Saturday, June 28, 2014

Return of the Grammar Nazi

Lately, as usual, I've been noticing odd pronunciations of words in the media, and by people I see in my daily life.

When I was young, or a young adult, I don't recall now having had this sensation, of hearing odd variations in speech, which bothered me the way they do now.

Is this sensitivity a condition of older age, of some aspect of cantankerous crotchety-ness? 

I often have the feeling that "wrong" pronunciation is an aspect of simple ignorance, or of a poor education.

People who pronounce words wrongly tend to think of language as a simple facility. For them, as long as others "understand" what you're "trying to say" correct grammar or pronunciation simply don't matter. Why speak or write correctly unless there's some reason to do so? Language, after all, is a social medium, whose life is defined by utility.

Lately, I've heard people pronounce the word student (or students) in ways that I don't recognize as typical, either of "American speech" or even as typically English-speaking. 

The way I learned to speak it was STOOd-nt, with the final "t" consonant sound closed off by the tongue against the roof of the mouth, or made soto voce with the upper nasal palate.

But now I hear people saying it these ways:

STOO-den or STOO-denz


or STOO-dun or STOO-duns

These variations suggest to my ear a distinctly germanic quality--which I imagine to be counter-intuitive, since German exerts very little influence on American culture these days. I've even heard this:


This last is quite germanic. E.g.: Studenten (plural of students in German). 

I'm not clear about why this word should be undergoing this subtle change. It's almost as if some English speakers are hearing the word as foreign in their own milieu. Who, after all, would devise independently to pronounce student as shtoo-denz in America, today, and why? It's baffling to me.

Hardly anyone has the courage (or the cheek) to correct mispronunciations these days. Everyone seems disinclined to be thought picky or fastidious. It almost seems worse than looking or sounding dumb. 

It seems a part of the current tendency toward politically correct behavior and non-discriminatory courtesy. Ignorance is almost a kind of excused difference.

Stupidity isn't a failure, but an honored (or at least protected) trait. We wouldn't want to hurt someone's feelings by suggesting that they've committed an error. It might cause pain. And pain, or embarrassment, is cruel, or awkward. It's more important to get along, to keep everyone happy, or at least happily ignorant, than it is to single out individual failures.

Maybe, in America, there is no such thing as a correct pronunciation. We're a big melting pot of different cultures and languages in this country. No pronunciation is correct, none is wrong. 

Maybe, in a hundred years, we'll pronounce students STOO-ns, suppressing the D and T consonants completely, simply because enough high school seniors in successive generations were just too lazy to learn how the word should be said. 

Language is a living thing, and we can neither predict where it will go, nor prevent its transformative progress through excessive rigor and regulation. 

My resistance to the decay of words such as student is a contrary motion to the continuing metamorphosis of our common vocabulary. I want the word students to sound like students forever, but a single life is a very brief blip on the graph of time. It's nothing more or less than a temporary convenience. How I feel about it is of no importance, in the larger scheme of the world's sidewise drift. I, like all the rest of the human race, am just a student of the language, not its guardian angel or rueful apologist.


Ed Baker said...

It grates [on me] when "they" say "concerning" or "concretizing" when the word shod be:

what is really 'concerning' to me is how "they" now spell "cafe" without the accent on the "e"
as in your next to last sentence... shouldnot that be
"whatsoever" ? or "what-so-ever" ?

Curtis Faville said...


I took the word out. It's unnecessary.

I believe it permissible, but perhaps technically an incorrect use.


Ed Baker said...

well moving right along... and tracking-back to your soccer post
I just read Jorge Luis Borges' answer to the question:

"Why is soccer (football) so popular?"

"Soccer's so popular because stupidity is so popular."

what I find disconnecting is that:

they displaced over 150,000 folks from their homes in that city where they are holding the World Soccer, called their homes, neighborhoods slums.... and tore it all down.

the other thing that grates on me ( and I guess most of the original ones are now dead)
is that Brazil and Argentina embraced/took in the largest numbers of Nazi who got out of Germany
with a $zillion in Holocaust Booty...

well... more importantly? About an hour ago I put up GEM on my Scribd place and have already had 25 "reads" !

Ed Baker said...

AGAIN these MORONS changed the word...

this time " d i s c o n c e r t i n g"

became "disconnecting"

JEESH... no wonder that there is so dmm little conversation/discussing/interchanges via these
non-stop blogs :

George Mattingly said...

Sorry I'm coming late to this post, but I find it compelling enough to comment. . . .

Something I first noticed as a pronunciation tic associated with the "Valley Girl" speak of the early 1980s is now becoming very common in most of the USA:

"couldn't" has become "could–ent" (an essentially one syllable word becoming a two syllable word — with the accent on the last syllable, "ent").

Same pronunciation shift for "wouldn't," "doesn't," "shouldn't," etc.

I confess that when I first started hearing this pronunciation shift I couldn't stop myself from thinking the speaker was stupid or drugged or . . . something.

It's becoming so ubiquitous now though that there really is no point in any attempt to pigeonhole the speaker.

I'm saving my head-shaking for expressions such as "going forward" or the use of "hate" as a noun (in lieu of "hatred").

Or, my all-time least favorite substitution: "utilize" in lieu of "use," which I see as a kind of dim-witted snobbery which adds not one microgram of additional meaning.

Curtis Faville said...


Thanks for the comment.

David Fleming, one of the co-announcers for the Giants, has a few mispronunciations which I find constantly irritating.

Ordinarily, Fleming sounds very intelligent, and can be honestly entertaining, but he often shows off his illiteracy.

He always pronounces wouldn't or wasn't as wunt or wudn't.

He will say "over top the wall" instead of over the wall or over the top of the wall.

He consistently makes the mistake of saying "too big OF a swing" instead of the correct "too big a swing."

He makes the usual mistake of saying "he has the most power of ANY outfielder in the league," when it should be "he has the most of ALL outfielders" or "he has more power than ANY OTHER outfielder" etc.

He'll misuse "which" as in "which he has the best one," not realizing that he's set up two subjects in the same phrase.

He consistently creates phrase transitions like "as to where" or "as if when with."

He falls into over-use of certain words or expressions. Lately, every time a ball bounces or rolls or ricochets, he'll say it "kicks"--as in "kicks off" or "kicks up" or "kicks foul" or "kicks back" etc. When a ball is rolling it doesn't "kick". "Kicks" might be a good description of a ball that bounces off the base of the wall, but it's become a cliché that Fleming can't stop using.

I've often thought of writing him an e.mail to ask him to clean up his speech, but I rather assume that his ego would likely be proof against any charges of shortcoming, eliciting a response like "fuck off, weenie, my language is just fine."

There are no watchdogs of public speech anymore. People will say almost anything, and directors and producers simply don't care, or are so naive themselves that they simply don't notice.

Ed Baker said...


Izned't it so man disconcerting

(opps. don't I should be utilizing
"concerting" ? or best... "concerning" ?

and... could-net they put the accent over the "e"
as it posed to be in San Jose ?

I could contue this line however the whether report is now speaking of them Calkifornia "fires are flaring"