It happens like clockwork.
Every day, without fail, my e-mail inbox contains a message from an aggravated and exasperated listener.
Is it a message expressing outrage over the views expressed by a guest on my WPHT 1210-AM radio show?
Did they want to take me to task about an opinion I expressed?
Were they annoyed by a caller to the show?
Nope, none of the above. What is the reason behind their long-winded complaints? They wanted to call out a word that, in their opinion, I mispronounced on my radio show.
In my view, this petty nonsense is ridiculous and exasperating.
Doing the Math
I have done some rough calculations- in the course of a three-hour show, I speak about 75 minutes (subtracting time for callers, guests, newsbreaks and commercials). At an average of 110 words per minute, that comes out to 8,250 words per show (or 41,250 words per week for those of you keeping score at home). What are the odds that every one of those 8,250 words will be properly pronounced? Here is my bigger question: why would someone even care?
The ones who seem to care are the self-appointed “Pronunciation Police.” They are hell-bent on enforcing their strict and unforgiving pronunciation laws.
What I would like to ask these folks is where can I find this Pronunciation Lawbook? They get quite worked up hearing a word that violates their official “rules of pronunciation” and want to throw the book at me. I would at least like to see this repository of official word pronunciations.
My View…Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (and this is borderline microscopic)
Personally, when I get pronunciation notes and calls from these cranky listeners, I am reminded of the song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” written by George and Ira Gershwin and sung by the incredible Louis Armstrong:
You say either and I say either,
You say neither and I say neither
Either, either neither, neither
Let’s call the whole thing off.
You like potato and I like potahto
You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto.
Let’s call the whole thing off
I get amused when I get e-mails or voicemails from these cranks. Their rants are often epic, going into molecular detail about my mispronunciation crimes. The more obsessive ones express their OCD in multiple platforms- they will e-mail, call AND write a snail-mail letter.
It’s a little bit over the top, don’t you think?
Putting Things into Perspective
In the course of a three-hour show, listeners are going to hear some hot-button topics. The guests might be controversial. The callers will surely be passionate and opinionated. That’s what good talk radio should be, not the radio equivalent of vanilla pudding.
It’s high-octane dialogue and debate. So from a content perspective, there’s plenty of things to get worked about about and compel you to “talk back” to me.
But what stirs these people? The way a particular word is pronounced!
I fortunately have options when I encounter cranks. I simply delete their e-mails, erase their voicemails, toss their letters in the trash or un-friend them on Facebook. But what about the poor people who have to live with them or put up with this on a daily basis?
You have to feel sorry for the family, friends, neighbors or co-workers of people like this. Chances are they are trapped in pronunciation prison, constantly hearing these cranks drone on “that’s not the way it’s pronounced!”
Getting to the Real Issue
If you are constantly compelled to correct others or point out things that don’t meet your standards, perhaps a bit of self-introspection would be helpful.
Just because you see an opportunity to correct another person or think your offer of “constructive criticism” would be helpful does not mean you should act on this impulse. More often than not, these actions are not viewed well by the people receiving the criticism. People who become known as critics and “correctors” rarely command respect. People are either too polite (or too stunned) to call out a crank.
So for those who still insist on wearing the Pronunciation Police badge and keep the world safe from people like me who will occasionally pronounce a word differently, I will not resist arrest.
But if you are going to read me my Miranda Rights, I will absolutely insist you must pronounce every single word carefully AND correctly.
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