Monday, January 21, 2013

Andy Rooney Moment

You know what I miss? El-whys. You know, those things that used to come at the end of adverbs, “-ly.” What ever happened to them? They disappeared along with the rise of fresh baked bread. (Shouldn’t that be “freshly baked bread”? Or at least, “fresh, baked bread.” But don’t they really mean that it’s freshly baked?)

The el-whys went away with the other adverbs.

“How ya feeling, today?” (Which, of course, is different from “How ya feeling today?”)

“Feeling good. Never had more sensitive fingers. Like, I can feel things before I touch them. And I’m well, thanks.”

I guess I didn’t expect to be around long enough to notice lexical shifts of that magnitude. I expected slang to come and go, but I wasn’t prepared for the disappearance of an entire part of speech. Funny, though, we all still seem to understand each other good (ha-ha), even without the adverbs.

Or the funny pronunciations. I didn’t expect words to change their pronunciation in my lifetime, either. “Parmesan,” for example. It used to be pronounced the way it’s spelled: “parm’-eh-san.” Couple decades ago it morphed into “parma-jean.” You have to pronounce that “jean” like it was French: “zhan.” As if it were some Frenchman named “Jean” who was living in Parma. It’s not a normal sound in either English or Italian. It came, I’m sure, from people trying to sound a little more worldly, so they started giving “parmesan” cachet by pronouncing it in what they thought was Italian—probably in poor imitation of the Italian parmigiano, combined with the Italian-American custom of dropping the final vowel in Italian words. Instead, it reinforces our reputation as rubes, but so be it. We aren’t called the Ugly Americans for nothing.

Heck, we often make mistakes like that. Heck, “often” is a perfect example. I’m not sure where the “t” in “often” came from, but it was never pronounced until recently. Now, though, you hear the “t” more often than not. There’s a good chance you pronounce it that way, too.

I used to joke that I could live with that, so long as they didn’t start pronouncing the “t” in “soften.” You guessed it, the “t” is creeping in there, too. An un-softening of “soft.” How droll.

It reminds me of Spanish. You know how Spanish, especially Castilian Spanish, is spoken with a pronounced lisp? That came from a whole country imitating a beloved king who spoke with a lisp. One king. A whole country. Pretty amazing.

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