‘Never make fun of people who mispronounce a word. It means they learned it by reading.’
My mother is “getting up there”, as they say, but she remembers like it was just yesterday being traumatized by an incident of mispronunciation that occurred when she was a mere slip of a schoolgirl.
Mom was maybe six or so, and it was her turn to stand up by her desk and read aloud from a story. She got to a line that said “the train pulled into the depot”, and pronounced it “dee-pot” (which I’m thinking any reasonable first-grader would do), and everyone started laughing at her. Bless her heart, she lived on a farm in Northern Illinois and had probably not encountered a train, much less a dee-poh.
She never forgot that incident. (She didn’t forget how to pronounce “depot” either.) Which brings me to my topic of the day, that quote (by Anonymous, who else) about not making fun of people who mispronounce words. Why, just the other day a good (and well-read) friend of mine referred to “Prowst”, and honest-to-Marcel I did not giggle — or even smirk.
I must admit to having had a hard time keeping a straight face, though, one time when The Dude’s Mom was telling me about an astronomer friend of hers. (Yes, The Dude’s Mom was into astronomy; she even built her own telescope. It’s up in the attic somewhere.) The astronomer buddy happened to be Jewish and “wore a ‘yar-mul-kee'”, reported Dude’s Mom.
As for me, I love opera, but have a heck of a time with opera names. I have no idea how to pronounce some of these. Like “Orfeo ed Euridice” (which spell-check just changed to Eurydice, but it’s on my ticket as Euridice, so there) or a real tongue-twister from last season, “Mefistofele”. It was insanely good, but I just called it “the one with the devil dancing on the table and the people in the fake-nude costumes writhing in hell”. My friends knew what I meant. And they didn’t laugh. Well, not too loud. It’s opera, after all.
Sometimes you can get in conversational trouble not by mispronouncing, but by mishearing a word. The title of this piece comes from a story that went around years ago. Someone apparently asked what on earth Jackie Kennedy was getting herself into by marrying “that really rich Irish guy, ‘Arry O’Nassis.”
And you readers can probably think of a few among your own acquaintance who refer to one of those long low couches as a “chaise lounge”, when in fact it is a “chaise longues”, which literally means “long chair.” Which isn’t nearly as funny as hearing a certain traditional Spanish activity referred to as a “Flamingo Dance” by more than one person I know. (And no, I didn’t laugh, though I wanted to.)
But, speaking of laughing, even I had to laugh (at myself this time) when this next example of reading-a-word-but-not-knowing-how-to-pronounce-it happened. The Dude and I were at some sort of lecture not long after the awful events of September 11, 2001. The speaker was talking about the global impact of 9/11; how the whole world would be changing because of threats to our security.
Well, I was feeling properly warned and thoroughly frightened when I turned to The Dude and whispered, “Who the heck is this Al Kydah he keeps talking about?”
Amagansett, New York. June 2019