or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Nuclear Options

Yes, I'm overly sensitive to the uses and abuses of English, but it bugs the hell out of me when people pronounce things incorrectly, even when those mispronunciations have some basis in logic (or as much logic as English can muster, which is precious little).

I was listening to Air America's "The Majority Report" and was once again struck by two mispronunciations, one committed by each host. (I think I've already groused about how they consistently use "media" as a singular noun, so I'll just leave that one lying there. Anyway, this grouse is about pronunciation, not grammar)

Sam Seder has mostly gotten rid of his dreadful habit--though it still pokes its head out from time to time--of pronouncing "nuclear" as "nucular". And I sort of understand that, sort of: "-cular" is a relatively common ending in English, particularly in such scientific words as "vascular", "circular", "specular", and "molecular", not to mention "spectacular". In comparison, the two-syllable "-clear" is much rarer, and people tend to try to make sense of what they hear when they're pronouncing unfamiliar words. But there's no getting around the fact that "nucular" sounds subliterate at best; someone who makes at least part of his living trashing George W. Bush (who is notorious for that very pronunciation) ought to be a little more careful.

Janeane Garofalo has a few regional pronunciations such as "fo'ward", which I find charming. What I do not find charming is her oddball pronunciation of "negligent"; the softens the second "-g-" so that the whole thing sounds like "negligee" with a couple of extra consonants tacked on. The only standard pronunciation for "negligent" gives the second "-g-" a hard "-j-" sound.

In case you were wondering--which is to say I was wondering, and so I'm going to share it with you, even if you weren't wondering--"negligent" is pretty obviously related to "neglect". Nothing interesting there. But "neglect"; now that's got a story. It's from the Latin "neg-", "not", plus "legere", "to choose/to pick/to pick up/to gather"; when you neglect your appearance or a child, you choose not to do what you ought to. ("Legere" has a number of other descendants in English, including "elect", "to choose [out of]", "collect", "to gather together", and "select", "to choose [apart from others]".)


Post a Comment

<< Home