Monday, December 8, 2008

A Note on Pronunciation

So, our blog is called Bromeliad, and I've debated whether to put a phonetic version of the name just below the title much like Disney did with Ratatouille (Rat-a-too-ee) or Beverly Hills Chihuahuha (Chee WOW wa). (Is it really possible that Americans would go around saying Chi hooah hooah without the phonetic helper?) But I'm thinking not, even though bromeliad is just the sort of word you don't want to say wrong, like dropping Julian Schnabel in conversation and saying it Schnaybell instead of Schnahbel. You were reaching in the first place, and now that you've said it wrong, your snob approval rating just dropped back to zero.

People who aren't trying to be fancy don't say bromeliad in the first place. They say "air plant" or "pineapple," depending on the context. I myself have said it wrong for years, broh-mah-LIE-ad, instead of bro-MEE-lee-ad, but I come from a long line of mispronouncers.

My uncle is still famous for his faux pas (fox pass) of many years ago, when he, with all sincerity, pronounced debris as DEB-riss. This is the perfect kind of mispronunciation, reaching for the fancy word you didn't really know rather than the simple one you did, and French no less. To this day, our whole family says DEB-riss when referring to garbage, which we dutifully and logically pronounce GAR-baj.

My mother also is a terrible pronouncer. Until I was 20 years old, I did not know that crouch and crotch were two different words since she said them both "crouch." To this day, she cannot say Colorado, which comes out Caw-DER-rah-DOH.

She says the pronunciation problem is because her family is "Dutchy", descendents of the Pennsylvania Dutch, who came to Ohio with just enough German grammar and spelling to mess them up for generations. For example, one would "out the light" rather than "turn off the light."

I, however, think it's because our whole family reads too much. When I was a kid, I thought "catastrophe" was pronounced CAT-a-stroph-ee because I had only seen it on the printed page, never heard it. This is what happens to people who read above their grade level. The only thing that saves us is television. Thanks to What Not to Wear, I now know that boucle is BOO-clay, not bow-SLAY and that ruche is rooosh, not RU-shay. Of course, I wouldn't be trying to drop either one if it weren't for my addiction to The New York Times Style magazine. What if I were hanging out with my fellow sharecroppers in Donated and dropped a bomb like "that bow-SLAY jacket looks lovely with your overly long pleated skirt? "


1 comment:

  1. Just heard a new one - mispronouncing and pluralizing "debris. "A post-meeting announcement - "You may want to pick up any debrises around your area." Apparently Queens Mexicans have similar issues to Pennsylvania Dutch.