Thursday, February 4, 2010

FYI, It's Aq-kwigh-nus, not ack-kwee-nus

George Bush has long been mocked by people as someone who mispronounced the world nuclear. One must ask oneself, does he really misprounce it, or does he use the pronunciation of the region in which he was born and raised?

Different regions of a country (but since I live in the US I'll talk about the US) have different pronunciations for the same words.

For example, I'm a northerner living in Norfolk, Virgina, and I pronounce it Nor-folk -- the way it should be pronounced. But people who were born and bred here pronounce it Nor-fuck (please, childish minds, don't snigger over my use of the f-word there. It isn't the f-word, it's how they pronounce Norfolk.)

However, there are some words that, if you know the rules of grammar, can only be pronounced one way.

Such a word is corpsman. Yes, there's a P in it, and kids reading that word may be forgiven for pronouning that P. But they will be told (if their teachers are allowed to teach) that the p is silent and so the proper pronunciation is coreman. Indeed, I'm sure that as a kid I pronounced it corpse-man myself, until someone - probably my brother - corrected me and said, no, it's coreman.

Apparently, President Obama had no teacher and no brother to tell him how to pronounce that word. And so he ends up embarrasing himself (Of course, the Dems won't mention it, but the Republicans will never let it go, much as the opposite happened with Bush.)

But this brings up a larger issue, which is why my post is entitled FYI, It's Aq-kwigh-nus, not ack-kwee-nus.

We've just had first hand evidence of why it is important for someone who mispronounces a word to be corrected! That person may never use that word again, or he may be standing up in front of 10,000 people and mispronounce it in front of them and all the world.

I have a college-level education, but I acquired it on my own, by systematic reading in subjects that interested me. In my early 20s, I met a couple who were quite erudite. I visited their house once, looked over their library, and saw that they had books by Thomas Aquinas. Now, I had read much of this man, but I'd never heard his name pronounced, so I pronounced it Ack-kwee-nus.

My friend, a woman, corrected me. "Ac-kwigh-nus." Her husband immediately reproved her for correcting me - this despite the fact that it was just the three of us! I immediately said, "No, thanks for the correction. I'm glad to have learned the proper way to pronounce it."

Now, in my case, I've never again had the change to use the name Thomas Aquinas in conversation, but if I had, I know I wouldn't have mispronounced it.

Look, on the other hand, at the dicussions (if they can be called that) that go on in message boards. People mispelling words, using improper grammar, etc. Now, obviously, some people correct their grammar and spelling not in an effort to teach, but in an effort to put down...but that doesn't change the fact that people who spell incorrectly, or use the wrong grammar, should - gently - be corrected.

Otherwise, they may make the same mistake in a letter to a potential employer, for example. Now, that may be stretching it...the real reason they should be corrected is because people should know the right spelling, the right grammar. People in their twenties and upwards who do not know correct grammar and word usage should be ashamed of themselves, because it shows they have no interest in knowledge and increasing their knowledge - and we all of us need to increase our knowledge of the world, every day of our lives.

Now, some intelligent and articulate people are not good spellers. I grant you that. I don't understand how that can be... but I know that it is so. I've met several people who are not only well educated but smart enough to understand and apply what they've learned (the two don't necessarily go together), but they can't spell for toffee. But, they're smart enough to have a secretary or a spell-checker verify their work.

It is sad, therefore, that should someone mispronounce a word or mispell a word, people are not allowed to correct them, for fear of hurting their feelings. (Just for one example, teachers can't use red ink to correct papers anymore, it makes students feel bad! Students can't grade each other's papers any more... it makes a student feel bad if someone else knows he missed every single question. And rather than being spurred on to do better work in fture, better that he just not be humiliated to begin with, eh?)

Dumbing down of the world....

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