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Crabby's Vocabulary Complaints

A couple of evenings ago, a young pundit who is a regular on the MSNBC political chat shows used the word, “efficacy.” Crabby Old Lady thought it was nice to hear the vocabulary of public discourse raised a smidgeon from its usual third-grade level.

Or, rather, she would have thought so if he had not pronounced the word, e-FIK-a-see. (Say that aloud; it sounds like a chicken dish.)

How is it possible, Crabby wondered, that someone could use a word correctly, as he did, while getting the pronunciation (correctly, EF-i-ka-see) so wrong?

The answer, of course, must be that he had only read the word and never heard it – not difficult in a era of declining literacy. This reminded Crabby of another word, one that is, apparently, undergoing a change in pronunciation.

She first heard it three or four years ago when a neighbor in Maine, a musician, told her he was going on tour for a month. She did not immediately understand what he was saying because he pronounced the word as “tore” - going on tore.

Huh? Since then, Crabby has heard this pronunciation with increasing frequency and it came up many times on the cable news channels last weekend as reporters spoke of the tourist – that is, toreist – dollars being lost up and down the east coast due to Hurricane Irene. Every reporter Crabby heard, without exception, pronounced it toreist.

In all Crabby's 70 years, until recently, that word was pronounced toor rhyming with moor, not more. When and why did this change?

The pundit's pronunciation of efficacy is simply wrong. But tour is not an obscure word that wouldn't be heard by everyone with some regularity. The change in its pronunciation sounds ignorant, or it could be sloppy, like dropping a g; it takes slightly more effort to say toor than tore.

Crabby Old Lady knows perfectly well that in the greater scheme of things, this falls at the bottom of any given list of 10,000 issues. Still, she finds both e-FIC-a-see and tore annoying.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: My Angels


I agree with you on pronunciation of tour. However, your comparison is interesting. Here in Oz, moor and more are both pronounced the same way. I didn’t think they were different where you are, although I can’t remember discussing moors in your country.

They way people speak varies, as you know, after living in New England. Ie; hot for heart. Caw for car. Ruff for roof. Crick for crek.

Tour I say as tewer (sewer).

How about you?

Peter, hjhood...
Crabby probably made a poor choice in transliterating tour. hjhood's tewer is closer to what she means.

Here in Jersey we pronounce moor and more exactly the same.

Of course we also drink cawfee, walk the dawg, and tawk on the phone.

Years ago my parents were kidding my brother and told him the word "antique" on a sign was (ANT-i-cue). It's still a family legend about the argument he got into at school about that word.

I moved from Texas to Pittsburgh, PA when I was ten. I thought my classmates were not very bright because they kept asking me the same questions again and again. Turned out they just wanted to hear me talk. I had a real Texas drawl. On my part I could never find the word youse , as in youse guys, in the dictionary. Youngest daughter married a New Yorker and for a while they lived near Chili pronounced chai- lie by the natives. Now I am in Ohio or as the neighbors say Oh-hi-ah. Context is important when we try to understand one another.

I noted, when I began to make friends from around the country due to online, that there is a big difference in regions for how words are said which doesn't explain plain out mispronunciation. Creek can be said creek or crick depending on from where you come. Sometimes it's purely a regional choice to take a word and use it differently. I live near Buena Vista ferry which is not pronounced as the Spanish would be but buuna. That is how the founders said it and it's what is correct however buena would be said elsewhere. Likewise some years back I got quite a shock to find out the Verde Vally in Arizona is the v-rde valley, not like the Spanish at all. I'd pronounced that one wrong for years even having spent years being there. It took someone from there to set me straight and I still have to think before I say it to get it right having learned wrong so many years. Mesa Verde though goes with the Spanish pronunciation. And on it goes.

Look at the amusing discourse Crabby started. My first husband was from Vah-maaaant, and he could turn the dialect on or off much to my delight.

One of our favorite mystery pronunciations applies to a small city in Utah--Tooele. How would you say it?

If you visited, a native might greet you with, "Welcome to Twillah."


I have been through this when I moved from Pennsylvania to Virginia.

Remember the story I wrote about my neighbor inviting me to a lecture about WHEELS, which I thought would be cars, only to get there and find out the speaker was an attorney explaining all the ends and outs of WILLS!

That was a regional dialect misunderstanding, but the kids today have a very bad habit of saying,"Me and Bill are going out." Putting ME first is very prevalant now.They almost all say it that way.

If you say "Thank you" to a young person they will not say "You're welcome". They will respond "No problem" which sounds to me as though they think I really AM a pain in the neck but they are going to let me slide this time.

I love to read and discover new words but I'm also profoundly deaf. I probably can't pronounce hardly anything correctly. I'm just very happy to be understood and tolerated.

Air Force Brats never forget that pronunciation is local. The dropping of G in ing by news agencies and politicians really goes up my back. Vocabulary and elocution are the way we communicate -- and has been dumbed down to the extent that people get snarly if the word you choose has more than 1 or 2 syllables.

I enjoy regional dialects and the way they change words and rejoice when I find a human being who loves complexity and poetry in spoken language. It's exhilarating to converse when vocabulary is rich and varied, just as it's exhilarating to be in a rich, varied place in nature.

I guess I am a crank, but I think a word should be pronounced the way the dictionary indicates.

Regional dialect may be acceptable in that region, but we all speak the same language and correct pronunciation should be used no matter where you live.

When I was a child the natives pronounced Colorado with a broad A. When we reached High School our speech teacher informed us that we said it wrong. It should be pronounced Color-ah-do. I have never mispronounced it since. Visitors from New York pronounced it Colo-ray-do, to our amusement.

More on Utah:

Children are cheldren, and they are prayshus, not precious. Milk is melk, field is feld, meal is mill and 'oh my heck' or 'freakin' are cuss words. An alarming number of grown women speak with the high-pitched tones of 4-year-olds. Unlike southerners, Utahns do indeed drop their final 'g,' and speak with an unusual glottal stop that I can't spell but eats the ends of words. And it's Utahns, not Utahans, y'all.

Sometimes the mispronunciations actually rearrange the consonants in a word, or even whole syllables. When I lived a while in the Texas hill country, I noticed that all the locals referred to Pedernales Falls State Park as ‘Purrd’nalis.’
And then of course there are the ‘official’ pronunciations that function as filters in a game of Spot the Outsider. Like the way Australians say the name of their country. If you don't slide straight over the first syllable as though it wasn't there they know immediately that you’re from elsewhere.

Also have noticed how tour became tore. And how most words with "au" sound went from "aw" to "ahh" -- like auto to otto, and Claude to Clod. And I really hope I don't hear another person confuse the word "anecdote" with "antidote"!

and then there is spelling. Today, on FB, there was a "bowel" that should have been bowl (ICK!) and "aloud" that should have been allowed. YIKES.

Furore is one that trips me up. I've heard it on the good old BBC with eee at the end or silent.

A native Mississippian, I remember with delight a gardening call-in radio program on Mississppi Public Broadcasting some years ago. The calls were from throughout the state and from individuals that I would guess represented different races and different educational and economic levels. The voices were a symphony of different dialects. All the call-in gardeners posed a question or related a gardening adventure or misadventure in leisurely cadences, often turning one-syllable words into multisyllables. The disembodied voices all seemed to qualify the callers as excellent storytellers.

Years ago, I taught 8th grade, and grammar was a big part of the English curriculum (as was diagramming, which, I think, was the best way to learn sentence structure). Anyway, I had to learn it before I could teach it, and now I can't forget any of it. That ol' "between you and I" mistake drives me crazy. And I still keep hearing people pronounce nuclear as "nucular." -- although looking at the word in print could make you think you should pronounce the end of the word as if it were the word "clear." American English grammar is complicated, and I think that as we elder English teachers die out, so will all the rules. Times change. So do languages. But I don't have to like it.

A new car salesman in South Carolina once told me that Ford Focus is a "whirl car."

I had to have him repeat the statement twice before I figured out what he meant.

"You know." he stated impatiently. "It's sold all over the whirl."

Elaine, our family is holding out. My daughter is just as pedantic as I am. She can spot an errant apostrophe at fifty paces and '10 items or less' drives her crazy. My (homeschooled) grandchildren are already showing signs of maintaining this family tradition. My father would have been very proud of them.

I think a lot of the misspellings on Facebook are due to the fact that you can use your smartphone's voice recognition and "talk" your post.

I do that occasionally and when I got home after the earthquake, I talked into my smartphone that "my kitties were doing fine". But, it typed out "my titties were doing fine"!! I laughed out loud at that and thought for a moment to send it as is but decided to go back and correct.

Having spent most of my life in the South and having my accent found amusing by some, I am fairly sensitive to the pronounciation of words. In fact, I divorced a husband who was constantly "correcting" my speech.

My daughter is a linguist, so I often bounce words off her to see what is "mispronunciation" and what is dialect.

Much of what we think is 'bad English" turns out to be dialect. I am going to ask her how she would pronounce efficacy.

Words have always been like flowers -- sometimes people fall in love with them, and then are just a little crestfallen after they move, and now their favorite flower is nowhere to be found.

But as someone said, a rose is a rose is a rose.

My favorite dialect story was from a girl who was visiting Boston and spotted an interesting looking car that she did not recognize. Her Boston friend told her the name of it.

But when she returned home later and pointed out one to her friends, they howled at her insistence that it was called a Common Gear....

How about pitcher for picture? This one always gets me!

I too lived in Texas as a youngster and AF brat. We moved to Florida and boy did they howl when they heard that "ya'll hurry back" from this kid.

There are those on-line dictionaries like that a have a speaker logo next to the word and will verbally sound out the word when you click on it.

It saved me the embarrassment of more than once when using such words as piqued, which can come out as peekcued, or jalapeno that looks like it should be pronounced with a hard J - jalopino.

I worked for many years as a transcriptionist -- not medical, except conferences. I transcribed speeches, interviews and almost anything captured on audio tape. e-Fik-acy was a European pronunciation, a bit like FITA-mins (vitamins to us) - I don't believe I ever heard an American mispronounced efficacy [but most of those who used the word were research MDs].

In this increasingly global age, I believe pronunciation, especially of English words, is going to wobble to a new standstill incorporating people from several backgrounds.

Lee: Those Utah intriguing sounds can go on endlessly. My wife's favorite: She was amazed on her first trip to a Utah market to have a clerk tell her where the "freshly squohzed orange juice" was.

I've noticed the recent peculiar tour pronounciation and I thank you for pointing it out. I thought it was just me. Local does matter, having lived in Walla Walla for a mere 10 years I found the nearby town of Touchet, is pronounced Tooshey, and there's a street here named Sumach (like the tree) and it's pronounced soo-mash. Having lived in Oregon - Ory-gun not Oregone, I can understand the newbies confusion. I used to cringe when Lake Chelan (long a) was prounounced Lake Chelawn on "Frasier." Goldurn tenderfoots. ;-)

WOW. A hot button for so many people!!

Where I grew up, many people pronounced Washington as Warshington, Detroit as DE-troit, umbrella as UM-brella and so on. I heard other pronunciations after I moved away, and I gradually learned to say them correctly (Thank Heavens!)

Possumlady just made my day!

Having consulted a dictionary for correct pronunciations for some years, it was a real shock to me when I learned that dictionaries are written to reflect prevailing useages - not to set them. I am one more person guilty of having used the English version of efficacy for lo these many years.

The pronunciations of some words have switched back and forth in my lifetime - at least within the scientific/engineering community that has cradled me.

Hmmm, I've never heard either of those words pronounced as you've shown them, but I imagine I will if I'm around enough people from different regions of the U.S. (or from different countries).

There are thousands of 'em. Like "inexORable" (rhymes, I guess, with "tourable") instead of "inEXorable." Et Wallah!

My! My! What a topic. Lots of interest shown by so many.

I want to add my two cents worth but not about local dialects.

I don't care how common the misuse of "Bring" in the place of "Take becomes, I'll always say take it or leave it instead of bring it or leave it and any number of other verbal abortions others come up with.

I think what you heard was a definite mispronunciation. I hear a lot of those these days -- words that I would think most would know how to say correctly.

Am always intrigued with how accent placement is abused. The most flagrant one, which also has a mispronunciation of the initial "I" vowel, is Iraq. The "I" is like the "i" in "it" not "I" like "Idaho." The accent is on the final syllable, not the first one. At least this is how I understand the country is pronounced but I hear officials who I would think would know better using the incorrect form.

In my profession we have to be sensitive to an individual's natural speech including -- is what sounds like a mispronunciation to me actually a dialect? If so, then it's likely acceptable.

Then there's the whole business of English spoken with grammatically different constructs -- foreign sounding to some. Not only that but there are other differences broadly across the country -- think of that Boston "r"' and Maine has some -- but even within a state or smaller geographic unit there can be differences. Some are custom, some are due to social and/or educational levels.

The day when broadcasters were expected to use a standard American English that reflected no dialect are past. Likewise, the high expectation that words used would receive a dictionary preferred pronunciation, and all proper nouns (names, etc.) would also be pronounced accurately, has also become a defunct practice. Standards have been lowered for a variety of reasons, I think.

Was interested in the comment about Ohio and the writer's description of how she was hearing the state's name pronounced. As a native of that state, that's not how we pronounced it at all. We simply say, "O-HI-o" not "ah" for that final "o."

The pitcher for picture bothers me, too.

I am from West Virginia originally and mis-pronounced many words! However, I was trained to be a radio announcer in the 1950s and was forced to learn very quickly what was then considered "propery radio announcing", which was a very flat and correct American English. The best radio announcers in those days were considered to be from Denver, CO ... and that was the ideal we tried to live up to. It certainly smoothed out my WV Mountaineer version of the language considerably!

My pet peeve with most Americans today is their pronounciation of the word "our"... most pronounce it like the word "are" instead of the proper way I learned it. It should be pronounced exactly like the word "hour" and sounding out all of the vowels!

Radio announcers nowadays are my real peeve! They have no ideal on which to base their accents!

At least the good old BBC is still holding to their standards, for the most part, and maintaining their idea of "BBC English", which I love to listen to.

There is a nearby town named "Monticello". The locals pronounce it mon-ti-sell-oh. It is always easy to know an outsider by their use of the Jefferson pronunciation--mon-ti-CHELL-oh.
And I was totally confused in NYC when the subway ticket booth employee asked if we were going to get off at the "HOUSE-ton" stop. For me, it is always "HUSE-ton"

Just got our power back!!
Catching up on your posts.
As for dialects, they are fascinating and belong.
However, when we lived in Germany, it was very interesting to see that the Germans had their dialects but they all were taught hochdeutch in school. So, no problem when you talked to an educated German or for them to talk to eachother.
Sort of like the kings English!

Ronni: once again you have touched a subject dear to all our hearts, one way or another. As a teacher of translation into English in Italy, I have "discovered" all sorts of pronunciations, not to mention grammar. Funnily enough, the grammar mistakes ESL speakers make are mostly very different from those native speakers make. For example, ESL speakers never make the "it's" vs. "its" mistake. I have found current English "usage" very frustrating though ... it's become harder to come down hard on "between you and I" and "If I would have known" (though both make me nauseous, if not more, and though both are even made, unfortunately, by educated brains like my beloved Pres. Obama), because they have become SO common in the US. And if "native speakers" are "doing it", what do I tell my students? Reality vs. theory.
In any case, it is very refreshing to come here and find people like you and Elaine of Kalily who are on my same wavelength. To Copcar, may I just say that the prescriptionist vs. descripitionist approach to dictionaries has a long, long history.

Laura--No doubt!

You sure tore me up talking about that chicken dish. ;)

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