Grammarificness.

12 06 2008

How on earth did it become socially acceptable to pronounce the word “nuclear” like an idiot? Check Dictionary.com. “Nucular” is not a word. At least not in the way that George W. Bush uses it. I know – Sandy ripping on W – shocker. But it’s not just W that makes this mistake – it seems like EVERYONE does it. Lots of educated people seem not to get that nuclear is pronounced just like it’s spelled: new-klee-er. Even Clinton has slipped up a few times and we know he’s a smartypants. In fact, this is such a common thing that The Simpson’s writers make fun of it semi-regularly, scribbling the incorrect pronunciation into Homer’s occupational vocabulary…he works at the new-que-lahr power plant. D’oh.

Apparently Eisenhower really popularized the mistake – but, as this great [albeit old] bit of commentary by Geoff Nunberg explains so well, he had a pretty decent excuse. After all, it’s not like the word came up a lot in conversation before the 50’s.

But what about assimilation? I get it. Sometimes words change over time because people have a hard time pronouncing them, which seems legit to. For example – the word “assimilation” itself started its life as “adsimilation,” but, because it’s tough to say, [much like the th-Z combo in Judith Zissman!] over time, we lost the d. Seriously – say adsimilation fast a few times – you lose it even when you’re trying to say it, so, even though you lose the prefix that tells you more about the word, most people haven’t studied Greek or Latin enough to be able to find its meaning by parsing it anyway.

Nuclear is different. As Nunberg also points out, it’s not like W makes the same goof when talking about nuclear families. It’s not a hard word to say – he just says it wrong. Nunberg claims this is a worse mistake than a typo – because it’s a thinko. Suck on that for a while.

What irks me more than the mispronunciation itself – even though I do get pretty irate when I catch this blatant evidence of the fact that some of the most powerful people on the planet are not, in fact, also the smartest – is what’s happening on Dictionary.com’s listing for the un-word, nucular. First of all, it does say it’s not a word. Which makes me happy. And, because Dictionary.com doesn’t keep info on non-existent words, it displays some info from other resources like Wikipedia and other dictionaries. These entries start by saying that use of the wrong pronunciation is an increasingly common error that has been criticized. But then they go a step further – in my mind crossing the line – by saying that some dictionaries have actually added this NON-WORD because the error is made so regularly – especially by important people. This, to me – and correct me if I’m wrong – is NOT assimilation. This is rewarding “thinkos.” Should we also replace the word “resonate” with the non-word “resignate” because that’s how George W. Bush says it? It should be noted that in the “see also” section of Dictionary.com’s page on “nucular,” the three links listed are “Bushisms,” “strategery,” and “US presidents IQ hoax.”

Ok. I’ve said my peace. Now before you start picking apart this posting for all of its grammatical inaccuracies, remember a few things: 1. I do not claim to be important or super-smart, 2. You’ve probably said something like “irregardless” or “I could care less” to me before and I neither cringed outwardly nor slapped you in the pie hole, so you owe me, and 3. It’s my blog; I can say what ever I want and punctuate it any way I’d like.

The end.

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