May 03, 2007

Lisa: voila

In our fabulous language, there is sometimes a gap between a written word and its spoken equivalent. Spanish doesn't have this problem--each vowel is said the same way, every time. Their rules of pronunciation are simple and finite. Not so with English. English is full of EXCEPTIONS to the rules. Some of the rules even have exceptions built right in: "I before E except after C or when sounding like "ey" as in neighbor and weigh." What kind of rule is that?

This gap presents a problem for readers and non-readers alike. People who have read the word but not used it in conversation often betray their ignorance with an incorrect pronunciation, while people who have heard the word used out loud might stumble when it comes time to write the word down--and no amount of dictionary searching will help BECAUSE THE SPELLING DOESN'T MAKE SENSE. See "segue." I think the French are usually to be blamed for this.

Imagine my embarassment when I read Imogene's Antlers out loud to my mom as a child, and in the crucial scene where the fancy (French) milliner reveals a new hat he has created to hide Imogene's offending appendages, I confidently exclaimed "VIOLA!" Like the string instrument. I'm sure Mom was very nice about it, all "Heeee. Oh, sweetie, it's pronounced WA-LA!" I could have shrugged it off, or nodded in comprehension. I chose to be mortified.

Now. Let's all learn from my childhood mistake, shall we? When you look at the words "wa la" on the screen after typing them, your instinct tells you that these are not real words. FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCT. Type "voila" instead. Use italics to indicate a foreign language. Smirk to yourself about how smart you are.

Posted by lisa at May 03, 2007 04:52 PM

What a grand, illuminating story. And I know exactly what you mean. When I was little, I was playing the $20,000 pyramid with my family. The category was "hors d'eouvres". I read out Whores Devors. Like some bargain hooker bin. The roar of laughter that ensued paled me to shame. How very courageous of you Lisa. You are never afraid to teach people with your horribly embarrassing childhood (i.e. pink scrabble).

Posted by: Jeremy on May 3, 2007 05:28 PM

Ouch. I guess I deserved that. And also, Whores Devors makes me giggle. Who hasn't said that at least once? Stupid French.

Posted by: lisa on May 3, 2007 05:36 PM

Oh I didn't mean that to sound so mean. I'm sorry Lisa. I try to tell the horrible stories too. Like the time I was in a play and I cut the cheese on stage, and although I haven't told the story yet, the time I dropped a pair of my shoes four stories right square on some poor kid's head in his stroller in the Crossroads Plaza Food Court. So please forgive me. I love pink scrabble. I kill for pink scrabble.

Posted by: Jeremy on May 3, 2007 06:23 PM

My own pronunciation confession:
Spas is not pronounced "SPAZZ!"
Even though that can be good times.

Posted by: sarah on May 4, 2007 02:19 PM
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