Thursday, May 20, 2010


When I was young boy, I somehow, in my head, pronounced the word "misled" as "my-zilled." He had been my-zilled. He was tricked into a wrong impression. Don't get my-zilled!

Soon after I joined a newspaper, I heard a really smart colleague pronounce "pique" as "pe-que." He really "pe-qued me!"

Of course, I soon realized that mis-led was the promounciation. And my friend learned that "pique" is pronounced "peek."

But such examples say something, I think, about language.

I think, for instance, that mispronunciations and the ignoring of fine language distinctions drive much of language change over the years. And we seem to get by.

For instance, I was taught early on that "disinterested" (unbiased, not a party to the dispute) should be differentiated from "uninterested" (bored by it). Should folks who don't make the distinction be slapped around and sent to their rooms to contemplate their sins? Is our language somehow decaying because people keep failing to make the distinction between laying (something) down and lying (themselves) down? Do an object and a subject really need different verbs?

I suspect not. (Just don't say "begs the question" when you mean "raises the question." I may have to step aside to let my head blow up.) I think whatever pronunciation wins, wins. And if whatever slurring of meanings works for us, no problem. If we need further distinctions, we'll come up with them.

So I think language change is cool. (Just don't change it with your damn thumbs. Adding a smiley face to grammar just hurts. The day lol is taught to first graders, I'll need to go the police to put my head into a protective container.)

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