Monday, March 11, 2013

Words Unsaid

Once I discovered that I could read books for myself, I was no longer at the mercy of my family readers. I picked my own books and reveled in the luxury of being able to read them --- myself --- whenever I wanted. However long I wanted. I in fact used to get in trouble, at home and at school, for "reading too much". At least I wasn't out robbing old people, right?

Reading only to myself resulted in an exponential total books read. It's also resulted in my knowing words that I do not, in fact, know how to pronounce. People don't use them. Seriously. "Wont" was a word Jack London used a lot in Call of the Wild; not many eight year olds hear that in everyday use. "Wan" is another one.

What about Latin? You know, the dead language? How exactly do you say "vici", of "Veni, Vidi, Vici?" Is it like "victim" or is it like "vice"? It's hard to talk about a show Doberman you like (Protocol's Veni Vidi Vici) when you can't actually pronounce the whole of her registered name; her call name is Fifi.

It's hard to sound cool reciting Ginsberg's "Howl" from memory if you trip up at the word "dynamo" (it's pretty early on, if you're not in the know).

I also try very hard to say peoples' names correctly. At work, I'm the one who makes the library's phone calls to people who have available holds. I'm occasionally confronted with a first name I have never seen before, or heard. Or heard of. When possible, I Google it and listen to a pronunciation of it (a few baby names web sites have this, apparently. Thank God.) Sometimes even that doesn't work, and then I pray for a voicemail. That way, I can say "An item you ordered" instead of butchering their given name.

I try to keep these things in mind while I'm writing. I say sentences out loud, to see how they fit together. I ask myself if I've picked the fifty cent word, instead of the one that people will be more familiar with. I ask myself if I've picked a ridiculous name, that nobody will actually know how to pronounce. I've read entire books without knowing how to say one of the main character's names. Case in point, L. M. Montgomer's Emily of New Moon trilogy; I know how to say Emily, obviously, but her best friend's name is Ilse. Do you say it kind of like "Isles", the other word for islands? Do you use a hard "i", as with the word "Is"? Is the "e" at the end pronounced in an "a" manner (like Elsa, but with an I?) Of course, if I watched the television series (it's on Hulu), I'd have the answer already.


  1. My friends and I once had a big discussion about words we'd only seen in writing and once we heard them out loud, we were shocked at how they were actually pronounced. In my head, I was pronouncing "infrared" to rhyme with "impaired"; another fun example is how one of my friends used to think "gazebo" was pronounced "gays-bow".

    I think this issue also comes up often in sci-fi/fantasy, where names are frequently made up. I'll admit that sometimes I come up with names for places, and I'm not even sure how they're supposed to be pronounced!

    1. Being from the land of beaches and things, I knew what a gazebo was, but I thought infrared was pronounced like that oo!

      I have trouble with fantasy names sometimes. I actually put down the "Prince of Nothing" series because I could not countenance what characters were called. Such a shame.