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For the linguistically challenged *updated*

11 May

If you’re like me, half a semester of beginning college Spanish is about all you can handle. Yes, half a semester. After that it was all Greek to me.
So we may not ever be bilingual, and that kind of sucks. It’s also embarrassing when you’ve studied so little language, and have such a loose handle on non-English pronunciation, that you just give up trying with the easiest of words: “Tasty lookin’ whores-devours at this party, huh?” That might offend.

I often feel dumb when I don’t know how to pronounce the names of fashion designers. Obviously this embarrassment isn’t made public often, since I nor anyone I really know is in the designer-wearing crowd. Still, if you too struggle with this, here’s some help: the BBC and the Wall Street Journal have kindly provided articles on the subject.

If you don’t feel comfortable ordering a few dozen types of scotch, a Scot has done the talking bit for you, aye.

Click for pronunciation

For many other of your pronunciation needs is a YouTube channel, Pronunciation Book. These spoken words are either ridiculously mundane, or rather helpful.

Lastly, but most shameful, I am terrible at Bible words. Here’s the thing: Even if you don’t read or talk about the Bible much, you  will be all the smarter, more cultured, and sophisticated-er with the ability decipher some Hebrew, Greek, and/or Latin vocabulary. Do so here and here.

Now go forth, knowing more both obscure pronunciation like examples above, and more common ones:

  • aegis: ee-jis, not ay-jis
  • asterisk: as-ter-isk, not as-ter-ik
  • alumnae: a-lum-nee, not a-lum-nay
  • archipelago: ar-ki-PEL-a-go, not arch-i-pel-a-go
  • athlete: ath-leet, not ath-a-leet
  • candidate: kan-di-dayt, not kan-i-dayt
  • chimera: kiy-MEER-a, not CHIM-er-a
  • disastrous: di-zas-tres, not di-zas-ter-es
  • electoral: e-LEK-tor-al, not e-lek-TOR-al
  • etcetera: et-set-er-a, not ek-set-er-a
  • lambaste: lam-bayst, not lam-bast
  • larvae: lar-vee, not lar-vay
  • library: li-brar-y, not li-bar-y
  • mischievous: MIS-che-vus, not mis-CHEE-vee-us
  • mispronunciation: mis-pro-nun-see-ay-shun, not mis-pro-nown-see-ay-shun
  • nuclear: noo-klee-ur, not noo-kyu-lur
  • nuptial: nup-shul, not nup-shoo-al
  • primer: (schoolbook) prim-mer, not pry-mer
  • picture: pik-cher, not pit-cher
  • prescription: prih-skrip-shun, not per-skrip-shun
  • prerogative: pre-rog-a-tive, not per-rog-a-tive
  • peremptory: per-emp-tuh-ree, not pre-emp-tuh-ree
  • probably: prob-a-blee, not pra-lee or prob-lee
  • Realtor: reel-ter, not ree-la-ter
  • supposedly: su-pos-ed-lee, not su-pos-ab-lee
  • spurious: spyoor-ee-us, not spur-ee-us
  • tenet: ten-it, not ten-unt
  • ticklish: tik-lish, not tik-i-lish
  • triathlon: try-ath-lon, not try-ath-a-lon

Read more: Commonly Mispronounced Words —

A foot-in-mind syndrome

28 Feb

Lightbulb moment

Okay, that’s it. I’m starting to think that I just make things up in my head, and that it happens often.

I just had an email exchange with an acquaintance. I apologized for bailing on a group volunteer project, and she told me that she hadn’t even noticed my irresponsibility. For almost the last two months, though, we haven’t spoken when we’ve had a glimpse of each other. And I could have sworn that she had a disappointed look on her face when she saw me. I thought it was all attributed to negative feelings she had toward me.

Contrarily, she was friendly and gracious in her email, and called me a sweetheart. Exhibit A of my imagination troubles.

Exhibit B: I liked somebody for a long time. By ‘liked’ I mean still love, and by ‘long time’ I mean 14 years (give or take). It seriously took me until this last Valentine’s Day (ironic) to realize that I was the only one with those feelings. As The Wallflowers sang: I slow dance to this romance on my own. Siiighhh.

Exhibit C: I like somebody (else) (again). Most of my interactions with him have been, I felt, pretty stoic and lacking in any meaningful significance. I just can’t seem to think or speak anything resembling wit, intellect, character, and/or depth around him. Therefore, I guess I can’t be that surprised when he never seems interested in me or what I have to say. But maybe I’m making that up, too!

And that is the foot-in-mind syndrome. I wonder if it’s  linked to my frequent conversations with myself.

This can all come back around to a valuable lesson I learned in my teen years, from a book my mom gave me by Don Miguel Ruiz. The book is The Four Agreements, and the lesson is to never assume. Never ass-u-me. I guess I should remember to do that more often.

A few Summer days in January

19 Jan

Book: Summer
Author: Edith Wharton
Particulars: Published in McClure’s magazine and then as a book by D. Appleton and Company in 1917. Two hundred pages.

I thought I had her figured out, but she kept me on my toes after all.

This is the third Wharton book I’ve read, after Ethan Frome and The House of Mirth. When I hit the midpoint of Summer, I thought I’d figured out some commonalities among her books. It turned out that I was only half right.

I decided that her characters beckon a reader to become attached. I struggle to try to understand them, and I am concerned for their well-being. At first I thought that  I was attached to Mirth‘s Lily and Summer‘s Charity because they were women, but I remember being just as attached to Ethan.

So far, that could be right. It’s only a subjective opinion.

I then decided that Wharton isn’t shy about tragedy. I threw up my hands and accused her of writing love stories that were never to last long or end happy.

This decision came when I did one of those half-accidental, apprehensive, glutton-for-punishment flips to the back of the book. Whenever I do this, its under the pretense  of seeing how many pages there are or something else as silly but justifiable. Once I’ve turned the bulk of the pages my eyes slip up, skim and zero in on the book’s conclusion in a quick, seamless sweep.

Anyway, I turned to the back and saw some glaring evidence that Summer chronicles the life, and more importantly death, of a love story. Thus we return to the moment I threw up my hands in exasperation.

It ended happier than I expected, however. Wharton has the last smile.

The reason the fate of the main character and of the love story become so important to me when I read Wharton is because she can translate the emotion of human experience into words. I think she is a master of doing this in an exploratory way. Some authors stay on the periphery and tell you what’s happening on the outside, which lets each reader explore inside the character and come out with their individual conclusions. Wharton brings you in and positions you to see out of the character’s eyes and process what the character feels, even as they do the same.

So, I will not doubt the lady with the pen again.

Childhood Reading

29 May

My parents are having a garage sale, and it was my job to go through boxes of junk from my younger years. I am sort of a pack rat, but I do enjoy blatant opportunities to toss things I’m tired of looking at or saving for a rainy day. I went through and gathered what I didn’t want that might fetch a price.

My parents had saved a big box, too heavy for my dad to pick up alone, full of children’s books. My mom wanted to keep most of them “for grandkids,” but I thought the number was a bit excessive. I pared down by getting rid of ones I didn’t have a distinct memory of or ones that looked creepy. (There was one with a sad little bunny crying; that’s just depressing).

It turns out that I remember a lot of books from a long time ago. I laughed in delight over some. I found it interesting how vividly memorable the illustrations and even the colors were.

Most of the books were for very small children, but there were some longer ones in there. Ah, the graduation to chapter books. I remember series like Animorphs, The Baby-sitters Club, Goosebumps, The Boxcar Children. I liked Nancy Drew, too. Besides adventure books like Hatchet and Far North that were about boys, I loved the brave heroines in Island of the Blue Dolphins and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

Reading this list of Newbery Medal and Honor books helped me remember many other books I loved and still remember well.

“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”
Meg Ryan, You’ve Got Mail

A Lives I Like

14 Apr

I was browsing the New York Times online, and I came across the Lives section featured in the Sunday paper.42-15196566

In the archives I found this story. It made me smile.

My wife, Lenka, and I don’t have anything against kids, but the responsibility of caring for another being, of holding the fate of a tiny defenseless soul in our shaky hands, always worried us. So a while back we got a fish.

We named him Puntja, which is the equivalent of Spot in Czech, my wife’s native language. The word for Flipper was too hard for me to pronounce. We brought him home in a plastic baggie, and soon enough we were cooing into his bowl and fretting over the temperature of his water.” … Keep reading.