Little people use big words, big people just say whatever the hell they want to say. Because they’re big, yo?

January 9, 2006 · Print This Article

Last Friday as I was listening to the radio during my commute home from work, the talk show host stated that So-and-So had “hootspah.”

I was confounded, y’all. “‘Hootspah’?” I wondered, “What in the Sam Hill is ‘hootspah’?” Then I was all, “Ding! Oooooh! Could it be?… Yes, it has to be ch-ch-chutzpah!” After a moment of back-patting and self high-fiving, I was like, “Hold up…” Then in full-on panic mode– you mean the “ch” is silent? why didn’t anyone tell me the “ch” is SILENT?!— I frantically searched my memory for a time I may have attempted to utter this word aloud. Had I?! Think! THINK! Thankfully the answer was “ohthankyouGod, NO.”

You see, it has been forcibly brought to my attention at several points throughout my life that it is entirely possible to be extraordinarily well-read– with a rather extensive vocabulary, not to mention a phenomenal grasp of grammar and a superlative command of syntax (Uh-Huh!)– and yet still come across in company as a blathering idiot.

The first and arguably most traumatizing experience I can recall happened when I was twelve. While giving a speech– Goals: Big Choices and How to Set Them! or some such nonsense– in front of a large, intimidating audience of adults and my peers, I used forms of the word “endeavor” in a few key sentences. I had certainly read the word often enough and I absolutely knew what it meant. Endeavor! Strive to achieve! Witness my mad superior vocab skillz! It fit perfectly in my speech and I fully planned to shock! and! awe! with that baby… thereby securing my place in the Geek Hall of Fame, I see now. Shut. Up. I was twelve. What I did not know, however, was that the “ea” in “endeavor” has a short rather than long “e” sound.

C’mon! Seriously! How would I know that?! As with most of my knowledge of less common words, I knew what “endeavor” meant through having read it, not through having heard it. (I mean, who else was totally relieved when the first Harry Potter movie came out and we finally knew how to correctly pronounce “Hermione” and “Hagrid”?! Who’s with me?!… Really? It’s just me, then? LIARS.) And in my head “endeavor” always sounded like “endeevor.” Everyone knows “ea” totally equals “eeeee”! Right? Huh?! Except when it doesn’t?! So after sharing my thoughts about how I was endeevoring to do my part and though the endeevor was difficult it was a worthwhile challenge, imagine my chagrin afterward when my oldest sister approached me and with a smile explained, “Ha! It’s “endehvor,” dork! EN-DEH-VOR! Duh!”

Mortification ensued. I raged against the duplicity of the English language. I bemoaned the devastating effects of the Great Vowel Shift. I cursed our English forefathers for indelibly standardizing words whose letters do not represent correct pronunciation and defy common sense. Damn the inconsistent diphthongs! Damn the heteronyms! Damn the silent letters! (What are they all about anyway, silent letters? As far as I am concerned, they have no etymological justification whatsoever. Just sayin’.) Damn them all! TO HELL.

Sadly, that instance was only one of many pronunciation faux pas I have committed throughout my life. In fact, when I was a teacher I learned to keep Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, with its handy Audio Pronunciation feature, up and running on my computer for those pesky words I would occasionally run across, such as “antithesis” and “denouement.” Honestly. Nothing like a smartass valedictorian wannabe shouting out in front of one’s entire Honors English class, “Uh, Mrs. L? Isn’t ‘carte blanche’ pronounced ‘cart blawnsh’, NOT ‘car-tay blan-chay’?”, to which I would speedily reply, “Well, yeah… I know, right?! I was totally testing you guys, so… wow! Good catch! Okay, moving on…”

And I won’t even tell you what happened the first time I tried to pronounce “aesthetic” in a group discussion. It’s too painful, guys.

Some would say that a simple solution would be to stop using all a’ them there high-falutin’ ten-cent words, but if you have big-ass ideas you have to use big-ass words to express them, right? Huh? Right? That’s all I’m saying.

That’s right, I said it. BIG-ASS IDEAS! And I have the chutzpah to admit it!

….

Damn.

In my head I just totally pronounced that “chuht-spuh.”

*sigh*

Comments

14 Responses to “Little people use big words, big people just say whatever the hell they want to say. Because they’re big, yo?”

  1. LadyBug on January 9th, 2006 2:17 pm

    I totally pronounced it “HER-me-on-ee” until I saw the movie.

    I love you and your hootspah, Cat.

    Oh, and P.S. I always, always pronounce hors d’oeuvres, “whores deVORS” when I read it. (And yes, I DID have to check dictionary.com for the correct spelling.)

  2. WILLIAM on January 9th, 2006 2:36 pm

    I so totally get this. Although I have no grasp on English, or vocab, or grammar, or anything else…but my best friend went to Yale, I was there visiting fo rthe first time and there were all these snobby educated kids there and I pronounced trilogy, TRY LOGY with the with the “O’ Sounding like “OH”. Like “here TRY this LOGY, it’s delicious”-
    I will never forget the girl at this snooty party, she looks down her nose and says me, “DOn’t you mean trill-ogy” (you know pronounced the right way).And I said, “Well Whatever. I am an idiot (pronounced EYE DIE OT).” because I was trying to make a joke.

    And she said. “Yes. You are.” And she walked away. Bitch.

    Thanks for letting me vent.

  3. kalki on January 9th, 2006 2:39 pm

    That’s it – we’re officially the same person. When I was student teaching, the substitute teacher (who didn’t have a teaching degree, much less one in English) corrected my pronunciation of poignant. There have been many mortifying moments, both before and after that one.

    Sometimes I stumble over words that I’m sure of, just because I’m worried I’m wrong. Which I’m not, but my lack of confidence makes me trip all over the word anyway. That’s the worst.

  4. Cat on January 9th, 2006 3:17 pm

    OMG Ladybug! I always say “whores deVORS,” too! I am not even kidding. I do! We totally rock.

    William, you hunted her down after the party and kicked her snooty ass, right? Right?!

    Gosh, Kalki, poignant’s an EASY one! Poyg-nent! DUH!

  5. Nessa on January 9th, 2006 7:42 pm

    i pronounced it her-me-own (like with a long o sound at the end) – so i’m with you!!

  6. mrtl on January 9th, 2006 9:37 pm

    Bonus of being a middle school teacher is that most of the kids didn’t know what the heck I was saying, anyway. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Remember to vote for Wave of Modulation for The Best of Blogs – Blog as Art starting January 10!

  7. Circus Kelli on January 10th, 2006 8:36 am

    Oh, Cat… you had me at dipthong.

  8. Anonymous on January 10th, 2006 10:15 am

    Salmon balls…

  9. Amy on January 11th, 2006 7:35 am

    I said lay-pells once for lapels (you know, like on a jacket). And another time I said, out of nowhere because I totally knew how to say it, “Pass the parm-ee-shan cheese”.

    And you are awesome. Done.

  10. A Logophile PSA « Adventures in Divorce on August 25th, 2008 8:38 am

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  11. Big Words, Little Impact « The sky’s the limit… on April 24th, 2009 2:34 pm

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  12. mosi on June 9th, 2009 5:02 pm

    It would have been nice if you gave the definition of “hootspha” or chuztpah…I think it means “balls” or guts???

  13. Kathleen on February 4th, 2010 2:07 pm

    After reading that “ch” in chutzpah is silent (or “h” sounding) I had to go look it up because I’ve never pronounced it that way. Imagine my relief to learn it’s not silent. I don’t know what the linguistic notation is but the “ch” is similar to the “j” in spanish (and how I’d been pronouncing it). Have no idea how/where I learned it. I don’t feel all superior-like, closer to relieved after the reliving the memory of being told that “irregardless” isn’t a word. kwim?

  14. Marie Matols on November 5th, 2010 3:06 pm

    I totally loved this… It truly tickled me. Being from the south I encounter folks all the time using $5 words…. when there is absolutley no reason for it…. I love to use “slang” southern words… My vocabulary base is pretty good. However,I choose NOT to use my $2 words…because I find it more fun to surprise people of my intelligence. Especially, when they use there words as a sign of their intellect. which in my opinion a lot of the time using “big” words is a sign of insecurity. I CAN PLAY DUMB even though I am very intelligent… lol

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