Friday, October 08, 2010

found one!

Remember my post on correct, yet still bothersome, spelling and pronunciation? I listed some spelling examples, but had trouble thinking of an example of bothersome pronunciation. Tonight, I finally thought of a good example: how to pronounce the word "nihilism."

My preference, soundly based on the Latin: "KNEE-uh-lizm."

Many people, however, pronounce it "NIGH-uh-lizm," consistent with the "nihil" in "annihilation." This pronunciation is perfectly legitimate, but my inner Zero Mostel remembers the Latin and cries, "Tradition!"

"KNEE-uh-lizm," dammit!



Charles said...

Bothersome pronunciation? How about "nuclear" as "newk-you-lure"? And then there's the one that drives my brother and me crazy: people who add a "th" sound to the end of "height" (maybe to match "width," or maybe as an unconscious transferral from "breadth and width"). Oh, and when I was growing up this one woman in our church pronounced "murder" as "murther" (she still does, from what I hear) and I swear I wanted to murther her everything time I heard her say that.

I could probably come up with more if I thought hard enough, but much of it is subjective. For example, I don't use your preferred pronunciation for "nihilism." And before I started teaching here at HUFS, my lack of spoken English led me to occasional forgetting how words were pronounced (like "chasms"--remember that?), so my authority on the subject is questionable at best.

Kevin Kim said...

Are "newk-you-lure," "heighth," and "murther" considered correct, i.e., sanctioned by the powerful beings that excrete our dictionaries? Or are they merely regionalisms or "bumpkinisms" that are accepted only in limited geographical areas?

I noticed you wrote "bothersome" as opposed to "correct yet bothersome," so I'm guessing you see these as incorrect.

Did you know that the Webster's Third New International Dictionary lists [ɛœf, eh-oof] (written with different, Webster-specific symbols, of course) as a correct pronunciation of "elf"?


Charles said...

Both "heighth" and "murther" were actually standard English at one time, apparently back when people really liked the "th" sound. Now, however, they are considered obsolete.

"Newk-you-lure" has never been accepted and is still considered non-standard, although a lot of dictionaries will take the descriptivist approach and leave it at that without passing judgment. While I'm not a strict prescriptivist, I think it kind of defeats the point of language instruction if you accept everything that people say as "standard English."

I saw this interesting segment on a Korean television show the other day. They were talking about a number of words that everyone assumed were dialect (사투리), but are in fact listed as standard in the official Korean dictionary. Thing is, people from that region still consider it their dialect, and everyone else still considers it dialect, so what's the point? Some yokels decide to slip it into the dictionary and suddenly it becomes 서울말? Meh.

(Their explanation was that Seoulites started using the terms because they thought it was hip to be square, and that suddenly makes them standard Korean. Talk about sucking the fun out of everything.)

Ooh, here's another interesting language tidbit from that show. Did you know that the word 관광 comes from the civil service examination? A look at the Chinese characters (觀光) shows that it literally means "to see the light." What it actually breaks down to is "to bring glory to one's household," which is what would happen if you passed the civil service examination. Back then people didn't travel much, and often the big trip of a young man's life would be to Seoul to take the civil service examination. When he left on his trip, it was said that he was going for 관광. Even after the civil service examination system was abolished, the term continued to be used for any sort of sightseeing or tourism. Fascinating, huh?

hahnak said...

actually, charles, yes this is very interesting. ill not easily forget this!

Kevin Kim said...

Hahna beat me to the comment on this one, Charles. That is indeed fascinating re: gwan-gwang.

Charles said...

I get a real kick out of linguistic stuff, especially etymology, but a lot of people don't share that passion.

They had a whole segment on words that came from the 과거. One other that I remember was 압권(壓卷). You can actually find this etymology in most dictionaries, but I didn't know it and neither did my wife. Anyway, it literally means "the pressing book/page," which is a crappy translation but you should get the picture. After all the examination papers were graded, the best of the lot was placed on top, and thus it "pressed down" the rest of them. This top paper was called 압권, and today we use it for anything that is the best part of something (like a film or book).

I thought that one was particular relevant, given our favorite hominid's upcoming foray into the world of examination grading.