or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, November 25, 2005

Life is Life

Yesterday on the way to work I was listening to, on the trusty iPod, "America: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction". It's maybe not as funny as the book, because there aren't any pictures, but still; pretty funny. (Hearing Jon Stewart say In many ways, lobbyists are the cheerleaders of Capitol Hill--sad, soulless, clandestine, unfuckable cheerleaders is worth the price of admission.)

How do you pronounce "short-lived"? At one point in the audiobook, Stewart uses the word, and pronounces it with a long "-i-", to rhyme with "hived". This threw me a little, because all my life I have heard it with a short vowel sound, to rhyme with, well, "lived". Or "sieved". Or "shivved".

It sure looks like the "-i-" should be short; the past tense of the verb "live" is, after all, "lived", short vowel and all. The short vowel sound for that word is so common in English, and the long-vowel version so rare, that it's natural enough, on seeing "short-lived" (or "long-lived"), to use the pronunciation one is used to.

Unfortunately, one would be sort of wrong, at least if one believed the prescriptivists. The "-lived" in those phrases isn't the same as the past participle: it's derived from "life", and originally began its existence as "short-lifed". The consonant changed, as these things will, and became "-lived" with that same vowel sound.

But is the short vowel sound wrong? Even the OED says the word is "often apprehended as p.ppl. 'lived' (cf. 'smooth-spoken')". It doesn't go so far as to say that this is an error, and it's probably safe to say that the short vowel sound is, if not dominant, at least neck and neck with the original version.


Blogger Frank said...

I've never heard it said like that, either. It might be a dialect thing from the place in North Jersey he's from, or even just a quirk of his. Or, perhaps, he mispoke and no one caught it.

Saturday, November 26, 2005 1:06:00 AM  
Blogger pyramus said...

I don't think it's dialect or a mistake, because the OED makes it clear that the long-vowel version is the original one. I think it's just one of those words that changes pronunciation over time, and Stewart prefers (perhaps because of instruction by a prescriptivist as a child) the older, arguably more correct version. But the short-vowel version, as far as I know, is prevalent if not predominant nowadays: until I heard that audiobook, it's the only version of it I'd ever heard.

Monday, November 28, 2005 3:43:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home