Words at Work by Kathy McIntosh: About my words my readers write — and they’re right

KATHY McINTOSH, Boise author, speaker and freelance editor. Owner of A Well-Placed Word.

August 6, 2013 

Kathy McIntosh

Today’s column will serve to either clarify or muddle some statements I have made in earlier articles. It’s my week to eat my words.

As a cashier told me recently when I asked her to repeat her question, “I guess I’d better learn to pronounciate better.” As we work on our pronounciating, we need to recall my mother’s words when I repeated gossip to her: “Consider the source.”

My source for the pronunciation of the word “err” was the entertaining “Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations,” by Charles Harrington Elster. Unfortunately Elster’s book has a copyright date of 1999, placing it in the ancient category of sources these days. I agreed with him that the word should rhyme with fur instead of with hair.

Mom was right. You must consider your source and check its date. The English language is always evolving. I heard from reader Jo-Ann Kachigian that her Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary lists “air” as the first (preferred) pronunciation and “uhr” as the second. Various other sources online and off cite both pronunciations. Since I thought I’d been mispronouncing it (saying air), Jo-Ann’s email was most welcome.

Jo-Ann and another reader, Ruth Mickelson, maintain that pronouncing the T in “often” is also acceptable. I stand corrected but shall continue to rhyme my often with soften.

Jo-Ann also objected to my statement that “Realtor” had only two syllables. What I meant to state is that, as reader Paul Sudmeier noted, it is not pronounced ree-LA-tor. However, the dictionary (and Jo-Ann) let me know that real and the real in Realtor are two syllables: REE-uhl. At this point I am feeling REE-uhl ignorant.

The distinction, in my opinion, is a difficult one to hear. Perhaps it is similar to hearing the L in “folks” when spoken by reader Brad Schmidt. He notes that his wife often reminds him that the L in folks is silent, making it rhyme with chokes.

Reader Lynn Purvis sought clarification of a sentence I wrote in an earlier article, “Nothing makes me happier than when my words evoke email responses.” I’d stated that evoke generally means to call up something intangible, like a memory, while invoke means to call up something specific. She thus wondered if the more appropriate choice here would have been “invoke.”

No, the more appropriate choice would have been a more complete and correct distinction. Invoke is generally more direct and active: “She invoked the gods of wrath and fire to smite her wandering husband.” It is often used to mean to appeal to or to cite, as when in a courtroom a lawyer invokes a legal principle.

What I should have written is, “Nothing makes me happier than when my words prompt email responses.” I was trying to be clever and use a word I’d earlier defined. Nothing gets a writer in trouble faster than the attempt to be clever. I am often in trouble.

I’m not certain which usage is correct. I think that “my words evoke a smile” would be correct, but that I might better have used invoke when talking about something specific like emails.

I may well be advised not to solicit your emails, but I learn so much. Keep those corrections and suggestions coming.

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kathy@awellplacedword.com

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