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A Word to the Wise

Writing isn’t the only way to abuse the English language. The spoken word gets pummeled aplenty these days, often by persons who should be most concerned about polemically correct pronunciation: TV pundits and politicians.

President Barack Obama

In the latter camp, President Barack Obama is an offender on two important words: formidable and corps. (They must be important if the president of the United States uses them.) He says forMIDable, with the accent on the second syllable. The accent is supposed to be on the first syllable: FORmidable. And in the pundit camp, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow makes the same miscue. Maybe it’s a liberal thing (although Obama is about as liberal as Richard Nixon – a comparison I hate to make).

President Richard Nixon

Crucifying corps

One doesn’t hear about Obama’s mispronunciation of that word. But he’s received a fair amount of criticism for an even bigger faux pas: pronouncing corps as corpse. Apparently, in the course of his education, he only read that word; he didn’t hear it. Or he heard it wrong by somebody who didn’t know the difference between “a body of persons having a common activity or occupation,” as Merriam-Webster’s puts it, and a body that’s dead (which, admittedly, is a little redundant).

As the political season heats up, the word electoral will be aired ad infinitum. And if you’re like me, you’ll have a set of earplugs ready (what did I do with those earmuffs when I left Iowa?), because the way the pundits and politicians pronounce it sounds like a cement mixer, or even worse, like they’re talking with a mouthful of tough meat. Almost to a man and woman, they put the accent on the third syllable: elecTORal. The accent goes on the second syllable: eLECtoral. (Don’t get confused: It has nothing to do with either rectum or erection.)

Chris Matthews

On Chris Matthews’ Hardball show this evening on MSNBC, a pundit named Franco somebody said emphatically that something or other would “wreck havoc” on whatever. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Havoc is already wrecked. The guy wanted wreak – to bring about, or cause.

Cole Porter

But the word that gets the blue ribbon for havoc wreaked upon it is schism. You hear it pronounced three ways: sKism, Sism, or SHism. Cole Porter must have had this word in mind when he wrote the lyrics for Anything Goes. Ira Gershwin missed a golden opportunity in Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off: To You say eether and I say neyether could have been added, You say skism and I say sism. My preference, only because I, as an old codger, am resistant to wishy-washy word wavering and think we should stick with the established wordsmiths instead of those wanting in word wisdom, is sism. That, according to the Grammarphobia Blog, is the way it was pronounced upon entry into the English language in the 14th century. Okay, so that was a derivation from the Old French scisme, although the preceding source was the Latin and Greek word schisma, with ch pronounced as k in Latin, and chi given the same sound in Greek. But c’mon, dudes and dudesses, how far back do you wanna go?

Ira Gershwin

Shazam! Sizm be gone.

This is getting complicated. In the 16th century, some meddling Latin scholars decided (they had nothing to do, like guys who keep changing computer programs) to stick an h in the middle of scisme in obeisance to the word’s classical origins. They were ignored. But an 18th-century word guy named John Walker said, “Enough of this sizm sh–. It’s suppose to be skizm, like scrap, or c … Well, you get the idea. Makes sense, right? So people talked like that for the next 150 years or so – but the folks who wrote the dictionaries and usage guides refused to comply, and it was sizm until the 1960s. Then, dictionaries began succumbing to the popular choice, and skizm gained ascendancy. Except with Merriam-Webster’s


Yea Merriam-Webster’s. Usually, it goes with the crowd. At least there’s one word that liberal dictionary has schtuck with – er, stuck with.

#MerriamWebsters #RachelMaddow #RichardNixon #schism #Latin #ColePorter #OldFrench #IraGershwin #formidable #PresidentObama #Iowa #ChrisMatthews #wreakhavoc #electoral #corps

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