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Gene Weingarten on

WASHINGTON -- I recently ran into trouble for pointing out a misspelling online. It surprised me because I've been doing that sort of thing for years without blowback -- mostly to mock conservatives bearing idiot signs. ("Respect Are Country: Speak English," "Obama Half-Breed Muslin," "1 Man + 1 Woman (equal sign) Marridge.") But last month, when I made the same sort of comment about someone with a sign protesting "misogny," I got my head handed to me by fellow liberals. They informed me that it is snobbish and obnoxious and pedantic and prescriptive and elitist and outrageous to make fun of someone whose message is so earnest and inarguably correct.

So I've learned my lesson. Today, I am not going to make fun of misspellings. I am going to make fun of mispronunciations.

I have been keeping track of sins of articulation for years, more than a few of them perpetrated by my good friend and editor, Tom the Butcher. But Tom warned me in advance that he is not going to sit idly by while I trash him in this column, and that's fair enough. I will not henceforth be mentioning him. Fortunately, I have another good friend and editor, Thaddeus Aloysius Pinochle, who makes the identical errors.

Here goes. See how many of these you recognize.

Pronunciation error: "Negoseeayshun" instead of "negotiation."

Prime perpetrators: TV talking heads, practically the entire well-toothed posse of them.

Elaboration: There is no "c" or "s" in "negotiation." There is no excuse, or even a phony rationale, for pronouncing it that way other than some haughty sense that it sounds more erudite, the way some people will snottily pronounce the "t" in "often."

Pronunciation error: "Ree-diculous" instead of "ridiculous."

Prime perpetrators: A quarter of the American populace, particularly when expressing indignation at an accusation deemed baseless.

Elaboration: Same as above. Defend sticking an eee sound in there. I dare you.

Pronunciation error: "Divissive" instead of "divisive."

Notable perpetrator: Barack Obama.

Elaboration: Something that is "divisive" is something that "divides." Though some American dictionaries accept Obama's mangling as a secondary pronunciation, the Oxford English makes it quite clear: "-ide" verbs, like divide, take the long "i" sound when made into adjectives. And "-mit" verbs, like "admit," take the short "i" sound. Period.

Pronunciation error: "Tan-ZAY-nia" instead of Tanza-NEE-ya, "Nambia," instead of "Namibia" and "Beyonsee" instead of Beyonce.

Only known perpetrator: Donald Trump.

Elaboration: Unnecessary.

Pronunciation error: "Liberry" instead of "library."

Main perpetrators: They are legion, but I am going to go with a librarian who worked at a newspaper for which I once worked. For unfathomable reasons, management had this person answering the phones in the library. "Liberry" she would say, loudly, 70 times a day. Everyone was too polite to correct her.

Elaboration: Interestingly, some dictionaries now define "liberry" as a "nonstandard" pronunciation, which is the first step toward acceptance. That same thing happened many years ago with "Feb-you-erry," an appalling pronunciation that began as "nonstandard." It had been pronounced as it was spelled since the 11th century, until the mid-20th century when the lazy American tongue dropped the R. "Febyooerry," which makes no linguistic sense at all, is now the preferred pronunciation. Tragically, "liberry" may not be far behind.

Pronunciation errors: "Vetinarian," instead of "veterinarian," "ampitheater," instead of "amphitheater," "opthamologist" instead of "ophthalmologist" and "cran" instead of "crayon."

Most notable perpetrator: Individually common, but all brilliantly enunciated by my good friend and editor, Thaddeus Aloysius Pinochle.

Elaboration: This is both understandable and insidious. Thaddeus is an erudite man. He knows how to spell these words, and he knows their proper pronunciations. He just doesn't give a crap. He is a busy, successful man. He has things to do, places to go. No time for unnecessary lettters or syllables.

And finally:

Pronunciation error: "Pronounciation" instead of "pronunciation."

Most notable perpetrators: Very stupid people, of whom there are too many. Just as there are too many insufferable language pedants and poseurs. Something should be done about them all.

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Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at www.washingtonpost.com.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group


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