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AWADmail Issue 8Mar 26, 1998
A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages
This compilation is based on the words sent during Mar 16-22, 1998. Check out the archive for Mar 1998 to see the words.
From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
AWADmail is back after a long hiatus. Last week's theme, "Words whose pronunciations differ a lot from their spellings" generated a huge response. Some sent their favorite words in this category (colonel coming at the top of the list), while others forwarded poems lamenting the intractability of English orthoepy and orthography. Here are selected responses.
From: E. Richard Cohen (ercohenATaol.com)
In line with this week's critique of English pronunciation, dare I bring up George Bernard Shaw's plea for spelling reform with the word 'GHOTI"
GH as in "rough"
GHOTI = "fish"
From: Derek Winkler (derekATaim-systems.on.ca)
It's funny that a couple of the words you're featuring for being pronounced differently than they are spelled have French origins. Being from Canada and therefore being exposed to French, I look at the word and think "What do you mean pronounced differently then they are spelled, how else would you pronounce oeuvre."
From: David Isaacson (isaacsonATwmich.edu)
One of the characters in Sean O'Casey's play, "Juno and the Paycock," (it's either Captain Jack Boyle or his sidekick "Joxer" Daly) regularly mispronounces this word as "chassis."
From: Fred Bartlett (fredbATspringer-ny.com)
When I traveled to the old Soviet Union to edit the proceedings of a conference on nonlinear dynamics, I was baffled by the (English) speech of my Russian colleagues. They kept talking about "House" -- that is, "chaos". It was all perfectly reasonable (though wrong, of course): transliteration to Cyrillic and then pronunciation as if it were Russian.
From: Steve Royster (roystersATsec.gov)
I was willing to let oeuvre pass after I mistook it initially for the French word for "egg." I learned something on that one. But isn't "rendezvous" a direct French import?
French, as the comedian Steve Martin has noted, is more torturous than English: "It's like those French have a different word for everything!" On the album "A Wild and Crazy Guy," from early in his oeuvre, Martin describes a man who dies trying to speak French.
From: Ken Maher (ken_maherATnhmbm1.dos.nortel.com)
Your note on the need for pronunciation guidance in English reminds me of what I used to tell students when I taught English as a second language for ten years, mostly to native speakers of Spanish, Arabic, or Swahili. All languages are thieves, but most languages have the good sense to hide what they've stolen by making it look like their own. English, however, is more vain or, perhaps, careless, and often keeps the stolen goods in their original forms. For example, when Spanish stole the word for driver from French, it changed the spelling to "chofer," whereas English kept it as "chauffeur." This linguistic practice makes English one of the most difficult of the Latin-alphabet languages to learn to spell.
From: Bob Simmons (bsimmonsATcompassnet.com)
While I applaud your intention to include pronunciation in AWAD, I think you should look for another source. Specifically, I have a problem with each of the last three days' pronunciations:
oeuvre (oe-VRUH) -- since this one retains its French pronunciation, it is just about impossible to render in English. When I say it, it sounds more like e(r)-vra (with neither syllable accented). The way you've written it, I would say e(r)-VREW.
segue (SAG-way) -- I have never heard this pronounced other than SEG-way.
rendezvous (RAN-day-voo) -- I would argue that RON-day-voo is closer.
If you disagree with a given pronunciation or anything else in AWAD, please drop us a line at the email address (words AT wordsmith.org). Due to the large volume of messages, we can't always respond to you but we do read all messages. -Anu
Every other author may aspire to praise; the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach. -Samuel Johnson