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