Sunday, June 5, 2011

Phonetic Follies

How would YOU pronounce
When I was six years old I was listening to our school librarian introduce our class to the library. Several times she referred to encyclopedias - those vast storehouses of human knowledge that preceded the Internet. But I was distracted by the books she kept pointing to. They were ENN-see-clop-uh-DEE-ahs, not encyclopedias.

For some reason, I had never made the connection between the word I heard and the word I read. (We had a set of Encyclopedia Britannica* at home, as did most families in those days; it shared a bookcase with all the National Geographics we used for school assignments.) I'd been reading since before kindergarten, so was pretty confident about reading phonetically, but this word defied all logic!

It wasn't the last time this happened to me. I read the word gazebo and, in my head, pronounced it GAZE-bow. Why on earth would it have a long E? It was many, many years before I heard that word out loud.

The name Hermione was a challenge, back in the days before Harry Potter. Was it Her-me-won? Or Her-me-own? It never occurred to me to pronounce it her-MY-uh-nee.

I've already told you my trouble with "mishap." (An appropriate word to have trouble with, it seems to me.)

When I met him, Steve still thought "awry" was pronounced "AW-ree," and we still pronounce it that way at home.

In Ottawa, there is a Baseline Road. Should it be pronounced the same way as Vaseline -- "BAH-suh-leen"? That's how we pronounce it at our house. And my Aunt Winkie tells me that she used to avoid saying the word "geyser" because she wasn't sure if it was pronounced GAY-zer or GUY-zer or GEE-zer (with a hard G). She just said, "Oh, one of those things they have at Yellowstone Park."

Surely this has happened to you, too. What words surprised you when you finally heard them out loud?

* The encyclopedias we had at home were white, like the ones in the photo. The ones in the picture are actually Children's Britannica from 1970, listed on eBay, and don't have the word "encyclopedia" on the cover. I'm guessing that, although my parents referred to them as encyclopedias, I'd never actually seen the word written down.

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