Swaven deboner. Correcting others' pronunciations

Harry Dewey HTD10@Columbia.edu
Fri, 11 Apr 2003 03:49:41 PDT
Someone wrote about the pronunciation of 'Clivia':

>With honourifics, we have the problem of not really knowing how the name was
>pronounced.  Is Clive with a long "I", as typical for a first name, or is it
>the variant sounded like "ee".  One thing is for certain, it is NOT short

It's not???????

Of course it is.  You understood EXACTLY what plant she was talking 
about, didn't you?

Was exchanging information about clivias the purpose of your 
conversation, or was it her desire to be impressed by your knowledge of 
how Mr. Clive pronounced his name?

I hope she said to herself "What can I do to comfort my friend?  Oh, 
yes, I'll ask him how HE pronounces it."  

I hope she then actually said "Oh dear, I've always wanted to know the 
correct way to pronounce that! You've really made my day.  Thank you so 

But are you sure she was impressed by your superior knowledge?  Or did 
she wonder about your toilet training (as surely you -- and everyone 
else --  must be wondering about mine)?  What on earth is it that impels 
us to correct others?

It does require a certain amount of inner security and self-confidence 
to adopt someone else's pronunciation -- no matter how outlandish you 
may think it is -- without batting an eye, or pausing to catch your 
breath, and, above all, without giving her a clue that -- once you're 
out of earshot -- you're going to continue using your own utterly 
superior pronunciation.  The trick is not to wince, or swallow hard, as 
you adopt your partner's barbarism.  You don't want to risk having her 
think you a snobbish linguistic terrorist, as some thug once described 
 -- on PBS yet! -- those who publicly bemoan  the pronunciational 
idiosyncrasies of others.  Bite your tongue (totally unobtrusively) and 
let her believe you to be swaven deboner, two traits that used to be 
hugely admired in Minnesota, where everyone's IQ is above the state average.

Bless you for reading this far.

Harry Dewey, Beltsville, Maryland USA zone 7a

More information about the pbs mailing list