or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Dirty Words

You probably ought to watch this movie, which is a hilarious mid-sixties propaganda film against pornography (and which, typically, makes even the tame porno of the time seem irresistibly thrilling and desirable).

If you don't want to watch the whole thing (but you should!), then scroll to about 8:50 to hear the narrator, outstanding news reporter George Putnam, intone these words:

...he had been stimulated to this heinous crime by reading a nudist magazine....

The baffling thing is his bizarre pronunciation of the word "heinous", which he mangles into "hee-uh-nuss", almost rhyming with "pianist"*. I'm surprised I even recognized it.

"Heinous", meaning "reprehensible in the extreme", is derived from the French word "haine", which means "hatred". The vowels in the French word are pronounced just like those in its English offspring: "hane", with a long "-a-", and therefore "heinous" is and always has been "hay-nuss".

The only way I can figure Putnam thought to pronounce the word in his strange manner is that he'd never seen it before he read the script, didn't own a dictionary, and simply sounded it out. "Heinous...looks like 'he', and 'in'....that must be it!" Either nobody else on the film shoot knew the word either, or nobody dared contradict such an outstanding news reporter.

*Yes, I know: some people pronounce "pianist" with the accent on the second syllable: "pee-AN-ist". Others, including me, put the stress on the first syllable: "PEE-un-ist". Both are well-established pronunciations and I, believe it or not, am not passing judgement this time. Whatever you grew up with is fine in this case.


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