February 04, 2003

Ok, for a long time

Ok, for a long time my biggest linguistic pet peeve was when people would carelessly write "Ghandi" instead of "Gandhi" (compounded by the fact that they usually didn't even care). This has now been totally eclipsed by all the idiots out there—YES YOU ARE IDIOTS—who persist in going on and on about how dumb the President is for being unable to say the word "nuclear".

There are excellent linguistic reasons why people (and it's a whole lot more people than just the President) do this. The process is called metathesis, and it is one that happens in many languages. It tends to happen where the reversed syllable ends up making the word easier to pronounce—in the case of "nuclear", the standard pronunciation has a front vowel between two back vowels, but the metathesised version has all back vowels. Another commonly-cited example in English is the word "comfortable", where the T and R are switched, allowing the following schwa vowel to drop out entirely and reducing the word to three syllables. Crucially, this is a regular phonological process affecting speakers of many languages, and not something that is indicative of intelligence.

It bothers me most, though, because there are so many totally legitimate things to bash the President for, many of which do impugn his intelligence (others his ethics, morality, and wisdom); calling him on how he pronounces one word makes it look like we need to grasp at straws. We really really don't.

"And as with most things I bet the truth is somewhere in the land of moderation. Milk and meat won't kill you, lack of milk and meat won't kill you, milk and meat have some good things for you in them, and they also have some bad things for you in them. Your mileage and your diet may vary and don't forget to exercise." --Zach Miller Posted by blahedo at 1:48am on 4 Feb 2003

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