Sunday, October 5, 2014

"Is THAT How You Say" 5

It's been a while since the last time I added words to my inventory of English words I've known for years and only lately learned how to pronounce.

Take inventory, for example. I've written before about the sainted theology professor who taught me to reconsider how I have always pronounced the words "controversy" and "adversary." I think it may also have been he who put the emphasis on the second syllable of this word: "in-VEN-taree."

Only within the last week or two, I have heard two different British actors pronounce vitamin with a short "i" in the first syllable, like "VIT-a-min," instead of the long-i "VIE-ta-min" I have always known. It must be a U.K. thing.

The last little while, I've been listening to an audio-book of Thackeray's Vanity Fair by an actress of the British persuasion. It's early days, yet she has already given me a half dozen examples for this thread:

Sal volatile, otherwise known as smelling salts, is a compound once considered as indispensible to a well ordered household as pocket handkerchiefs and whalebone stays. Perhaps because of said stays, ladies used to faint a lot and needed to be brought around by the pungent-smelling vapor that sublimates off these crystals. Now that women's fashion exposes them to a much greater supply of oxygen, this sort of thing is not called for quite as frequently. In fact, I've never seen anyone faint in real life. So why should I know how this stuff is pronounced? I always guessed it was like the name of an Italian-American gangster, with the second name rather descriptive of his temper. Now I hear a cultured British voice pronouncing it like "Salvo Lattily." As in, "She bore the salvo lattily," i.e. with a frothy good humor, like steamed milk. Goodness! I feel faint!

Then there's the word placable, notable not so much for its surprising pronunciation as for the fact that it's a word at all. Thackeray uses it. I never knew it existed before, in spite of its implacable opposite.

I am a proficient player of the pianoforte, but apparently I have never pronounced my own instrument correctly. The "e" at the end is silent, according to this latest audio-book reader. I suppose if your pronunciation is influenced by French, rather than Italian (whence I thought the word came), that makes sense. The word "forte," as in, "Proper English pronunciation is not my forte," is supposed to end with a silent "e." But is the musical term for "loud" supposed to end likewise? I've heard the word pronounced by a lot of musicians from all over the world, and none of them seem to think so.

The next word I noted down was consummate, which I have always heard stressed on the first syllable. When used as a verb, it rhymes with "fate." The final vowel becomes a schwa in the adjective form. That's what I thought, anyway. But I was the consummate fool, evidently. My current informant pronounces the adjective with a stress on the second syllable: "con-SUM-mat." It sounds odd, but it does bring out the main idea of the word, doesn't it?

Finally for now, there's the equestrian word curveted, a word I actually had to look up. Google defines "curvet," when spoken of a horse, as "to leap gracefully or energetically." Being no kind of horse person whatever, I have neither understood nor pronounced this word correctly until now. I always thought it meant something to do with how the warm-blooded vehicle pranced and turned about, and would have pronounced it with an accent on the second syllable: "cur-VET-ted." But no, it means to jump and it's stressed on the first syllable: "CURV-et-ed." Wow. I now feel like a complete ass.

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