I learned some of my flawed pronunciation from my mother, who has a master’s degree but still says lie-berry. When I learned that there was a completely unnecessary R in library I joined my mother’s revolt and said it wrong on purpose for most of my life. Lie-berry was friendlier. Eventually I conceded to the word of proper library diction, but I did it under protest.
Other words that I say incorrectly are the fault of colloquialisms peculiar to my home town. In Rochester, New York, we insist on saying every vowel possible. When my half-sister, who was raised in Seattle, said theatre, I thought she was weird. Everyone I knew said Thee-et-er. Just like we said Char-lot instead of Charlit for the name Charlotte.
But most of my mangled language I got from reading books. As a child, I was a voracious reader and often read words I had never heard spoken. I was able to figure them out using context clues, but never looked anything up in the dicitonary. For example, when I first encountered the word sequin, I pronounced it squeen. But the problem with reading quickly was that I often skimmed words. When I saw stand of trees, I read it as strand of trees. I didn’t always notice that I was adding or deleting letters, or putting them in a different order. As an adult, I tend to speak like I write—in spell-check-ese.
Spell-check-ese involves typing a word that is nearly the word you meant, but not quite. The computer graciously corrects it for you. Exactness doesn’t count in spell-check-ese, which is why it is my preferred language, and the earlier in the day it is, the more I fall into homonyms and close-isms. (I know close-ism isn’t a word, I did that one on purpose.)
I recently learned that I have been saying escape wrong for my entire life. I pronounce it ex-cape. Now that I am aware of it, I overcorrect and hiss essssscape. I’m learning to use retreat, evade, and breakout instead. I have given up on the word especially (ex-pecially) altogether.
I work from home so I don’t talk to strangers that frequently, and when I do venture out, it is often to an open-mic type event at a bar, and drunk people don’t notice mispronunciations nearly as much as sober people do. My occasionally bizarre vocalizations are generally only mildly embarrassing. At least they were, until my eldest hit middle school.
The other night my 11-year-old asked if he could buy a new book on his Nook e-reader. He wanted to read The Hunger Games, which was surprising because he’s normally not a huge fan of characters getting killed or wounded. He swore that he had started reading it in school and he was totally OK with the violence. (I’ve actually never read the book, but I did the see the first movie, so I had a basic idea of the plotline.)
We got into a discussion of post-apocalyptic dystopian novels. Which he was actually familiar with (his Language Arts teacher is amazing) and (wait for it) he could pronounce better than I can. I said dis-en-topia, taking the n from the end and inserting it in the middle. He asked if I meant dystopian, which of course I did. The problem is that the kid already thinks he’s smarter than me and practically everyone else in the world, and my mispronunciation wasn’t helping.
I wanted to explain that although I have a Master’s Degree it was a low-residency program, so I don’t have nearly as much speaking experience as I have reading/writing experience, but instead I told him to go to sleep because it was past his bedtime.
Sigh. I’m glad he has better elocution than I do, but I don’t want him to realize it. And yet, this is how parenting works—we want our kids to be smarter and better than we are. I just was hoping I could keep fooling him until he was 18 and out of the house.
Copyright © 2023 Lara Lillibridge
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