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Tuesday, Sep. 2, 2014

Who decides how words are pronounced?

Posted Tuesday, June 22, 2010, at 11:56 AM

I have admitted many times that I am a wordsmith. Words fascinate me and I ponder about meanings.

Consider the word bologna. It is a city in Italy as well as a tube of mystery meat. It is usually pronounced "bah loan ya." What about the "G"? Then we insert a "Y" sound. There is no "Y" or "I in the word. It is even a word that denigrates others or ideas: "That's baloney" or "Oh baloney." New spelling. It is even a joke. "What do you get when you cross a crocodile with lunch meat?" "A crock of baloney."

How do we get kernel out of Colonel? There is no "K" or "U" or "R." We aren't talking about an ear of corn but it sounds like it.

Wednesday has always confused me. The "N" does not precede the "D." It should be Wed Nes Day. There is no wind in Wednesday but I hear it.

Look at these "P" words: Pneumonia, pneumatic. They are pronounced newmonia and newmatic. Why? It has something to do with Greek. How do we get an "N" sound out of Pne?

In many words "K" is the most useless letter of the alphabet: knife, know, knowledge, knock, knuckle and knit. Why don't we spell knice, knaughty or knaive? "She was a knice sort of knaughty girl who was also quite knaive." Na*ve is another strange word. Why does the "I" sound receive preference over the "A" sound? Then we disregard the "I" sound and use an "E" sound. Why don't we say nyeve or knieve? This makes me feel like a "knucklehead."

This is a tongue twister. How do we get "tung" out of tongue? We spell words similarly but pronounce them pong, gong, bong and long but that which pulls wagons and forms words is "tung." I don't understand. Using the rule established in pneumatic it should be pronounced "tong new." It makes me all swimmy headed.

How about ballet and ballot. The dance is pronounced "Bal A" but the voting instrument is pronounced "Bal Ott." Why?

We had a raspberry patch on the farm where I grew. Dad always picked the hottest and most humid day of the summer to say, "Let's go pick berries." It was not a question or an option we went wearing two pairs of overalls, long sleeved shirts, a kerchief around the neck and a hat we picked "razberries." Who inserted the "Z" for the "S?" And somewhere along the way the "P" was thrown out. It should be "rasp berry" not "razz berry." But I go on.

If you look closely you will see another letter on the scrap heap of daily usage -- the letter "W." Which also causes another question: Why is that letter call a double "U" when there is no "U" involved? Why isn't it spelled "UU?" I illustrate this dilemma with the words wrong, wryneck, wry, writ, write, wriggle, wringer, wrinkle, wrist, wrap and wreathe. Pure etymology demands that wrong be pronounced "uurong" and wrinkle as "uurinkle." Why not?

I am being considered for the position of word czar in the Obama Administration. When in office, I promise changes will be made.

Larry grew up north of Calvertville on a farm and graduated from Worthington High School. He lives in Plainfield and can be reached at Goosecrick@aol.com or (317) 839-7656. Write him at Larry Vandeventer 6860 Sunrise Drive, Plainfield, Ind., 46168. He has written five books.


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I know a linguistics professor at ISU who would love to have a long chat with you and your thoughts! Hit up Dr. Nelson in the languages dept. You can find his email on the ISU website!

-- Posted by new2GC on Sun, Jun 27, 2010, at 9:06 PM


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