Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Learning | How Is that Word Pronounced?

Recently, I participated in a conversation about words we read. Sometimes we understand from the context, but imagine the pronunciation differently from the accepted norm.

For example, a friend said he always understood what awry meant, whenever he came across it in a book.  (The word means something is not working correctly or happening in the expected way; another meaning is to be in a position that is not straight or neat.) It is not a commonly spoken word, so he always guessed that it rhymed with story. 

I looked up the etymology of awry. It has origins in Middle English; the first syllable, comes from the root a-, which means on. The second syllable, wry, is an adjective that means twisted or bent. It is pronounced \ə-ˈrī\ (uh-RYE.)

A relative of mine guessed incorrectly about poignant  and Des Moines--perhaps because she had studied French for years, yet never heard these words with French origins pronounced out loud. 

Since she doubted Americans would say these words like Parisians would, she overcorrected for the use of these words in English, and therefore pronounced the g in poignant and the s in Des Moines (actually, both of them.)

Several of my co-workers were puzzled by the word acme as children. Many of us had the childhood experience of watching a certain cartoon coyote, who was always ordering kits from a company called Acme, which seemed to make an Acme version of everything, even things we had never imagined. I never had a problem with the word. I must have heard my older siblings pronouncing it correctly, which makes the word rhyme with acne. A few people seem to read that letter c with a soft s sound, but it needs the hard k sound.

Tiny Martini: Martini Mello Smello Scratch and Smell Sticker, from Enokson's photostream on Some rights reserved.

The daughter of a co-worker thought the dry cleaning process, martinizing, was pronounced "martini zing."  I like her way of saying it. It sounds like the feeling a person might get after drinking a martini.

It was chemist Henry Martin who pioneered a speedier process that was deemed safe to use in a dry cleaning facility. 

Before the martinizing process came along, dry cleaners had to send clothing out to facilities in sparsely populated areas, and customers had to wait a long time for them to come back.  

Anyway, since the word for the process was derived from Mr. Martin's last name, it is simply pronounced "Martin" plus "-izing," in the same way we say sanitizing or humanizing.

One Hour Martinizing, from Thomas Hawk's photostream on Some rights reserved.

If the word martinizing sparks your imagination, you might consider reading some cozy, clean stories. SSJCPL has a surprisingly long list of fiction books related to the dry cleaning industry. 

Send me your confusing words. Send me your friends' confusing words! I'll do my best to explain them.

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