Tomato, tomahto…


I am a fairly good speller, but I have my weaknesses. I always have trouble with sheriff – which letter doubles, the R or the F? What about ceiling – is that EI or IE? (I have to write it in the air with my finger every time.) Knowledge – to D or not to D? And judgment, shouldn’t there be an E in there somewhere, and if not, why not?  Yet I can correctly spell words like eccentric, appalling, and Renaissance. I am a stickler for correct pronunciation too, both out of respect for the English language and for fear of sounding dumb. However, I’m not perfect there, either. For years I thought the chief dweller on Mount Olympus was “Zee-uss.” “Zooss?” Who the hell was that, and why didn’t I know the right way to say this guy’s name? Because I had never heard it out loud, that’s why. In my younger years people would pat me on the head for such verbal mistakes as though I were some kind of child prodigy, too busy reading books to spend time in the real world. Now that I am well past that stage, errors like that just sound ignorant. All I can do is shrug and smile and try to say it right next time.

But I am not so innocent and eager to please as I seem. Sometimes my dark side comes out. Like a child reaching for a box of cookies on top shelf of the cabinet, I feel sort of forbidden glee in pronouncing selected words incorrectly. I like to scramble the word soufflé into “soof-ell,” which makes my culinary-minded friends twitch. I have been known to say “purpledicular” instead of “perpendicular.” When I come across a phrase in an older text such as “divers items of wealth” I whisper to myself, “divers, divers!” when I know darned well it’s pronounced “diverse.” I also take malicious pleasure in mispronouncing the old-style letter S, the one that looks like a lower-case F, in a lisping Daffy Duck accent: “Get fome Griftle of Beef from the lower Part of the Brifket, cut in Pieces the Bignefs of two Fingers, and put them in Water; take alfo some Griftle of a Leg of Mutton…” (The Whole Duty of a Woman, 1701, Gutenberg digital edition)

Good spelling and pronunciation isn’t a positive moral quality like being kind to animals or working with the homeless or listening patiently to your great aunt’s stories of her childhood for the hundredth time. However, having these things makes me feel warm inside and slightly smug, on a strictly personal level. I would be equally proud if I could play the trumpet, which I can’t to save my life, or if I could paint or draw, in my case the level of those abilities being so low that experts have measured them in the minus range.

So, like everybody else in the world, I am loud and proud where I can be. Anybody for zabaglione and escargot? Mmmmmm….

*image from Desktop Nexus

About Julia French

Writer of contemporary horror fiction.
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2 Responses to Tomato, tomahto…

  1. A.S. Akkalon says:

    Haha, I think purpledicular is my new favourite word. I love this post. It is a real problem for people who read a lot that a high proportion of their vocabulary consists of words they’ve never heard spoken. And if you throw in US vs UK English things only get worse. My simple solution is never to speak to people using words more difficult than, “Where is the cat?”

    Liked by 1 person

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