Sunday, November 1, 2009

On poor and pore pronunciation

Now that newspapers are going on-line they have one more thing to watch when it comes to quality and professionalism. In print there was spelling, grammar and fact checking. Now, with Internet podcasts and the like, pronunciation can be added to the list.

When I was in school in the '50s and '60s I had some really bad experiences on account of my pronunciations. I said poor, pronouncing it pore, and my teacher made me stand in front of the class while she corrected me for the edification of all.

The word was pronounced poor, poo, and not poh. "A pore is a hole in your skin," she told me. If you say pore when you mean someone had little money it makes you sound like you're poor; It makes you sound as if you come from the poor side of town. It makes you sound like a farmer from down east.

She was right, on all counts. I was poor, or maybe I should be honest and say pore. Us pore folk shouldn't put on airs and use pronunciations above our place. And I was but one generation removed from a farm in eastern Ontario.

I always thought my teacher was right — it was poor and not pore. But I also thought that she, and the others who humiliated students because of their pronunciations, were the ones who lacked class.

How I wish those teachers were still alive today. I could introduce them to Paul Berton, the editor-in-chief of The London Free Press, who could chastise them for their pronunciations. They might get their backs up but my money would be on Paul. Times and pronunciations have changed.

Paul tells us that zoology is good example of a word badly mangled in conversation today. My teachers would agree. "Never say z-oh-ology. It's pompous," they'd say. "It's zoo-ology." Paul would challenge them, "It is correctly pronounced z-oh-ology."

Unfortunately, he wouldn't stop while ahead. He'd continue by admitting, "(saying) it that way makes you sound like a snotty scientist." They would tell Paul an adult does not use the word snotty as an adjective.

My spelling is a fright. I'm sure, if you've followed this blog at all, I have made your hair stand on end with my creative spelling. I'm sorry, but I do try. I even pronounce February as 'Feb-roo-air-ee." I want to remember to put in the first 'r'.

Some of my teachers tried to knock that out of me. "Just because a word is spelt one way does not mean it is pronounced that way," they said. Other teachers demanded just the opposite, "Remember the 'roo' in February." Paul and Daniela, quoted in Paul's column, agree with the rooites. I checked my dictionary and sure enough the pronunciation favoured is 'roo'. Yes!

I wondered what the Internet would add to this discussion. I found a site that claims to be: "a free online talking dictionary of English pronunciation." Feeling mischievous I typed in mischievous . Ah . . . Teachers one, Paul zero.

My wife objected to my site selection. "That speaker is English!" Well of course he's English; I'm looking into English pronunciation. "Just type in jaguar and see how he pronounces it. Or yogourt." (The site didn't even like my spelling for yogourt, taken right from my Astro yogourt container. "Just anything goes when it comes to spelling yogourt," my said and went back to making soup. She's not fond of the stuff whether it's yogourt or yogurt.)

I tried zoology. It pumped out both pronunciations. Teachers two, Paul one.
I tried forsythia . Teachers two, Paul two.
I tried harassment . Teachers three, Paul two. (Paul wants the emphasis on the 'har' not the 'rass.'
I then tried Iraquis . Hmmm?

I'm afraid that at my age I suffer from tinnitus and I'm even a little deaf. I'm finding I am no longer a good judge of this stuff. Oh, I could still pick Eliza Doolittle out from a crowd before old Higgins got hold of her, but I'm not a good judge of this stuff anymore. I swear that I heard not 'Eye-raqis,' which Paul hates, a position with which my teachers would agree, nor did I hear the short first "i." I heard a third pronunciation! Sure sounds like, "Eee-rack-ees" to me.

I give up. I'll step back and let my teachers and Paul duke it out. Now, what else do I have on my schedule today? ....uh, is that pronounced skedule?

Oh, and the word poor . I checked its pronunciation using my Internet English buddy and he, it turns out, did not have a proper upbringing either. He said pore!

1 comment:

  1. I'm an English teacher in Spain and pronunciation is the bane of my life. Not the Spaniards' pronunciation, mind you! Bless them, they're speaking a foreign language, of course they have an accent. No, the arguments that bubble along amongst English teachers as to whether the British English, the American English or some random combination of the two should be taught. That's not even taking into account the regional variations in pronunciation of either country!

    To stick my two penny's worth in:


    I'm not saying I'm right - I'm just saying!

    I'm baffled by yoghurt though! There may be several spellings, but I've never come any other pronunciation than YOG-ert (phonetically!)

    But....am I the only person in the world who is ready to kill whenever they hear "nuclear" pronounced "nucular"? AAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH.

    Still, variety makes the world go round, eh? Or is that money? Am I mixing my metaphors as well as my idioms and my pronunciation?

    C'ést la vie. Que sera sera.

    Ah, see, it's so much easier in a foreign language!