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Linguistic relativism or, Losing my obsession [Sep. 14th, 2012|01:28 pm]
Young Geoffrey
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Linguistic relativism or, thoughts on just letting go

College and Bathurst
Does anybody have a photo of the facade of the old KOS (just around the corner from this streetcar)? I'd be most gratified to use it here.

September 14, 2012, OTTAWA — As one of maternally Finnish origin, I for many years insisted that the word, sauna, is properly (Correctly! I would insist) pronounced SOW-A-NA, not "SAWN-A" as is the flat and nasal fashion among Anglo-Canadians.

I knew it was a losing battle, yet I kept up the fight; in life, as it would be on the internet, I could not easily let anyone just get away with Being Wrong.

I must have been in my late 20s or early 30s when, having a drink at the restaurant, KOS, in Toronto, I had a similar argument with my friend John.

John, who is of paternally Greek background, corrected me when I uttered the restaurant's name as COSS. The word, he insisted, is pronounced KHOCSH, not COSS. "It's a Greek word," he said, "and I know."

"Oh come on," said I, "we're in Toronto and it's become an English word now. So let it go."

We argued about it for a while, until the parallel with John's obsessive need for me to pronounce Kos "correctly" and my own to correct others in their pronunciation of sauna finally dawned upon me, a slow-motion intellectual sunrise.

And so, upon reflection, did I give up my fight. Languages evolve, and there is little to be gained in raging against the tides of pronunciation, or even (usually) of definition.

Let's let XKDC plays us out ..., since Randall Munroe's latest cartoon inspired this in the first place.

Cautionary Ghost
Cartoon is reproduced under the Creative Commons Licence 2.5. The original lives at http://xkcd.com/1108/.

This entry was originally posted at http://ed-rex.dreamwidth.org/242348.html. Comment there using OpenID, or here as per normal.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: silverflight8
2012-09-15 09:32 pm (UTC)
I've become a descriptivist, but I still twitch when I see 'blonde man' or more commonly, 'blond girl'. Oh, well. And I've never tried to correct anyone on my last name; it's just not worth the explanation and invariable mispronunciation.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2012-09-16 01:42 pm (UTC)

Twitching is okay ...

... it's going into long rants (and boring people with them) that gets problematic.

If you ever make it to Ottawa you should spell your last name for me, then let me try to pronounce it before you tell me the right answer.
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[User Picture]From: talktooloose
2012-09-18 05:40 pm (UTC)
I'm trying to give up on my one-man fight for the correct pronunciation of "dissected" as "DISsected" rather than the near-universal "DIsected". "Dis" means "apart." "Di" means "two." Dissection is cutting things apart, not cutting them in two. There are two s's for a reason.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2012-09-26 05:27 am (UTC)

Really late ...

That's an example of another fight I gave up on, right around the same time I gave on on octopi and hipopotimi as plurals. Yes, the "correct" usage implicitly includes a linguistic history lesson, but, does it really matter if nobody cares but linguistic historians?

As with the precise number of pints (or litres) it takes to make a pottle (yes, a pottle), as Isaac Asimov put it in a classic essay, "forget it!"
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[User Picture]From: talktooloose
2012-09-26 05:17 pm (UTC)

Re: Really late ...

Oh, you mean "octopodi"?

There's a perverse love of pretension in some plurals, including ones where they insist on keeping the plural from the language of origin. For instance, the bizarre dog called the Pulli (think the cover of Beck's "Odelay") is given its Hungarian plural by English-speaking dog fanciers, "pullik".
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2012-09-26 05:24 pm (UTC)

Re: Really late ...

Oh, you mean "octopodi"?

Whoa! One-upmanship R us! Well-played, sir; well-played!
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