|Order or download
this beautiful book of poems,
prayers, meditations, songs,
Prayers, Meditations, and Songs,
Vol. 1, by Mary Campbell
my life. That’s a small exaggeration; I probably didn’t use the word at all before
high school. I doubt that I ever complained to Mom that my brother had
ransacked my dresser drawers and left detritus in the wake of his illegal search. If
he had done so, I wouldn’t have noticed. My bedroom was a monument to
detritus. My mom dealt cleverly with the pile of rubbish that was my room; she
closed the door. Mom was detritus-prone herself.
I listen to numerous podcasts, and I had heard a podcaster pronounce detritus as
DET-rit-us, rhyming more or less with “rest of us.” I’ve always said duh-TRY-tuss,
as if it were an inflammatory disease: appendicitis, colitis, detritus. I’ve even
written poems in which I rhymed detritus with something, as in
“The light is bright on my de-TRY-tritus.”
Was I going to have to change it, perhaps to “I’m so depressed about my
Today I googled detritus, and it turns out I was right all along. Duh-TRY-tuss it is.
I'll sleep better tonight.
TO AIR IS HUMAN
English-speakers are forever mispronouncing things, especially if they (the English-
speakers) read a lot. It’s bad enough that British and American pronunciations
often differ for no good reason. But the notoriously complex English-language
pronunciation issue is rooted in the history of English and its many borrowings
from other languages. I treasure English for its eclectic origins, but they leave us
with spellings that bear little relationship to pronunciation, as in through.
Consider height and weight, chattel (pronounced CHAT-tle) and Mattel. If you
encounter a printed word but never hear it spoken, you’re likely to pronounce it
phonetically, or as nearly so as you can manage.
When my daughter, Marian, was nine or ten years old, we were discussing her
newest Nancy Drew book, The Clue of the Broken Locket (1934), and the
characters therein—Nancy herself, of course, as well as Nancy’s father (eminent
attorney Carson Drew), her friends (Bess Marvin and George Fayne), her sweetie
pie (Ned Nickerson), the Drew family housekeeper (Hannah Gruen), and, in this
book, someone called Gladys—which, as Marian pronounced it, rhymed with
ladies. Of course it did. We’d all pronounce it that way if we’d never met a
Gladys or watched an episode of the television show Bewitched featuring
Samantha’s nosy neighbor, Gladys Kravitz. Coming across the name in a book,
you’re not likely to “hear” GLAD-iss in your mind, but rather GLADE-eez or, at
I don’t speak of “correct” pronunciation, since the English language is fluid and
“correctness” changes from day to day. Moreover, most dictionaries no longer
judge the speaking habits of their users, preferring to be descriptive rather than
prescriptive.* If you look up the word err in a dictionary, the pronunciation guide
shows er, ur, or ur, er, depending on the publisher. Twenty or thirty years ago,
most dictionaries gave the “correct” pronunciation first, followed by “also” and
other common but nonstandard ways of pronouncing the word. Now they offer
pronunciation alternatives nonjudgmentally, although the standard (read
“correct”) pronunciation usually appears first.
If you want prescriptive advice on pronunciation, the best source I know of is
Charles Harrington Elster’s delightful book There Is No Zoo in Zoology (which has
been incorporated into The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations—The Complete
Opinionated Guide). From the title alone, you learn that (a) zoo-OLL-uh-jee is
just plain wrong and (b) Elster’s book will tell you how and why to say it (and
hundreds of other words) right. (It’s zoe-OLL-uh-jee, with a long O in the first
syllable.) As useful as the book is, you’ll be dismayed to find that you’ve been
mispronouncing two-thirds of your vocabulary for your entire adult life. Still, I
heartily recommend Mr. Elster's books and website.
If you want a dictionary that guides rather than merely informs you about
pronunciation, you’ll appreciate online audio guides. Google the word and hear
the disembodied official internet voice, which offers only one pronunciation. Not
all the online guides agree, however, as in the case of err.
IF YOU CAN BE ENVELOPED, CAN YOU BE MAILED?
Abused, misused, misunderstood
ERR—It rhymes with fur, not hair, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, the
Macmillan Dictionary, Charles Harrington Elster, and most (but not all) of the
other sources I consulted.
SHORT-LIVED (LONG-LIVED)—The I is long; lived rhymes with hived.
I’ve said re-PRIZE and re-OCCUR
and of-TEN and ho-MOJ-en-us.
I’ve even been a CHAUVINIST.
So ANYWAYS, I’m over it.
or rubbish, especially left
after a particular event
actually composed of household detritus, including
Christmas tree needles, discarded toddler toy parts, dryer
lint, toenail clippings and human hair. (ripleys.com)
Drew and her chums, Bess Marvin and George Fayne. The
Nancy Drew series began in the 1920s, when few women
had the freedom or the initiative shown by Nancy,
presumably in her late teens yet permitted by her father,
Carson Drew, to roam the countryside in her roadster
looking for ne'er-do-wells of every stripe. She was a
champion competitor in golf and tennis, seldom relying
on her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, for anything but chaste
companionship on weekends and during the summer,
when Ned was home from college.