I only do it to annoy because I know it teases. As a complete break from less serious matters I want to look this week at something really important: pronunciation. Some may call me idiosyncratic, some may call me a pedant, but I automatically assume that the pronunciation I use is correct, and every other version is simply wrong. Consider for a moment how you would pronounce these words.
Banal; controversy; composite; covert; forehead; formidable; girl; harass; homosexual; kilometre.
I once heard an educated friend of mine pronounce banal as bayn‘ll. I shuddered but then I discovered that it is quite normal in our former American colonies. But it’s not for me.
My wife stresses the first syllable of controversy, I stress the second. She may be strictly correct but, since her version is much used overseas, I continue to prefer mine.
The pronunciation of composite which ends the word with ight, should only be allowed to members of a northern trade union. It has no place anywhere in civilised society.
A recent vulgarity pronounces covert as co-vert – ignoring the origin of the word, which comes from cover. Bit of reverse snobbery here because covert correctly pronounced has connotations with huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’.
The pronunciation of forehead as four-head, instead of forred, may just be excused in those who have read good books but not circulated in educated company. Still regrettable.
How has formidable picked up a stress on the second syllable rather than the first? It’s everywhere – even on the BBC (but not in the BBC’s Guide to Pronunciation).
Girl is a strange one to me. I had to wait until boarding school in order to hear it pronounced gurl. The regular pronunciation, gal, is too indurated to change.
Harass is another word to fall under American sway. Everywhere, nowadays, I hear it pronounced with the stress on the second syllable. On this side of the Atlantic, we are back in trade union country. And much the same could be said of kilometre. But one might excuse this on the grounds that the English always pronounce foreign words badly. This is quite correct behaviour — it would be sheer cowardice to pronounce, say, Marseilles as Mar-sayee. Anyhow we have the perfectly good mile from the Latin for 1000 paces. Which is not far off a kilometre as it happens. The last time that I toured Ireland on a motorbike their signposts mixed miles and kilometres with abandon. I arrived everywhere early or late. Not that it seemed to matter.
Homosexual comes into a special case because it is simply a question of meaning. Pronouncing the first syllable as home is to proclaim that you think this is a quality only referring to males – as in the Latin, homo, or that you have never studied the Greek language. Homm is the correct pronunciation, coming from the Greek for same (sex). Lesbians are homosexual, too.
So, back to the beginning of the alphabet. And the end of a prayer. Why do Catholics nowadays say Are-men instead of A-men? Correct in Latin of course, and, for all I know, in Hebrew, but scarcely in English. It has overtones of the Church of England, and oecumenism can be taken too far.
Have I annoyed you sufficiently? Why not list your unfavourite pronunciations? And tell us what you think of pronunciation pedants
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