Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Muster me up a sangwish

When I was in first grade I was pulled out of class for a speech test. I thought that everyone was getting one and didn't think much of it. A lady took me down the hall and for an hour I was asked to repeat sentences, single words, and read aloud.

I still remember the way the woman looked at me when I said the word "sandwich".


I am not sure why I said it that way, but I did. She paused when I said potato. And then again with iron.

But I must have said everything else OK, as I was not chosen for speech intervention.

Like most things in life, I'm going to have to blame my parents on this. And for what happened because of it.

My parents have accents. I'm told.

They are Irish immigrants and I guess still speak with a soft accent, although I cannot tell. However, I've been in Ireland before and people don't always pick up that I'm American, so some of my speech inflections may be tinged with an accent as well. God knows I get a wicked Boston accent sometimes. Usually after drinking, but most when I'm trying to shout something. ["Where are my caaaah kees?"]

But because of my parents European word usage a few of my words are...mispronounced. But I've noticed that the rest of my family mispronounces them as well, so I've never felt out of place there.

Until I was 23 I pronounced the H in herb. Just saying.

But in school my interest in pronunciation after this speech test lead me to pay attention to vocabulary and the phonetic pronunciation of words. I loved phonics as a kid and always did well in it. I developed a great sense of sentence structure and vocabulary usage, and never worried about my English grades. For fun I would take notes in a short hand I created of how words should be spelled based on their pronunciation using phonetic symbols. In truth, I probably think about word choice more than the average person, but hey, I'm a writer and editor, so I guess it worked out.

This over thinking of words leads me to use the most correct one for the sentence. I'm not talking BIG words here. I rarely speak in big words. Just descriptive. But I do run into some rubbing for it, most of which is good natured. Some isn't. At least I can recognize it.

For example, yesterday here was Patriot's Day, which marked the start of the American Revolution. The western road that colonists traveled to the battle greens runs through my town, and at 5:30 yesterday morning a marching reenactment of the supplementary colonial forces went through banging drums and doing drills. Last night our neighborhood gathered for an impromptu spring cocktail hour and people were saying how they were awoken by the drums. Being that I'm such an American History dork that I've gone to the Lexington Battle green at 4:45 AM before to see the red coats arrive, I said:

"Yes, they march from Stow and muster at the green here before moving to Concord."

Ooohhh, said one neighbor. "They MUSTER!"

Yes, muster. The verb form. I guess you don't hear much of it because the rest of the night had her repeating it over and over anytime we talked about the reenactments. It was always followed by much laughter. Since this was a good natured event I will say WE all laughed together. Yeah, I see how that word doesn't come up a lot. But it flew out of my mouth fairly easily. Because it was the correct term to use. The were mustering.

Another time I was called out on my word choice it wasn't so nice. The exact words the girl used was something like "Can't you speak like a normal person?" but it was meaner and under the circumstances was uncalled for. Our friendship waned since then (and yes, I would have used waned if I was speaking) and I really haven't forgiven her.

If you hang out with me you will be subject to my perhaps odd speaking mannerism. But under the right circumstances you would hear my insanely unpredictable Boston accent too. It usually happens after a pitcher of beer. Plus, if you hang around me long enough, I may convince you that my way of saying some words is Old World and correct.

Just don't ask me how to say "iron"...my mouth refuses to make the sounds.


Kalido said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Practical said...

Crud - can you please delete that last comment (I was clearly signed into the wrong account).

It will probably come as no surprise to you that I can relate entirely to much of this post. My parents have (I'm told) rather strong Chinese accents, but my issues stem less from pronunciation and more with gender - i.e. I'm fairly likely to refer to you as a "he" at some point, not because I don't know you're a girl, but because my parents do it all the time.

The word choice thing is definitely a recurring theme for me as well. My CEO has banned me from using certain words because it "sounds like a renaissance festival."

Claire said...

"sounds like a renaissance festival."

I love this. I've been accused of being from the 1930s before.