).
posted by casu marzu at 5:07 PM on January 27, 2005


licensing some really obscure jargon

As someone who was in science for about 15 years and wrote a number of scientific papers, I must make the point that scientists do not intentionally use obscure jargon. Unless they're writing for the layman, they use words that are understood in the context of the field, but nonetheless they try to state things as clearly as possible, and are edited strongly to this end. In fact, compared to almost any other mode of written communication, notably business communications and academic English criticism, scientific writing is a model of clarity, lucidity and economy. I'll be pleased to provide examples upon request.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 5:15 PM on January 27, 2005


Turtle - the French got their word for hilt (fort) from the Italian for strong (forte) (Apologies for flogging a dead horse here).

After reading this thread in the context of this language discussion, the manuscript of Atlanta Nights is even more hilarious.
posted by cosmonik at 5:38 PM on January 27, 2005


I don't think it can be disputed that much scientific writing is obscure (at least the variety intended for scientific readers as opposed to lay readers), but I certainly didn't mean to imply that it is intentionally obscure. No offense intended. I've seen (and even produced) enough examples.

Actually, looking at my comments, I have no idea why I even included that aside in the first place.
posted by casu marzu at 5:53 PM on January 27, 2005


I'm thankful that the CDs aren't teaching me how to speak Russian in a dialect akin to Minnesota's version of English

If I wasn't so nice and Minnesotan, you betcha I'd challange you to a duel over dat der statement. Or at least I'd have you over to listen to Prairie Home Companion and a nice hot cocoa and some lefsa.
posted by Arch Stanton at 5:58 PM on January 27, 2005


Hey now, I love PHC, I'm sure you see my point nonetheless. Thanks for the invitation, likewise.
posted by odinsdream at 6:19 PM on January 27, 2005


Language changes. Thou shalt dealith with it.
posted by HTuttle at 6:54 PM on January 27, 2005


The prescriptivists are so funny.

And wrong.
posted by oaf at 8:17 PM on January 27, 2005


The linked entry gives the pronunciation as "nyu-kya-ler". When President Bush says the word, it's "nu-kya-ler". I don't really recall hearing a lot of people adding the "y" sound in the first syllable. Is that just my faulty hearing or has M-W inflicted another version of nuclear on us?
posted by joaquim at 8:50 PM on January 27, 2005


Does W's pudgy twat of a brother say nyukular too? At least then we could call it 'jebonics', in preparation for the next phase of the Bush Family Dynasty.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:03 PM on January 27, 2005


I still shake my fist when I see color/armor/honor/harbor insated of colour/armour/honour/harbour, but as EB would say, that's perspectivist.

No, that's just hating on Americans. You know, one of the more popular sports these days. Just after soccer, I think.
posted by dame at 10:12 PM on January 27, 2005


*sigh*

I say "nuke-yoo-lar," and unapologetically so. I haven't gotten any blank stares - most people tend to pick up this bizzarre, non-standard, alien word via hand gestures or context. Maybe they really don't understand me; maybe they just nod out of politeness, mentally note my strange, incomprehensible, made-up vocabulary, and try to avoid me in the future. You never know.

Or, you know, maybe they're not totally daft and understand what I'm saying without the knee-jerk condescension reflex of trying to dictate the terms of my language to me.

I feel very sorry for anyone who invests emotionally in how words are pronounced. They should probably get out more, or buy a plant for the living room, or something. If this seriously matters to you, then the next time someone improperly pronounces a word, play dumb. Act like you can't understand them. That way everyone can avoid you while you're being an ass.

And really - a good reason to dislike Bush is the various policy trainwrecks he's been responsible for. The way he pronounces his words? C'mon.
posted by Coda at 12:39 AM on January 28, 2005


Although I'm no lover of American English, it's worth noting that a lot of what we Brits see as bastardisation is in fact older English that has never changed across the Atlantic. "Gotten" is perhaps the best known example of a word that has become archaic in the UK while staying current in the US.

Besides which, you have to admit, without the US, our (still largely common) languange would never have become the global lingua franca.
posted by rhymer at 1:22 AM on January 28, 2005


Thank God it's Fri-Dee
posted by missbossy at 2:22 AM on January 28, 2005


You say tam-a-doe I say thom-ah-toe....
posted by Chunky at 5:12 AM on January 28, 2005


"This is not the same as being completely unable to communicate with outsiders even if they wish to."

Did I say it was? Didn't think I had. What was your point again?
posted by walrus at 7:24 AM on January 28, 2005


Did I say it was?

No, you didn't. Have I given you reason to believe I thought you did?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:05 AM on January 28, 2005


I don't have a clue what you are talking about. Perhaps that proves something in itself.
posted by walrus at 8:18 AM on January 28, 2005


odinsdream - Funny, I felt the opposite when learning Russian. I took two years of straightforward-textbook-standard Russian in college, then I headed off to St. Petersburg for 4 months. And when I got there, I didn't understand a damn thing. While it's certainly important (and necessary) to learn the basics and "standards" of a language, especially at first, I firmly feel that in schools we should make students much more aware of these variations (hence the wonderful but poorly-advertised Ebonics plan), because that's the real world. Pretending they don't exist, or pretending they're inferior, serves no purpose. I hate Bush as much as the next guy (or much as the next 0.49 guy), but his pronunciation of the nuclear has zip to do with intelligence. The guy's from Texas, and obviously where he grew up, he learned to say nukyular. And casu marzu's right - dictionaries and language instruction media are completely different animals.
posted by ORthey at 8:46 AM on January 28, 2005


Coming in late all I can say is: pedants be damned.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:15 AM on January 28, 2005


Speaking of heads exploding (mine, now, that is), that, I believe was exactly the situation with English in England 400 plus years ago: people in villages 20 miles separated couldn't understand each other. Without frequent travel and, of course, TV and radio, the language evolved at its own pace and along its own course in each local population.

I am ignorant and lazy where these things are concerned. Somebody "back dat up about England and link me (ya gots verbed!).

I'm thankful that the CDs aren't teaching me how to speak Russian in a dialect akin to Minnesota's version of English

Boy, you keep flappin' yer mouth 'at way n' yer likely ta get hotdished like tonight's leftovers. Big Minn reprazent.

And, to people like Liu Bin (scroll down to middle of page, worth it) all I have to say is kthxbye.
posted by saysthis at 9:18 AM on January 28, 2005


Wow, lots of sensible comments in this thread since my last visit. Congrats all. And I learned something:


My 1982 Oxford Dictionary has "trait" being pronounced "tray".
ie. The correct pronunciation.
My 1990 Oxford Dictionary has "trait" as a CHOICE of being pronounced "tray" or "trait".


I've pronounced the final t all my life and never thought twice about it; I'll certainly continue doing so, but I'm delighted to know it's an innovative pronunciation (like Louis with the final -s pronounced; traditionally it was pronounced Louie). So thanks, uncanny hengeman -- and also for the great example of a word that can be thrown in the face of the most persnickety prescriptivists with reasonable confidence that they have been pronouncing it "wrong" all their lives!

Incidentally, the OED lists both pronunciations, "tray" first (even the online edition); the 1998 edition of the Cassell Concise (a UK dictionary) lists both, but in the reverse order.
posted by languagehat at 11:05 AM on January 28, 2005



Back in the early 80s when I was just in high school, I remember an English teacher congratulating me when I corrected her son for saying "trait" instead of "tray".

I gave up soon after that and started adding the "t". It just seemed an easier way to get understood. Always amused me though... it was such a simple rule to learn and it wasn't exactly an uncommon word, yet hardly anyone pronounced it correctly.

No biggy.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:02 AM on January 29, 2005


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