Fun stuff: September 2008 Archives

Proper pronunciation primer

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From the editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries comes the latest in the "100 Words" series, 100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces (Houghton Mifflin, 118 pages, $5.95).


While the book is fun to page through -- especially for someone who's worked with words her entire career -- I'm not sure who would actually plunk down six bucks for it. Some of the other books in the series would be worth buying as stocking-stuffers or gifts for graduates (100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know, 100 Words to Make You Sound Smart).

Two words in the new volume did grab my attention because their mispronunciation falls into the category of "my personal pet-peeves": mischievous and primer.

The first, "mischievous," is often mispronounced as such: mis-chee'-vee-us. There is no third "i" in the word yet lazy readers will see what they want to see and instead of looking up the proper pronunciation simply say it like they think it should sound.

The second, "primer," meaning a book that covers the basic elements of a subject, is commonly mispronounced with a long "i" rather then the short "i." The long-i "primer" is the first coat of paint you put on your walls. The instruction-booklet "primer" should be pronounced like the word "prim," as in prim and proper.

The 100 words are listed on the last page, so I went there first, to test my own knowledge. I did pretty well -- 95 percent. In my defense, I can honestly say I've never uttered in conversation the five words I got wrong. Here they are, in alphabetic order (correct pronunciations in parentheses):

Antipodes (an-tip'e-deez)

Boatswain (bo'sen)

Concupiscence (kon-kyoo'pi-sens) -- Sadly I'd never even heard of this word. It means "a strong desire, especially sexual desire; lust."

Quay (kee)

Quietus (kwi-eet'es)

'Crazy Buttocks,' et al.

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Living With Crazy Buttocks is an actual book title. Pretty funny title at that -- and my favorite among the former Diagram Prize winners vying for the oddest book title of the last 30 years. It's a contest organized by The Bookseller, a trade magazine across the pond.

Living With Crazy Buttocks

It didn't win. The winning entry, crowned by an online voting public, is Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers, published in 1994 by a British stamp-collecting organization.

Philip Stone, charts editor for The Bookseller, had this to say about the choice: "I sincerely believe that this title provides further proof to the current government that the British public are passionate about the maintenance and continuation of local mail delivery services."

I suppose he's joking here given the whole nature of the contest. And I've always enjoyed the British sense of humor, but come on! Not funnier than Living With Crazy Buttocks. Sorry. Here are some of the other competing titles:

People Who Don't Know They're Dead (runner-up)

How to Avoid Huge Ships (third place)

Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice

How Green Were the Nazis?

Reusing Old Graves

I'm thinking we here in the U.S. can come up with some funnier titles, so I'm going to start collecting them. Suggestions welcome. Send to: