Sunday, September 25, 2005

Flying the Big Words

One of life’s most perplexing questions has to do essentially with self-improvement. When one does a rare and laudable thing, that is, when one goes about the much-despised task of strengthening one’s vocabulary base, and succeeds—what next?

You have the new words in hand, so to speak. They merely wait to be tossed like darts, vehicles of intellectual precision. Unfortunately, the darts have to emerge from between your lips. It’s here that things can get painful.

Earlier today I watched as one of my brothers made a valiant but ill-fated attempt to put some lingual clout in his trash-talking. He made a reference to the “ig-NO-min-ee-us”* end that awaited the opposing volleyball team (of which I was a member). Instantly voices rang out (my mom and another bro, both on my team) to correct him: “That’s ‘ig-NAWM-in-us!'”*

Needless to say, my brother's smack lost some of its snap. Out of pity, I won’t mention his name.

All this brings up a fairly urgent question which is all the more pressing for an online community of linguaphiles. Once we’ve acquired the verbal firepower, how do we get started deploying it—in real-time? We taxi the big words out of the hangar and there they wait, engines idling, on the runway. How do we get them in the air?

The question is made all the more perplexing by the fact that many words are not apparently pronounced the way they ought to be pronounced. We read them silently, rehearse them carefully, pronounce them with panache, and wince at the result.

How to avoid such a faux pas? In the aftermath, the fact that the blunder was inspired by a bright and well-intentioned mind hardly soothes the sting.

Clearly, there are ways to get around this problem. What do you all suggest?

* The word, in case you’re totally in the dark, is ignominious. To be fair, it was a relatively ambitious term for recreational putdown. And yes, I do come from one of those twisted language/literature-loving families.


Blogger aPaulo11 said...

The attempt by the original speaker reads much closer to the actual word than the correction by the losing team.

6:04 AM  
Blogger Ariel said...

Indeed. I've given up trying to reproduce phonetic keys in Blogger, but the correct pronunciation is something like: "ig-neh-min-ee-es" (the first and last vowel sounds being short).

The dual error at work on the volleyball court that day is illustrative of the embarassing inconsistencies that can stem from this problem.

2:22 PM  
Blogger aPaulo11 said...

A very clever comment. But my greatest hope was realized just today. After the court assembled and evidence was taken of the original pronuciation of the word in question at the historic v-ball court, it was unquestionably judged "correst as first stated." Now, if you had approached the entire post with dripping irony, your point would be quite undeniable. However, since you don't, the post becomes even more ironic, your point somehow even more doubtless true (proved, as it were, by you!), and the whole thing rather funny.

I think a confession is in order. The man who can admit his error is, um, a good man. : )

P.S. I don't deny I have personal interests at stake. : )

5:16 PM  
Blogger Andrew Simone said...

The on-line answer (which I both love and hate) is look it up on "Webster's New English", or for the more stodgy (read: me) Oxford English (those Webster people are commie bastards) and listen to the pronunciation.

While we are on the subject or pronunciation did you know that the word "forte", as in strength, has a silent e? Most people do not know, hence the current, acceptable, variable pronunciation in most lexicons. I lament the concession: Etymologically, it comes from the French, NOT the Italian.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Ariel said...

Hoping for a confession, eh? I feel a pleasant degree of separation from this skirmish because I'm merely reporting the events that transpired on that fateful day. ;) But, for what it's worth:

I assumed the "corrected" version of ignominious was accurate until I looked in the dictionary prior to this post. It was at that point that I realized that neither pronunciation was right on.

I should have played this up more in the post itself, but I preferred to highlight the sad fate of the losing team, and its brash spokesman.

overlyconscious, I can't believe the "e" in forte is silent. Suddenly I've lost all confidence in my spoken eloquence. Is nothing certain?!

2:31 PM  
Blogger Andrew Simone said...

"Is nothing certain?"

Few things are, Ariel, and what is is never as certain as we wish.

7:05 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

ok I had ignominious right (you made me doubt myself and my understanding of phonetic keys in the dictionary) but forte... seriously? it's pronounced 'fort?' ...seriously?

9:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After doing somethinking on the whole "FortE" and "ForT" difference and looked it up in a few different online dictionaries i realized that us silliy little English Speakers (or rather American speakers as it were) have probably mistaken Forte as the root word for they have somewhat similar meanings. However the entimology would suggest that they are not anywhere near cousins, with the forte having a french root and fortitude being a latin root....perhaps this is the reason for the mix-up. it has been now noted and added to my "wow that's weird" database :)

5:31 AM  
Blogger Ariel said...

I think I'll just delete the word "forte" from my vocabulary. ;)

But seriously...where does one go from here?

10:22 AM  
Blogger martin said...

My favourite strange pronunciation is 'misled' read out loud as 'MIZZled'. In general, though, VRP should welcome the use of adventurous vocabulary by everyone, even those who have only seen them in books. There used to be a strong moral element in disdain for the autodidact, presumably on the basis that true gentlemen learned their language by conversation with their educated peers. If we want more people to use a wider range of words, we should not discourage them by jeering at them when then try.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Ariel said...

"VRP should welcome the use of adventurous vocabulary by everyone, even those who have only seen them in books...we should not discourage them by jeering at them when then try."

Darn it, Martin. Everything you say here makes such good sense. I agree with you completely.

The fact that I spent part of the post jeering at someone who was, in fact, trying, must not be counted as evidence against me. Family members don't count; we all know this. ;)

1:26 PM  
Blogger aPaulo11 said...

Come, come,

You seem to miss my point, I don't mind the jerring (so, I reveal myself... I am the humble reason for this post) because of the humorous backfire it entaled. Seeing that the big man, (your father) exonerated my mistake, and, in fact, turned the original ruling on its head by declaring my pronunciation correct, I find it funny that you wrote a post unintentionally revealing your unfamiliarity with the word's pronunciation.

Moreover, let's not forget that the brash speaker was the winner of the game when the word was used, which makes you the-, well... : )

I suppose this is an excellent sports example of the power of words.

So is my defense,

8:47 PM  
Blogger Ariel said...

"You seem to miss my point..."

I refuse to back down. Both your initial pronunciation and so-called correction were off the mark. You deserve some credit for coming closer than your detractors. But this is offset by the fact that your team lost the series, 3-2. Ha! ;)

8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Fort' is actually used in French to mean 'good at something', like fortitude. For example, 'je suis fort à la foot' means 'I am good at football.
Similarly 'fortE' seems to come from an italian musical term meaning strong or loud, giving similar connotations.

2:28 AM  

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