Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Orthoëpy of “Orthoëpy”

(We pause to allow the reader to recover from the impact of that recursive post-Hegelian self-intersecting (Ouroboros-fashion) meta-“meta” negation-of-the-negation -style  headline.)

That means:  What is the proper pronunciation of the word orthoëpy.  Now, since the word orthoëpy itself means ‘proper pronunciation’  (from the Greek: ortho- ‘correct’ plus epos ‘word’), it’s quite ironic that the answer is:  Nobody really knows.

Semantically, spelling is to orthography (‘correct spelling’) as pronunciation is to orthoëpy.  And since the former word is pronounced or-THOG-ra-fee, you’d expect orthoëpy to be pronounced, in parallel fashion, or-THOE-ep-ee.  Only, people are just as likely to randomly come out with OR-tho-ep-ee (with secondary stress on the “ep”) instead.  Probably it’s the sight of that e-with-diaeresis (ë) that stuns them.  Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate dictionary, for which I used to work as Editor of Pronunciation (and as Editor of Etymology) lists both pronunciations, with the non-parallel one actually first.

~     ~     ~

While we’re on this endlessly fascinating subject (no doubt you interrupted an especially enjoyable session of marital relations  in your eagerness to scan this post), how do you pronounce pronunciation ?   Look at the spelling:  with -nun-, not -noun-; compare denounce:denunciation::renounce:renunciation.  So the second syllable (which receives secondary stress) sounds like “nun” and not like “noun”.
Therefore, if anyone ever calls something a mispronounciation, that is very funny:  you should laugh at that person and point, and call him names.  Mispronounciation, like mispelling, is one of those words that apply to themselves:  linguistic philosophers call these autological.

~     ~     ~
Wikipedia actually botches this one a bit:  “The tetrasyllabic pronunciation is sometimes indicated with a diaresis, orthoëpy.” 
Apart from the fact that “diaresis” is misspelled (it should be either diaeresis or dieresis),  both variant pronunciations of orthoëpy are tetrasyllablic.  That is, they each have four syllables, which is easy to see in the way I have informally sounded them out, but hard to spot in the Wiki article’s ultraprecisionalistical IPA, where the basic “long o” sound gets transcribed əʊ . Well, that’s for the British way of pronouncing this vowel:  As in,  “əəəʊʊ, deeah, I have left my monocle on the grahnd piahno.”  The American version is transcribed oʊ, as in “oʊ no ya don’t, pardner !”

Doubtless what the author meant was that, but for that dieresis, some bumpkin would pronounce the word trisyllabically to rhyme with ropy-dopy.  But bumpkins have no idea what a dieresis represents:  for the average person, it’s just a meaningless decoration on whimsical stupidities like Mötley Crüe and Häagen-Dazs.


1 comment:

  1. You are so funny, Dr. Justice. You deserve a much larger stage than this blog.