Monday, July 26, 2010

Mittens and Pronunciation

Laura and Hank are about to take the dog out for a walk (never mind the fact that the dog still hasn't gotten up for the day, they are hellbent on it and are coaxing her out from under my bed) and Hank walked into the sun room with a mitten on his hand.

He said, "I'm going to wear this mitten outside." I started with, "Baby it's too hot for that mitten . . ." but then I stopped and backed up because he had pronounced "mitten" with a distinct "t" before the second syllable, like mih-ten, instead of the more natural (and correct) mitt'n, with the second syllable nearly unvoiced. Say it both ways and you'll hear what I mean.

So naturally I spanked him.

No. But it caught my attention, so I said, "What is that you're wearing on your hand?" Mih-ten. "And what do you call a baby cat?" Kih-ten. Same unnatural and overly precise pronunciation. Where did he get that?

It reminds me of a brief period in my early teens when I took to pronouncing "didn't" and "shouldn't" as did-dent and should-dent. I did this until my parents were like, "Listen to yourself." Youthful rebellion. I think I was laboring under the same impulse for overcorrection and (wrong) hyper precision that has resulted in people saying "interesting" as though it has four syllables. Or pronouncing the "t" in "often."

Oh yes I just went there.

In the time it took me to type the above, Hank tired of walking the dog and showed back up at the front door, giving the doorbell a brisk four rings. He came in and pulled off his mitten and said, "It is like seventy five degrees out there!" I said, "No baby, it's more like a hundred." And he said, "How did it get so sunny from the space?"

How indeed.

29 comments:

Hootie said...

Either pronunciation is better than the oddly common "mih-en" (rhymes with "oh no she dih-en"). Also, I just used an end-quote with a close-parenthesis and a period. And I am too set in my ways to care whether their sequence is correct on this continent or any other.

Camp Papa said...

As I've gotten older and mellower, I am more tolerant of variation in pronunciation: You can say it like I do, or you can be wrong. It doesn't mean that you're a bad person.

A Day That is Dessert said...

ha :)

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

You are right on, so OFTEN!

Keely said...

Xander over-enunciates a lot, too. I wonder if it's just them trying to get a handle on our strange language. Although equally often, he says things like he's got a mouth full of marbles, so maybe not.

gretchen said...

I love Hank. The Hankster. I went through an embarrassing phase in college when I rather affectedly started pronouncing Tuesday-Tyoosday, suicide-syooicide, Pulitzer-pyoolitzer. Correct, I might add, but embarrassing.

Amy said...

You went there with the often thing. Girl.

I agree with you on mitten and kitten, etc. But I've never understood why "often" should be pronounced "offen". There's a dang "t" in it! What *I* can't abide is "disorientated". And you hear it everywhere!!

Becky said...

Ooh, and along with "disorientated," there's "flustrated." I actually like that one, and I like Sarah Palin's "refudiate."

And think of "soften" or "listen"--that "t" doesn't hang around once the -en suffix is added, even if you say the "t" in the root word, in this case "oft."

Amy said...

Flustrated--that's a new one! Kind of like ginormous, which Ava and Nate think is a real word.

Hmmm. Okay, I see your point with listen and soften. You've given me a lot to pray and think about.

Michele R said...

Get out of town about the word often! There is no way I would pronounce it as offen. Looked it up in the dictionary and it states either way.
I like how he says mitTEN.

delaine said...

I don't want to open another can of worms, BUT, I can be pretty forgiving with the pronunciations of the target words you mentioned. What is driving me slapcrazy is the dilemma of when to use the pronouns "I' and "me". Thirty five years of drilling it into third graders brains, and now I feel it was all in vain! Their misuse is rampant!
Can you get on that, Beck? Be a force for good, okay? Thanks.

Megan said...

Gretchen... I am practically crying with laughter about "Tyoosday." That's fantastic.

As long as we're on a pronunciation rant, my in-laws (whom I adore... yes, people, whom) all say "acrosst" with a "t" sound at the end. As in, "Should I walk around the yard or acrosst?" No, they aren't saying "across't" as in "across it." They'd smack me acrosst my smug face if they knew I was typing this. :)

David said...

LOL: Amy, we just had a dinner guest whose first language is Italian. We were talking about language, and she actually said "I love that you guys have the word 'ginormous.' It's just so alive and wonderful." I let it slide, because language is living and all that. Plus, she was so cute with her excitement about words themselves, and I always endorse that.

Becky: you saw Palin's tweet defending her use of "refudiate" against the "gotcha liberal media," no? She, um, sort of compared herself to Shakespeare. After that, someone set up a "ShakesPalin" twitter account with gems like the following: "to tweet, perchance to gaffe" and "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and I can see Russia from my front porch." Brilliant!

The Messy Mom said...

My daughter's name is Sedona, for longest time my son called her doughnut and just when I think he is finally saying Sedona he will say it really slow and over enunciate "I love the baby Sa-do-nuuuu...t!" So he has actually been called her Sedonut. I am with Keely on this one.

Bonnie said...

My pet peeves are realtor pronounced real-a-tor and the me/I and lie/lay mix-ups. And gratuitous apostrophes -- although they don't peeve me as much as tickle me. (All those hot dog's and chicken wing's on menus and signs...)

Elle said...

Omigosh, Becky, you ought not ever go to the midwest, because yr brain would just bleed right out of yr ears! And let us leave the matter of regional pronunciation (enunciated in eloquent homeland times as pronounciation) right at that.

The matter of how we like to stick prepositions any old where we can think about, well, you know, go on then!

Marie said...

Well, as long as we're venting, the word is realtor. Real-tor, not
real-a-tor!

Wallfishwife said...

Amy,'disorientated' is wholly correct in British and Australian English where 'disoriented' has never been used.

Becky said...

Wow! You learn something new every day. Thanks Wallfishwife.

We really are two nations divided by a common language!

Camp Papa said...

Dear Wallfishwife,

With the greatest of personal respect: "Disorientated"...that's just one more justification for our little revolution against our British cousins.

Wallfishwife said...

Camp Papa - I know! And think of all those troublesome 'u's and extra 'l's you are free of too! But I don't envy you 'burglarising' - that is to us what 'disorientated' is to you - one too many syllables!

David said...

So I refrained from saying this before, because it seemed a little too recherche, and I really don't mind when language changes like this, but now it's an interesting addition to the thread:

According to a critic I relied on for one of my chapters, there was a time in American English history when we dissonantly used both "orientate" and "disorient" as the verbs here. Our eventual move to "orient" was something sort of analogous to a weird back-formation from our (wrong, at the time) "dis-" form.

Becky said...

Interesting, D. I didn't know that was a back formation (and from a mistake at that). It's funny to me that many of the other back-formed verbs we have in common usage have something of a disreputable or slightly icky connotation about them. I'm thinking of things like "enthuse" and "surveill." You would never use those words and mean anything good by them, you know?

David said...

I saw Irigaray gave a paper on that icky feeling, and it kind of blew my mind. She argued that English and, increasingly, the romance languages hate back-formations because they challenge the whole subject-verb-object structure and make us worry about our own agency and the permeability of subjects and objects.

It reminds me of (bad) writing teachers' advice to avoid the passive voice at all costs -- even when it makes more sense to use it than the active voice. Like, "how dare you threaten my own verb-al agency here?! I do things to things, but things can't do things to me."

Amy said...

Oh, I *LOVE* language pet-peeve discussions! Y'all are great.

And I have to say I'll take in-ter-es-ting over IN'eresting anyday. But, repeat after me: In-tress-ting. All the sounds, fewer syllables.

Becky said...

IN'eresting, OMG.

David, I love that reading. We should get t-shirts made that say, "I do things to things" on the front and "Things do things to me" on the back.

Amy said...

Love it! Y'all done tooken this to a whole new level.

Wallfishwife: Wow! I never knew that! I guess that's why I feel like I hear it so much now. :)

Another thing about Oz...did you know that many Aussies pronounce "h" as "haich"? That makes me a little mental.

Scott said...

Oh, those days of youthful rebellion: mispronouncing words, misplacing commas...we were so young.

Amy said...

So then I had to go look up "recherche." And as if I didn't have enough things keeping me up at night, now I have a word that means both "exquisite; choice," AND "excessively refined; pretentious; overblown." Thanks, David.