Monday, 14 February 2011

Picture-skew pronounce-iations

It’s easy to be superior about the failure of others to spell correctly, indeed some have almost made a career out of it.  At the end of the day an unorthodox spelling is not the end of the world, though it can be symptom of sloppiness.  But it’s interesting that mispronunciations don’t seem to attract so much opprobrium or cause so much embarrassment as misspellings.  Perhaps someone’s pronunciation is just more “personal” and more embarrassing to challenge than their spelling.

But I do find hard to understand how someone delivering a prepared formal speech, even broadcasting to the millions, can mangle a word from their own specialist field so grossly that you have to wonder whether they can ever have heard anyone else pronounce it like that, or even whether they’ve ever heard the word said at all.  Surely, rather than look like a fool and lose all credibility, you’d ask an adult to help you, not just make up some nonsense?

A couple of ecclesiastical examples came up this weekend.  At a well-attended church service I was amazed to hear the minister refer to the canopy used in Jewish weddings, the chuppah, as the “chopper” (or some such).  This from one who makes a personal mission of organising “interfaith” gatherings and prides himself on his friendships with spiritual leaders of other faiths.

Radio 4’s Sunday Worship on “the eve of St Valentine’s Day” came from Worcester College Oxford. Not surprisingly, the readings included a passage from the Song of Songs, read by a student of the college in the King James version: “let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely” and so on. This person is actually writing a doctoral thesis on the subject, but staggeringly, she had no idea how to say this funny-looking word “comely” that crops up so often in that chapter of the Old Testament, and pronounced it as if it was something to do with combs. 

Incidentally, the sermon was given by a reader in Old Testament theology at the same Oxford college, who introduced a hymn thus: “another Spanish mystic, Bianco of Siena, gave us her interpretation of this mystery in what has now become, in English, a well known wedding hymn.”

Except that the hymn she meant was Come Down O Love Divine, not Love Divine All Loves Excelling, which is what they sang.  And Bianco of Siena (died 1434) was, as the name suggests, (a) male and (b) from Siena.  You know, in Italy.


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