Saturday, May 31, 2008

How do you pronounce a FONT?

From May 30's New York Times, p. B1, Clyde Habermans' NYC column, "Another Book Deal Loosens Another Tongue:

"....Which of the following guests on "Today" would you say was the reason that so many people summoned so much screaming energy at an hour when most New Yorkers had yet to hae their first cup of coffee?
(A) Sarah Jessica Parker, or as she is usually known in newspaper columns, Sarah Jessica Parker? Further identification seems unnecessary unless you have been in a trance for weeks...."  

Totally a visual gag (an d a fun one)--you can't pronounce typeface anymore than you can truly pronounce spelling. 

Well, I guess could pronounce those three bolded words more stentoriously.  (isn't that a cool word? more on it later)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Fun with Words

My son is 10; on a recent subway trip something got me remembering (and reciting) an old goofy rhyme my dad used to say, to my son's delight.

It goes:

One bright stormy day in the middle of the night, 
two dead boys got up to fight.
Back to back, they faced each other,
drew their swords and shot each other.
A faraway policeman saw this noise,
came and killed those two dead boys.
And if you don't believe this lie, 
go ask the blind man--he saw it too.

It was fun to listen to him saying, "how could he kill those dead boys, if they're already dead?" "how can they shoot each other with their swords" "the blind man couldn't see anything!"

I found a version of this one (probably the unadulterated-by-my-dad-and-my-memory version) via google: "One Fine Day" research from The British Columbia Folklore Society

My dad had a ton of these, which amused us all no end as kids. Obviously--I'm over 45, and I'm *still* reciting them. I'll post some of the others later.

What's your favorite word nonsense?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

more "you can't pronounce spelling"

Maybe, really, "you can't pronounce punctuation"?

JD, on his blog The Engine Room, linked to a great Peanuts cartoon.

I'd repost here, but I don't have time, and besides, he's the one who found it.

Then come back here and tell me--how would YOU pronounce the ditto mark?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Phrases stuck in my head

I think I'm an obsessive personality. I get stuff stuck in my head. (In music, they call those "earworms," and I get them a lot; but what do they call it if it's a phrase you've read? An eyeworm? A brainworm?)

At work, I'll hit some phrase, and then it'll be stuck. (I was editing a recipe once, and the recipe editor had rearranged the herbs used. Normally, they were listed in order of amount, largest to smallest; if the same size, then put as a group in alpha order; she cheated and made them say "1/2 teaspoon each dried parsley, sage, rosemary and basil.")

We have a deck that says: "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou" (which of course continues: "beside me in the wilderness").

SO now I have this, from a greeting card I saw probably 25 years ago, stuck in my head:

"A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou, beside me in the wilderness...
making those crazy wine sandwiches!"

maybe if I give it to you, I'll get rid of it?

What's stuck in your head?
even more on "you can't pronounce spelling"

My DD, Grace, is 14--well, not just yet, but for some reason in the past few years, I keep rounding up with her. She's in 8th grade.

She read part of the Odyssey in her text book. And last night she said, "Do you know what Odysseus told the Cyclops his name was?"

"Nobody," I answered.

"Yeah," she said, "only he spelled it n o h b o h and then a capital D." (or something like that, she started spelling out each letter) "And the Cyclops was so stupid he didn't realize..."

"Wait," I said. "In the first place, you can't hear spelling, so when Odysseus said his name, he wouldn't have been able to say it so it sounded spelled that way. And in the second place, well, the story was written in Greek! And in the third place, the Cyclops was REALLY stupid, because he heard 'nobody' and thought it was a name, not a word!"


I need to dig out her textbook and see what it really said; I'll update later.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

More "you can't pronounce spelling"

(and thanks to Dan, at Our Bold Hero, and his "Language Is the People's" Web log)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

It doesn't have to be a prefix

Don't just stick a hyphen between "mini" and the word that follows.

"Mini" is a great prefix (in which case it's set solid or attached with a hyphen). 

But it is ALSO an adjective, all on its own. (In an adjectival state, it stands alone).

And sometimes the adjective is what's needed! ("Big dreams and mini budgets," for example)

Dolls wear mini skirts.
Tarts wear miniskirts. 

Soccer moms drive minivans.
Their sons drive mini vans.

Peter Callahan makes mini treats. (Tiny little cheeseburger, etc.) Not mini-treats

Monday, May 12, 2008

I have learned something new!

"Daup" is not a word.

Don't ask me why; I always thought one "dauped" canvas (you know, before painting on it, or after stretching it across a wooden airframe).

Nope, it's "dope."  

And interesting to me is that "dope" meant "a goopy stuff you use to coat other stuff" long before it meant drugs. And in fact, it makes sense that illegal drugs would be called "dope"--since illega. drugs are a goopy stuff you use to coat other stuff.

You learn something new every day.

Is there a word you always believed existed?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Verb of the Month

When I was at InformationWeek, we used to joke about "the search for the perfect verb" when writing headlines (and news stories).

Verbs are everything. But finding an interesting one that wasn't too weird was hard.

Today's Wall Street Journal, above the logo:

                 "Aid Delays Augur Deeper Suffering"

How's THAT for a verb?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

More on the link between spelling and pronunciation.

From Mark Liberman over at Language Log, some musings on "eye dialect" (neat term, that)

Eye dialect being, the use of spellings to indicate a spoken dialect and pronunciation.

In its simplest, it's things like spellin' instead of spelling.

At it's most extreme, was as "wuz" in order to indicate that the speaker is stupid (OK, maybe not stupid, but rough and unlettered)--even though, well, even the most erudite of folks pronounces was as "wuz."

More nuances and expertise in Mr. Liberman's post, and in the comments.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

More on "you can't pronounce spelling"--sort of, "you can't pronounce capitalization."

I'm head over heels for Terry Pratchett these days, and in his book "Thud," there is this exchange:

"You know, the dwarfs were listening for something underground? You wondered if someone was trapped right? But is there . . . I don't know . . . something dwarf-made that talks?"
Carrott's brow wrinkled.
"You're not talking about a cube, are you, sir?"
"I don't know. Am I? You tell me!"
"The deep-downers have some in their mine, sir,bu I'm sure there's none buried here. They're generally found in hard rocks. Anyway, you wouldn't listen for one. I've never heard of them talking when they are found. Some dwarfs have spent years learning how to use just one of them!"
"Good! Now: What Is A Cube?" said Vimes, glancing at his in tray. [leaving stuff out here] "It's, um . . . It's lik ea book, sir. Which talks. A bit like your Gooseberry, I suppose. Most of them container interpretatiosn of dwarf lore by ancient lawmasters. it's very old . . . magic, I suppose."
"Suppose?" said Vimes.

[I'm getting there--here is the pertinent part]

"Well, technomantic Devices look like things that are built, you know, out of--"
"Captain, you've lost me again. What are Devices, and why do you pronounce the capital D?"

Right there.

The capitals in "What Is A Cube" are there to indicate that Vimes stressed each word, probably pausing before each one of them--sort of a version of what I see lately: What. Is. A. Cube.

I suppose, Carrot would stress the word Device, and perhaps pausing slightly.

But it's an interesting idea--that you could pronounce a capital letter.

More on Pratchett's "Thudd"--there's a scene at the end where a dwarf interprets an old dwarfish recording (recorded on the cube or Device mentioned above) for modern English (Discwordish? Ankh-Morporkian?) speakers, and Pratchett represents the speech w/ "antique" spelling: 
"Whoever is speaking a just said: 'Art thys thyng workyng?' "
The voice spoke again. As the cracked, old syllables unrolled, Bashfullsson went on: " 'The first thyng Tak did, he wroten hymself; the second thyng Tak did, he wroten teh Laws; the thyrd thyng Tak did, he wroten the World, the fourth thyng Tak did, he wroten ay cave; the fyfth thyng Tak did...."

Pratchett uses this spelling device for a couple of paragraphs, during the introduction part of the recording, and then switches into modern spelling.

But it made me wonder, how is "thyng" pronounced differently from  "thing."

And it's a sign of my enjoyment of Pratchett's world and writing and humor that it doesn't bother me to have him do this.

If it were another writer, it would probably annoy me immensely.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Pronunciation, and spelling

I've been doing some musing (OK, yes, and some fuming) about the link--or lack thereof--of spelling and pronunciation.

Sometimes, a line in a poem ends w/ a word that LOOKS like the word above it but isn't pronounced to rhyme with it.

The examples that have me fuming are the headlines that the NYPost sometimes runs (as you can tell from my "handle," I'm in NYC--Queens, to be exact) about Barack Obama.

They call him "Bam," and they seem to be trying to rhyme it w/ "Sam." I don't have any examples right now (but they'll come up, so I'll add one when I see it eventually). 

S'pose it would be too childish by far to vote for the candidates whose headline nickname will be least annoying?