Friday, November 14, 2008


Last week at my creative writing class, one of my students read from his short story and pronounced scimitar SKIM-I-TAR and I almost cracked up laughing because my sister and I just had a conversation about pronouncing things wrong.

In my sister's Chinese class, the professor said that she was reading a famous German writer and she pronounced the name in Chinese, but no one could understand her. This makes complete sense because it took me years to realize that when my mother mentioned someone named E-luh-Tz-BYE-Teh-Loh she was talking about the actress I knew as Elizabeth Taylor.

The professor wrote the name on the board and said, "I really like this author, GO-eh-theh."

Jenny casually mentioned that she was pretty sure it was pronounced, "GER-tuh."

"Well, you should know," I said. "We used to live right around the corner from Goethe Street when we were growing up." But of course, I forget that she was intsy-bintsy when we used to live there and she had no idea. I always thought that it was funny to name a group of streets in Elmhurst, Queens after philosophers. I'm sure all the people in the area pronounced it the same way as Jenny's professor.

There's an area in Hartsdale called Poet's Corner because all the streets are named after poets - it's pretty funny because the guidos who live there probably don't even know who Keats is. And I mean guido in the nicest way possible, because some of those people who live there, with their statues of water-spouting cherubs on the front lawn? They're some of our best friends.

When I was in high school, this guy named Jonathan asked me out on a date. At the young age of 16, I hadn't mastered the art of telling a nice guy that I wasn't interested and letting him down easy. Instead, I decided to say yes and then invite all my friends to the movies with us and pretend it wasn't a date, but a mere gathering amongst friends.

During lunch at McDonald's, I was talking about something and used the word facade, except I called it FAH-KADE.

Jonathan looked at me, rolled his eyes, and said, "That WORD is pronounced FAH-SSSSAHHHHHDDDDDuh."

I felt really stupid and turned BRIGHT RED. Especially because I was already embarrassed at what I had just done and facing his unhappiness the entire afternoon. A few minutes later, my friend Mac took me aside and said, "Hey! Don't be embarrassed when you pronounce things wrong. It means that you read a lot. And you know that word choir? For years I used to think, 'What's a CHWAH?'"

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