The problem, though, is that I learn nearly all my new words from books. I read quite a bit, and often encounter words in print that I've never heard before. This leads, of course, to me knowing a giant corpus of erudite and impressive words...without the faintest idea how to pronounce them. What with the vagaries of English spelling and all, I sometimes--frequently--miss the mark.
This tends to fluster even the strongest of my friends; expecting my facility with language to carry over into the basics of English pronunciation, they goggle in shock and, sometimes, slight panic when I flub even a syllable. This habit noticeably bothered Optimistic while we were playing Trivial Pursuit the other night. Although at first he gently corrected me, after 5 or 6 such errors I could see him getting frustrated: "Did you just say a-MIC-a-ble? Everyone knows it's A-mic-a-ble! What's the matter with you?"
So, in honor of Optimistic's recent frustration, I present to you the Top 5 Petra Pronunciation Errors.
(One small warning: despite my linguistics undergrad, I'm almost as bad with phonetic transcription as with pronunciation. Sorry if you can't read it, and sorry if you think it's wrong. They're all based on the OED's system, though, not always the IPA, so if you try to argue with me, I'll just tell you that I do, in fact, pronounce it like the BBC.)
5. /lvsks/ Yes, that's right: "lascivious" pronounced like "viscous" with a "la" on the front. I misread it once when I was a kid and it stuck. This one's pretty normal, actually, in that there's a genuine reason for it. I was shocked, at 17, to learn the actual pronunciation, although I admit that, while there's a certain charm to my own--I always imagined a slow-moving, gelatinous sort of lust--the correct pronunciation matches the word's meaning much better.
4. /'kæpri/ Like the pants, or the sunny juice drink. I put the em'phasis on the wrong sy'llable. I'm not sure where I picked this up--but now I stick to it with my habitual tenacity. Every time I compliment someone's pedal pushers, or offer them a delicious CapriSonne, I make sure to emphasize that first syllable, awkward as can be. It gets a few raised eyebrows, sure, but it also lends me a certain distinguished air, or so I tell myself. Since I also claim that I picked up this pronunciation in Indonesia, my strange pronunciation has a faint aura of the exotic about it.
(I also, if you hadn't noticed, insist on spelling the drink name CapriSonne. I first encountered CapriSonnes in Jakarta, where they were all imported from Germany, or made in Indonesia by a German company, or something. That too will never change; don't bother trying to persuade me otherwise.)
3. /k'rktr/ Again, the emphasis in the wrong place. I made fun a friend once during my freshman year for her strange Utah accent, which caused her to say that word differently from me. She dragged me to an online dictionary to prove to me that her way was, in fact, correct. Abashed and slightly confused, I called my parents, guessing that maybe they were to blame.
"Dad, how do you say the word that describes those really exaggerated drawings of people?"
"/'kærktr/, of course." Hm. Not him.
I asked my mom next. She took a minute to think, and then said, satisfied with herself for passing whatever strange test this was, "/k'rktr/. Definitely."
So, that's it, you see. This be the verse: I blame my mother for all my articulatory failings.
2. Let's start this one off with another confession: I heard of David Bowie for the first time when I was 15. Yes, yes, I have my head in the sand. Now, of course, my first encounter with his name was in print. One day in my junior year of high school, I let slip some comment about Mr. Bowie to a friend, who has still not stopped laughing at this incident. I pronounced his name /'buwi/, like to rhyme with "kablooey" or "hooey." In my defense, this is the way "Bowie Knife" is often pronounced, at least in Bob Dylan's song "I Shall Be Free No. 10." If you can't trust Bob Dylan, who can you trust?
1. Finally, the number one mispronunciation of my whole entire life. When I was a kid, I had a box of crayons with a bunch of fancy colors--cerulean, periwinkle, cerise, and other such--and one of the crayon names, a dark pink, really stymied me. One fateful evening, while my parents were having a dinner party with some friends from church, I lost that crayon and wandered all over the house looking for it, including into the dining room, where our guests sat chatting.
"Mom," I whined, "have you seen my fuchsia crayon?"
Except I didn't say it /'fju/. My preferred pronunciation at the time was something more like /'fk/, rhyming nicely with "ducksha" or "lucksha," which was probably--judging by the stifled gasps I got--not a good way to say it. I learned the right way to say that color fast.
Thank you, Crayola.