Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Is THAT How You Say" 3

Further to this and this, here are a few more instances of words whose "correct" pronunciation surprised me when I heard an audio-book actor speak them in the Queen's English...

Vicissitude—I have always taken this to be a Mississippi word, with three short is: "vis-Sis-sit-tood." As prolific audio-book reader Nadia May pronounces it, however, the first i is long: "vye-Sis-sit-you'd." There is a ring of rightness to this.

Sinecure—This word mainly appears in British prose, such as the novels of Anthony Trollope, describing a career situation exacting light labor for a heavy salary. So the Brits probably have the right of it when, as in the above example, they make the first i long: "Sign a cure," rather than "Sin a cure." Still, it's a bit of a surprise for a self-taught Yank who guessed how to pronounce most of his vocabulary after acquiring it in books. I'm used to that kind of thing by now.

Nothing to see here. Move along.
Meanwhile, the Latin phrase vice versa—whose vulgar American pronunciation makes possible my pun about a late-model Nissan being used as a narcotics undercover vehicle—comes over from across the Atlantic as "Veet-say Vair-sa." Clearly, our (classical) education has been sadly neglected.

Amenities—I'm pretty sure this word, in America, is pronounced like "a Men it ease," where it usually has something to do with cable TV, clean towels, and a continental breakfast. I'm pretty sure I heard Nadia May, just today, saying it with a long e: "a Mean it ease." And given that she was reading George Eliot, I doubt that she had the same examples in view.

Winston who?
Atelier—This word for an artist's studio is one I can't remember ever hearing spoken aloud until today. And so I have had the gravest misgivings about attempting to use it, not having the faintest idea how to say it. Wiktionary is no help, apart from hinting that it rhymes with "day." I wouldn't have even guessed the right number of syllables. Nadia May gives it as "At-lee-ay." Or, if you prefer a stronger mnemonic, it sounds like what you might say after discovering who was British Prime Minister at the end of World War II: "Attlee, eh?"

Distribute—In American English, the stress goes on the second syllable: "dis-TRIB-yoot." And although you would think denizens of the cradle of the English language might be onto something when they stress the first syllable—"DIS-trib-yoot"—I can't help feeling that they've blundered, somehow. It strikes my ear as clumsy and foreign, like an attempt by someone who speaks English as a second or third language to cover his or her ignorance. I think it must sound even more unwieldy with "-ed" and "-ing" suffixes added. It seems to run counter to the principle of euphony that made my late professor's pronunciation of "adversary" and "controversy" sound so right.

Merino—this word designates both a breed of sheep and the wool that it produces. Both sheep and wool are more of an English thing than an American, so I'll take their word for it when I hear British actors read the word with the stress, and a short e, both in the first syllable. I was just a little surprised by this, though, because I've met people with the family name Merino, who pronounce it "muh-REE-no." But coming from a country where the word "chops" is not automatically understood to mean mutton chops, they may be as mistaken as I was.

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