As a football fan, an obsessive one at that, I continually hear that certain players have talent. I had always considered the athletic prowess of players a result of hard work and study, with repetitious practice for specific challenges with which they are faced with in a contest. I considered this response to conditions on the field as learned skills. Lo and behold, I was right! Talents are ascribed to persons as an inherited ability to perform certain actions such as painting, writing, singing, etc. They may be amplified by repetitious practice but are innate abilities. Skills are developed by working mostly in a physical endeavor, although I will admit that some athletes may have both talent and skills.
I have always observed both the written and spoken word since an early age, and seemed to have developed a sixth sense when certain words do not look or sound as though they are correct. Recently I saw a descriptive line during a TV presentation and thought that somewhere in the past I had previously addressed this situation to my own satisfaction. Someone had typed the word ‘alright’ and it did not appear at a glance to be correctly spelled. I consulted my online dictionary and was gratified to find that I was correct. There is no such a word as ‘alright.’ It is considered substandard by Webster and one dictionary flatly stated it was not a word. It appears that many think in their minds that since ‘already’ is a correctly spelled word, than it would follow that ‘alright’ would be appropriate. However, the correct spelling is ‘all right’ when something is good or acceptable.
Adjectives are classes of words that describe something either concrete or in some cases an emotion or other substantive entity. Adjectives are used to qualify (modify) a noun, such as a good feeling, where good is the adjective. Sometimes carelessness, lack of knowledge, or being acclimated to local speech patterns may cause inaccurate usage of adjectives.
Having worked in the medical profession in a variety of areas, one that I often hear is as follows. A person reports that his father suffered a coronary. I cringe when I hear such a sentence. Coronary is an adjective that should be used to describe a medical incident, such as a heart attack, and the term coronary refers to the heart itself.
Another medical term, nauseous, is also an adjective. When one says he or she is nauseous, the correct usage of the word nauseous, would be, “I feel nauseous,” or “I have a nauseous feeling.” Therefore, nauseous would modify the noun of feeling. A related misuse of an adjective occurs in today’s vernacular when someone asks, “How are you?” and many reply, “I’m good,” or worse still, “I’m doing good!” This begs the answer, what are you good at, do you taste good, or what kind of good deeds are you performing? It would be appropriate to say, “I am well.”
Another adjective of a non-medical variety is one I heard some years ago in the Midwest, having never heard the word electric used as a noun. I heard a lady say something to the effect, “With electric being so expensive, we are having difficulty paying our bills this summer.” In this case, electric is being used as a noun, but should be used to modify a noun. The sentence should be recomposed as, “With the cost of electricity being so expensive……” An example of the correct use of electric as an adjective would be as follows. “The electric range (electric modifies range) is a great invention.”
Keep your ears open for similar statements. Of a related nature, I found great levity when I once heard a youngster ask, “Do you speak France!”
There are many words in the English language where a simple vowel change may change the entire significance or meaning of a word. A set of words that came to mind recently where a simple vowel change attaches an entirely different meaning to the words. One of the words is admittedly one that is commonly heard in the Southern United States, where words easily understood by the locals in the area are not used in other parts of the country.
The word ‘squash’ can indicate a vegetable, usually yellow, or may imply an action of smashing or beating a material into a soft mass or pulp. It can also mean to quash, or suppress some fact, belief or activity. What happens if we change the ‘a’ to an ‘I?’ The word ‘squish’ indicates a sound, such as walking while wearing wet shoes, when a squishy sound is heard.
A word I heard recently, definitely of the colloquial variety, is that of ‘sqush,’ pronounced as ‘skwush’ or something like that. I had heard the word used previously, (of course it wasn’t in the future!) but not often or recently. It was used to indicate the act of packing clothing tightly into a bulging valise or suitcase.
So, a small change in a simple and insignificant vowel where all the other letters are the same can imply an entirely different meaning. This brings to my mind another example of the change of a simple letter can cause a different pronunciation, even though the letter that is changed is not a vowel. This word is ‘dissect.’ A person will almost always pronounce the word ‘dissent’ properly as dis-sent, but if the n is changed to a c, the speaker will unabashedly pronounce the word ‘dissect’ as di-sect. Why of why do so many people do this to me, making me cringe?
A random but related thought comes to mind regarding pronunciation and meaning, include some homophones (same sound) that have different and even opposite meanings. One example of this is in two words that are essentially pronounced at least similarly, depending upon local dialect, and that is in the word ‘many’ and in the prefix “mini-” which are somewhat counter to each other, since one refers to a large number and the other to a small size. Another related thought occurs when using the word ‘previously.’ Many say “a previous marriage” but few say “a future marriage!” Ostensibly this occurs since most are unable to prognosticate what will happen. One could more accurately say, “During my previous marriage” or even during my second or third marriage.” But this might require too much thought for some, requiring the expending of great energy.
Some ads are amusing and we remember them for years. Others we wish we didn’t have to ever hear again but they continue basis and even come back after an absence of perhaps months to years. Some of the Liberty Mutual ads are some that I personally wish I never had to hear and see again.
Two others that come to mind that are not onerous to hear but leave one wondering if the producers knew what questions they would leave in the minds of those who dissect (pronounced dis-sect please and not erroneously di-sect) the phrases and the message behind the ad. Before I reveal these two, spend a couple of moments thinking of ads that leave you wondering as to the validity of the attendant statements in the ads that might be repeated ad nauseum through radio, TV and the internet.
Most of you have no doubt seen the State Farm auto insurance where the young woman sitting a table (perhaps on a date). She knows how to stimulate a good conversation with her friend by asking, “Do you remember saying men are better drivers?” Then she withdraws briskly from her purse a check for being a good, accident-free and ticket-free driver, or at least I think she has met both of these standards. He is unable to answer since an irritating noise accompanied with the words “Silence.” So what is my problem with this ad. What if one black-haired, blue-eyed, 6-foot baseball player hits at a .350 average, will all who meet those characteristics also hit at a .350 clip? No! So if one female gets a check for accident-free, ticket-free driving for a given period, will all other females perform in a similar manner? Again, the answer is No! Statistics always have outliers, so a blond-haired, 5-foot baseball player might also hit at a .350 clip, not to mention that a male might also get a check for good driving.
The second one that irritates me greatly is found on the internet, and I get the ad almost daily. A promise is made to double your IQ if you will take a certain medication. The average IQ is between 90 and 100. Einstein had an IQ of approximately 160, so practically everyone would have an IQ greater that Einstein did. Even a low-functioning person with an IQ of 65 would be in the genius range if his or her IQ were doubled. So see how ridiculous that internet ad is? I hope you were entertained by these two irritants with which I must deal almost daily.
I know everyone has petty peeves, perhaps based on personality, experiences, and just how one is feeling at the moment. Sometimes we show frustration or annoyance at events which should cause little aggravation at other times. I know a little about a lot of things, and much about a few things. But when I know I am right regarding a given circumstance, but am stymied in getting the other person to understand really torques me no end.
Some particular examples that irritate me even years later are based on automobile repairs that were handled incorrectly, and my intelligence was questioned even though I had a grasp of what had really happened. In the first event I will relate, I was having a muffler replaced on a family vehicle and was in a hurry for another engagement. When I jumped into the car to leave hurriedly, the gear shift lever (automatic) would not go into reverse. When I informed the repair technician of my problem, he stated, “The transmission has nothing to do with the muffler. You probably need a transmission shop to repair your transmission.” I was having no prior transmission problems and he inferred I knew nothing if I thought the muffler and the transmission had an intrinsic working relationship. Angered, I insisted he put the car back on the rack. One of the muffler clamps was in the wrong position, and was against the shifting mechanism on the nearby transmission. He did not acknowledge his stupid comment, and continued to assume I knew nothing about cars.
On a second event, I took a refurbished VW to a specialty VW shop for a tune up. As I drove the vehicle away, I detected the odor of gasoline. When I returned to the shop, the repair personnel said there was no problem and there was no leak, that the gasoline underneath the carburetor was just a spill and would soon evaporate. Later, when my son was driving the vehicle, it became engulfed in flames and burned completely. I went back to the shop, where again no liability was admitted.
On a third occasion related to auto repair, a more costly problem occurred when I had the engine rebuilt on a vehicle just purchased. The first time it was driven at highway speed, the engine locked down. I had it towed to a nearby garage, and was informed the thermostat was not the correct one and the engine had overheated and was ruined. I learned that it had not been replaced when the engine was rebuilt and the person rebuilding the engine returned the old and mismatched thermostat to a new engine! His ungrammatical reply upon my return to complain was, “You didn’t say nothing about the thermostat!” A thermostat at the time cost approximately three dollars and would have saved many dollars!
I was out several thousand dollars on these memorable cases depicted hers. Caveat emptor only peripherally matches these experiences I related, but is alive and well!
Many of the changes in pronunciation for quite a number of words are evident when listening to newscasts or to speeches. I am sure there have been literally hundreds of changes over the past few decades. But have they really changed or has a lack of knowledge led to repetitive errors in pronunciation? Several of them that come to mind, since I am attuned to listen for errors in speech, are given as examples that I hear over and over.
First of all, is it correct to change pronunciations due to laziness, carelessness, or ignorance? Teachers that learn erroneous patterns of speech and pronunciations beget ignorance as they pass them on to their students. An gross example of one of these that I discussed in an earlier post, is dissect. I am convinced that the word dis-sect was commonly mispronounced as di-sect in some regions for so long that now almost no one employs the proper pronunciation. Dissect has two s’s and when divided into syllables, it is obvious that the prefix dis- should not be pronounced with a long ‘i’.
Although the previous example is perhaps the most mispronounced word in the English language, the focus of what I wish to pass on today is as follows:
Salmon Originally, salmon was pronounced as though there is no ‘l’ and was pronounced “sammon.”
Often Earlier in our history, the ‘t’ was silent, and and pronounced as ‘offen’
Sinister Most often pronounced today to rhyme with ‘minister’ but was originally pronounced as ‘sinster’
Are any of these points surprising to anyone? Please listen carefully to what you hear and see if you detect any of these errors.