Saturday, February 27, 2010

Time for some pronunciation (and other) whining

Writers' Week is about to start and I have to do a few things at it, so there's not been a lot of time to blog -- too busy trying to think up juicy, fruitful questions to ask Peter Temple and Michelle de Kretser on the basis of madly re-reading their novels. Been through two whole pads of Post-Its and counting. Thank God for Google. Picking the shortest books out of the pile for next week's SMH reviews copy, due in the middle of the week as per.

(One of the other things I have to do is decide whether or not to rock up to the panel session on The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature. As the only section editor of the book who lives in Adelaide, I think that if they wanted me there at all then they would have asked me to be on the panel, which would have cost them nothing, and since they didn't, I think they'll have more fun if I stay away and they can let rip with the criticism of the contents without fear of resistance. On the whole I think this was a good call on the part of the organisers, because producing a book is like having a baby -- once you put something out into the world, you have to let go of it, allow it to take on a life of its own without interference, or what was the point of popping it out in the first place?)

Anyway, here's a discovery: I think this language usage/pronunciation irritation/allergy thing is genetic. One of my sisters rang up yesterday and at one point the conversation turned, can't remember why, to the word 'vulnerable'. 'What's this VUNNERABLE crap?' she demanded. 'They all say it. The newsreaders say it. The ABC newsreaders say it.'

'Oh, I know, I know,' I moaned. 'And what about CONGRADULATIONS? They've got little kids saying it now. New Meadow Lea ad or whatever, little squeaky childish voices the ad people from Mars think are cute, singing out of tune to their Mum. 'Yooooo ... order be ... congradulay-dud.' (As if it were not bad enough that one congradulates women on their choice of margarine.)

I remembered this conversation this morning while reading about the tribulations of postwar London: 'slithers of bacon from Argentina'.

Where do these things start? Why do they go viral? A thing like a shred or a splinter is not a slither, it is a sliver. Slither is a verb and only a verb. Snakes do it. JK Rowling called Slytherin Slytherin because snakes do it. Nothing to do with little shreds of bacon, bits of wood or toasted almonds. Especially not toasted almonds.


Barry Leiba said...

I actually had no idea what "slither" was meant to be until you told us. Maybe that's because we don't call bits of bacon "slivers" over in this quadrant.

One that's been driving me bats for a while is a relatively recent tendency for the U.S. media to pronounce "negotiate" as "ne-go-see-ate". It always used to be "ne-go-shee-ate" before. Is the former a British pronunciation that Americans are trying to affect these days? Or what?

Oh, and the adjective "consummate" is not pronounced as though it were the verb that one does to one's marriage, thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

Now now, ma'am...English is a constantly revolving language, so It's only a mutter of thyme till something changes in a way to make you toasty.

PS Since when did bacon ever come in slivers? It's always been rashers where I come from.

librarygirl said...

On the Biggest Loser the other night the ex-swimmer hostessy type kept saying "Do you feel VUNNERABLE Bob, because you lost the least amount of weight blah blah". She asked the VUNNERABLE question to at least four of them at they all clearly ennunciated VULNERABLE back to her. It's a puzzling one.

Elisabeth said...

I have a lot of trouble with the word 'froth'.

For some reason, unbeknown to me even, I say 'froff'.

My daughters pick me up on this one regularly as they do with the word 'ancient'.

Even as I type it here I'm not sure of the pronunciation. Is it 'angshent' or is it 'ainshent'? Whichever, I always get it wrong.

But I'm good with the word vulnerable. I never drop that 'l'.

Bernice said...

Issue. Not Isshue. Tissue. Not Tisshue. Consumer. Not conshumer.

I am far too busy to have waste my time yelling at people on RN who ought to know better. Thank you.

WV = bleswat. Exactly.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

If you tell me that you are akshirley gunna get paid to think of fruitful questions to ask Peter Temple and Michelle de Kretser

I shall immediately retire to my bed,pull the doona over my head and have a bloody big sooky sulk for about 2 days.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Stay up, FXH; there's no money in this. Lots of time and experience being put into it, but am doing it for love, as do all writers' fest chairs and interviewers everywhere AFAIK. So you can stop sulking now. Or not start.

I deduce that you yourself can think of many such questions, so (although I have far too many already) perhaps you would be good enough to pass them on. But you'd better make it snappy; I have to front up in the morning.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

PS the reason they are only slivers of bacon is because it's postwar London and there's almost no food of any kind. Just tiny little bits of stuff.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

Dear Ms G. Please accept my humble a-grovel-gies.

Unfortunately I've been forced to drink red wine since 11 am this morning and in addition I strongly suspect someone forced a huge spliff into my lungs whilst my back was turned.

If it twas I asking - one question would be formulated around something like how come youse two sorta foreigners can so acutely observe and capture our society like an insider should be able to and whilst we know the answer is it that youse aren't really foreigners but we all are and anyways Michelle whats this stuff about dogs and men and Peter is Ballarat a good place to write from and will your next book be set at the "Rat and why not.

Word verification= nation

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Bewdiful. I'll ask them and tell you what they said.

God don't you hate it when people force you to smoke stuff and drink stuff? So oppressive.

Anonymous said...

I still have a (very minor) thing with my husband being inclined to use 'slither' when he means 'sliver', but since English is NOT his first language, who cares? He grew up in Hamburg, has, by now, very little accent, and after serious indoctrination by my family, no trouble with puns, word play and spoonerisms.

Gae, in Callala Bay

Helen said...

I'm driven mad, I tell you, mad, by some of my younger relatives always using "could of" and "would of" when they mean could have or would have. And it's infected my husband. AAAaaaaaaargh. But that's not really pronunciation.

(W/V "twaviti". It iff a twaviti, I tell you! A Twaviti!!)

Anonymous said...

That was a fantastic session with Peter Temple - I laughed and i almost cried (re parents and obligations and whether dogs would die)
well done

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Josef, thank you! Isn't he great? So lightning-fast funny, and so deeply serious. I particularly liked the impromptu script for two Australian tradies -- the man's ear is uncanny.

persiflage said...

Yeah. Me and my daughter was talking about vunnerable a while back and bemoaning the mispronunciation, when all of a sudden the little parrot in the car seat, aged 18 months, was heard to repeat excitedly vulnerable, vulnerable.
It is time we all had a few mega-rants about misuse of subject and object pronouns, and plural verbs with singular subjects and vice versa. Not to mention the necessity of reviving the use of adverbs.