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Jewish World Review Jan. 11, 2000 /4 Shevat, 5760

Greg Crosby

Greg Crosby
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Just Say JA-GWAAR -- WORDS CONFUSE AND AGGRAVATE me. I know I shouldn’t feel that way because, as my second grade school teacher used to say when she taught us spelling, “words are our friends.” But some of my closest friends and family members have confused and aggravated me throughout my entire life, so why not words, too?

Most people realize that words are certainly important when it comes to communication. If you doubt this, just try writing a letter or making a speech without using words and you will quickly see what I mean. Try reading a book without reading the words and you’ll discover that following the plot becomes extremely difficult (unless the book in question is some sort of a pantomime comic book).

Hopefully, having now convinced you that words are indeed important for purposes of communication, here is my question: Why can’t we all agree on one common pronunciation for all words? It would make communication so much easier if we all spoke each and every word with the same inflections. One word that’s been driving me crazy of late is the word JAGUAR. All my life I’ve heard this word pronounced: JA-GWAAR. A two syllable word. Now all of a sudden people are pronouncing it: JAG-YOU-ARE. Three syllables.

The first time I heard this new pronunciation was in a television commercial for the car spoken by an announcer with a decidedly British accent. It took me aback for a moment, never having heard it pronounced that way before, but then I figured that maybe JAG-YOU-ARE is the correct British pronunciation of the word. I looked the word up and found that actually both pronunciations are correct, although the first one listed in the dictionary is the more common (at least to me) JA-GWAAR.

But now absolutely EVERYBODY on radio and television is pronouncing it JAG-YOU-ARE. I really do think it sounds a bit affected for an American to say it that way -- especially if that person had been using the other pronunciation up until last week. In any case it annoys me -- SO KNOCK IT OFF!

SHEIK is another one that drives me nuts. For most of my life the word was pronounced SHEEK -- with a long “e.” SHEEEK. Then about ten or fifteen years ago suddenly everyone was saying SHAK -- with a long “a.” You remember the song, “The Sheik of Araby.” So now it’s “The SHAKE of Araby” I guess. Which sounds like a song dedicated to a special malted milk drink that you can only get in Saudi Arabia. In case you’re wondering, both pronunciations are listed in the dictionary -- with SHEEK being the preferred.

And speaking of SHEEK, that is also the correct pronunciation of the word, CHIC. The word chic literally means stylish, not baby chicken -- even though from time to time I hear it pronounced CHICK by otherwise intelligent people who should know better.

Then there is HARASS. The old fashioned pronunciation was HUH-RASS. The modern way to say it appears to be HARRIS -- like a name --Sam Harris. So what was wrong with the old way of pronouncing the word? Why do these things change? More importantly, WHEN do they change, and why wasn’t I notified? I demand to be told of such changes from now on, darnit!

And while I’m still mad, here’s another question: Why are some of the most glaring mispronunciations of words made by radio and television news readers? This absolutely confounds me. Here we have extremely well paid people whose job requires really only one thing (besides looking mah-velous) -- READING THE WORDS CORRECTLY OFF A PIECE OF PAPER OR OFF A TELEPROMPTER. That’s all they are required to do. That’s it. That’s the job. READ THE WORDS CORRECTLY.

I was born and raised in Southern California, so when I went to a movie I would wait IN line to buy a ticket. My wife, who was born and raised in New York City, would wait ON line to buy a movie ticket. We’ve solved the problem -- today we both stay home and watch movies on TV.

Sticks and stones can brake my bones, but words confuse and aggravate me.

JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.


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© 2000, Greg Crosby