Posts Tagged 'pronunciation'

Two (million) wrongs make a right?

Since I wrote my last post, I have consulted two dictionaries – both of which say that the word ‘dissect’ can be pronounced as ‘dis-sect’ or as ‘die-sect’. What they mean, I suppose, is that both are used and therefore both are considered acceptable. But in my book that doesn’t mean that both are right. Mr Ellis’s argument seems to me to be incontrovertible.

Needless to say, I am disappointed (or should I say ‘die-sappointed’?).

But no doubt the modernists will tell me that, in language, there is no such thing as right and wrong . . .

Dissecting English pronunciation

Whenever I hear someone pronouncing the word ‘dissect’ to sound like ‘die-sect’, I remember Mr Ellis. He was my first biology teacher. He had crinkly grey hair, small round spectacles and a fastidious manner. As he demonstrated the use of a scalpel for the first time, he said:

“Now remember, boys, I am about to dis-sect this earthworm. Not die-sect. There are two esses, because the prefix is ‘dis’, added to the Latin root ‘sect’ and the word means ‘to cut apart’. On the other hand, you bisect an angle (pronouncing it ‘buy’) because the prefix is ‘bi’, meaning two – as in bicycle – and therefore the word means ‘to cut in two’. And there is only one ‘s’. So: never let me hear a boy talking of ‘die-secting’. Understood?”

Though there is much that Mr Ellis taught me that I have long since forgotten, that lesson stuck. My school,as it happens, has a medical foundation and has turned out many doctors over the years (I nearly became one myself). Yet I constantly hear intelligent people, including eminent surgeons, pronouncing the word ‘die-sect’. Perhaps they never had the advantage of studying under Mr Ellis. But I bet they wouldn’t say ‘die-sappear’ or ‘die-satisfied’.

My Ellis, incidentally, could be bitingly sarcastic. On our first lesson with a microscope, we studied samples of pond-water. I was excited when I found what I was sure was a one-celled organism. I stared down the eyepiece at it, and was convinced I saw it move.

Mr Ellis loomed up behind me. “What are you looking at, boy?” he said.

“I’m pretty sure it’s an amoeba, sir,” I replied.

Mr Ellis peered into the microscope, then straightened and addressed the whole class. “First rule of microscopy: make sure you know what you are looking at!” he said. “This boy has just spent twenty minutes contemplating an inanimate piece of sludge.”

Sixty years on, I still squirm . . .

Another rant

Well yes, all right, I’m a grumpy old fogey who’s behind the times, but I do get cross – and more than cross, sad – at the way our language, the language of Shakespeare and Shelley, is constantly being debased and impoverished.

I mean, have you actually noticed how many people keep saying ‘actually’? Except that they don’t actually say ‘actually’; they say something like ‘atcherly. I heard a girl on the radio the other day, and I’d swear she said it seven times in the course of one sentence. It seems to go along with ‘basically’.

And another thing: remember how we used to laugh at foreigners because they couldn’t pronounce ‘th’? Now, every second youngster pronounces it as either ‘f’ or ‘v’. Least, I fink that’s what they’re saying. Eiver that or somefing very like it.

And don’t even start me on glo’all stops and the disappearing ‘t’….

It’s not that I want folk to talk ‘posh’ ; I just think there’s too much lazy speech around. Knowwo’Imean?

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