Everyday Words…. By Nancy Brophy

English is a language that lurks in dark alleys, beats up other languages and rifles through their pockets for spare vocabulary.

I see this a lot on Facebook, maybe because most of my friends are writers, but each time I laugh. Obviously, they do, too.

English is tough. One word can have multiple pronunciations and entirely different meanings. Did I tear the book only to have a tear run down my cheek? Yes, I know this is a lousy sentence, but the point is good.

Lots of words I grew up mispronouncing. Harass is such a word. Until recently I pronounced it with the accent on the last syllable. Ha RASS. It seems I am wrong. The word is HAR ass. Pecan is another one. Pecan is not a Pee Can – that is something you keep under the bed.  Yet, Rachel Ray mispronounced it on her show last week.

Martha Stewart, on the other hand, makes me crazy when she talks about herbs (using the pronunciation with the H).

There are some who question if English is my first language. Believe me, I have no other options. And I lack the ear to learn Spanish, French or Swahili. Languages with different alphabets like Greek leave me completely baffled unless the letters are on the front of a sorority house.

Then there are words that are simply wrong. Say this sentence out loud. “I parked across the street.” Here’s how it sounds when I say it. “I parked acrosst the street.” When did across get a T? The phrase ‘for all intents and purposes’ turns out not to be ‘intensive purposes’. Who knew?

Every year new words are added to the dictionary – like sexting, aha moment and – everyone’s favorite – f bomb.

There are redneck words like initiate.  “My wife ate two hot dogs and initi ate a pound of fries.” And southern words (which are a subset of the redneck category). impa tickler “Whatcha doin tonite?” “Nuttin impa tickler.”

I doubt we’ll be seeing those words in Webster any time soon, but you never know.

If you are a reader, your vocabulary is large, but some words still surprise you when spoken. Quinoa is pronounced “keen wa”. Some words I love saying because of the way they roll off the tongue like “Quixotic”.

If you are author you are both blessed and cursed by auto-correct. Those of us who can’t spell frequently choose one word when we mean another or autocorrect chooses for us – frequently to our horror.

How do you say the word – wash? Or creek? Do you drink pop or soda? The part of the country where you were raised influences your language. Do you say – you guys, or you all or y’all?

My parents would have had a fit if I said, “me and Johnny”. Yet recently I’ve come to hear that usage a lot.

Since I started with a language joke, I’ll end with one. “Let’s eat gramma. Let’s eat, gramma.” Punctuation can save lives.

As writers, words are our life and it’s imperative we set the bar high. Jokes on Facebook are as good a way to do it as I know.

Posted on September 29, 2012, in General and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I speak two languages: English and bad English.


  2. My mom was a grade-school English teacher who insisted all five of her kids pray the nightly Rosary with her. Imagine my surprise when I learned to read and “Mary can see without seen” turned out to be “Mary conceived without sin.” The memory still gives me a chuckle!


  3. This post is too funny. It’s especially funny when you read it while Nancy is commenting behind you 🙂


  4. Nice post, Nancy. The thing that gets me about words is how easy they disappear. I remember knowing that word, but can’t seem to come up with it when I need it. This frequently happens when watching Jeopardy, when trying to remember something I read in the paper yesterday, and frequently while writing. Fortunately, when writing I can just put [amazing word goes here] and come back to it when my mind is not running low on batteries.


  5. Great post, Nancy! I wish I would have paid more attention to English in school, but if you’d told me that I would eventually be a writer, I would have called you a liar 😉


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