Thursday, October 7, 2010

Can't anybody here speak this language?

In 1962, manager Casey Stengel reportedly lamented of his new team, the hapless New York Mets, “Can't anybody here play this game?” The answer was “no,” at least considered at the level of major league baseball. When I hear educated Americans speaking their native tongue, I get an inkling of how Stengel felt. If these people can’t get it right, who can?

I recently listened to a Wall Street wizard talk about the government’s intention to redistribute wealth. Only he said reDIStribute…twice. Okay, the word “redistribution” had been bandied about, so the rhythm of that word was in the guy’s brain. But it’s hard to believe that once he heard himself say such a silly thing, he not only did not correct himself, but went on to mispronounce it again. And this was not an isolated incident. I have heard this new word—DIS-tri-bute—on many occasions.

Another errant emphasis has found its way into the rather formal and legal-sounding “aforementioned.” I have caught two local radio hosts recently throwing this word into their broadcast conversations, and both, for reasons I cannot think, put the stress on the first syllable—AFF-or-mentioned. Why are they working so hard? It’s just two words, “afore” and “mentioned,” shoved together. Pronounce them just as though they were separated by a space.

These are not mistakes made because speakers find the words hard to pronounce, like “lackadaisical” or “asterisk.” I can’t account for these new pronunciations. Maybe they didn’t mean it.

As Yogi Berra told reporters, “I never said most of the things I said.”

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