pronunciation - New Rules

Jim McKenney
Mon, 26 Jul 2010 19:47:16 PDT
Good for you, Josh, you’ve got the right idea. 

To me, it’s a source of amusement that so many of us are afraid about making a mistake in the pronunciation of botanical names. People seem to assume that there is something mysterious about this, that some arcane practice or social ritual is involved. I’ve never met a professional botanist, zoologist or horticulturist whose pronunciations gave any indication that they knew anything at all about the textbook pronunciation of Latin or Greek. And yet these are the people who routinely presume tell other people how to do it, who write books about how to pronounce plant names.

There is a sort of bait and switch going on there: you ask how to pronounce a Latin botanical name, and they reply by giving you the unlettered street pronunciation. You don’t need people like that to tell you how to pronounce your own language! How can you learn anything from people who are still swimming around in the same little pool you, as a beginner, are in? 

Josh, you have got to stand up to the ignoramus bullies who want you to do things their way. ALWAYS question authority. Ask them to explain why. That will end the conversation with most of them because they only “why” they know is “that’s the way I’ve always done it” or “that’s the way I heard so-and-so say it”. What rubbish: there are centuries of scholarship out there which provide much better answers.

I’m not saying that just because someone has an interest in gardening that they should become a Latin scholar. Pronounce the names any way you want to and be confident that almost no one out there has the requisite knowledge to fairly criticize your pronunciation. But if you’re lucky enough to find someone who does, pay attention! It can open amazing doors to you. 

When I give talks, I announce to the audience that I’ll be using the “reformed academic pronunciations” for botanical names. I then briefly describe what that means, and then warn them that some of what they are about to hear will be unlike anything they have ever heard before. And I give them a printed list of the slides with the botanical names (to forestall those who want to say that they can't understand me; if they can read, they should be able to understand). 

In other words, I follow Jim Waddick’s suggestions

>        1. Be the first person to say it. Even if wrong this gives you
> Priority. Others will follow.

YES! I’m probably the first person they have ever heard who pronounces words this way. I like the idea of priority, and I hope I make a few converts and that others will follow.

>        2. Speak LOUDLY.        Make sure everyone hears you.

 I try to . 

>  3. Speak with Conviction. Do not hesitate or stumble.

Yep, I’m full of myself and rattle off those names as if they were second nature for me. 

>  In most cases people will adapt and those who object will look like
➢ whiners.

Hmmmm…..I’m not trying to make anyone look like a whiner or anything else, I’m just standing up for my right to have an opinion (and practice) about how this should be done. 

>  Of course it helps if you do pronounce all the letters and in the
> correct order. It is hard to accommodate an alternate pronunciation that
> does not complete the basics of the English language.

Here Jim Waddick and I might be parting company. The words in question are by and large not English words; there is no reason they should sound like English words. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone 7, where a seven minute wind storm yesterday left us without electric power for about 22 hours
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society

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