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Grammar quiz (with prize!)
Posted: 05 November 2013 10:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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I heard the comedian Frank Skinner (of humble beginnings who didn’t read a novel till he was 21 but went on to an MA in English literature and presidency of the Samuel Johnson Society) say that he was in his thirties before someone had the nerve to tell him skeleton wasn’t pronounced skellington. This struck me as odd because he must have read the word. Maybe he assumed it was said differently from how it was spelt like so many English words. He also pronounces et cetera as ek cetera.

People seem to have a blind spot about this eg George W Bush couldn’t tell he was saying nucular for nuclear. There were a couple of articles in Verbatim about this from which I realised I had, especially when speaking fast but probably most of the time, been saying comf-ter-bull and jew-ler-ree for comfortable and jewelry/jewellery.

(Love the show, Frank, in case you use Google alert. I’m up to August, 2011. You deserved that Sony Award.)

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Posted: 06 November 2013 01:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Maybe he assumed it was said differently from how it was spelt like so many English words.

A perfectly reasonable assumption, as skellington is a venerable dialect pronunciation - cf. this anonymous Cockney poem:

A muvver was barfin ‘er biby one night,
The youngest of ten and a tiny young mite,
The muvver was poor and the biby was thin,
Only a skelington covered in skin;
The muvver turned rahnd for the soap off the rack,
She was but a moment, but when she turned back,
The biby was gorn; and in anguish she cried,
‘Oh, where is my biby?’ - The angels replied:

“Your biby ‘as fell dahn the plug-’ole,
Your biby ‘as gorn dahn the plug;
The poor little thing was so skinny and thin
‘E oughter been barfed in a jug;
Your biby is perfeckly ‘appy,
‘E won’t need a barf any more,
Your biby ‘as fell dahn the plug ‘ole
Not lorst, but gone before.”

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Posted: 06 November 2013 04:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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venomousbede - 05 November 2013 10:35 AM


People seem to have a blind spot about this eg George W Bush couldn’t tell he was saying nucular for nuclear. There were a couple of articles in Verbatim about this from which I realised I had, especially when speaking fast but probably most of the time, been saying comf-ter-bull and jew-ler-ree for comfortable and jewelry/jewellery.

Where I’m from, /kʌmftəbəl/ is the correct pronunciation.

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Posted: 06 November 2013 08:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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I checked 3 online American dictionaries and all give a trisyllabic pronunciation first.

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Posted: 06 November 2013 09:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Thanks for those deathless words, Syntinen Laulu—from my youth, I only remembered the last eight lines (my baby ‘as gone down the plughole,* etc.). At a singsong, they would be sung by all present as a sort of chorus, to a tune reminiscent of “My bonnie lies over the ocean”.

Does “skeleton” have a common origin with “triskeles”, the ancient three-legged symbol used as an emblem by the Isle of Man, I wonder? By the sound, one might suppose so—but my Greek is not what I would wish it to be, the etymological dictionaries on-line are not all that clear, and wordorigins.org has made me wary….

* pronounced “pluggole”

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Posted: 06 November 2013 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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σκέλος in triskeles is “leg” but the Greek root of skeleton is “dried up.”

Greek σκελετόν (sc. σῶμα ), neuter of σκελετός dried up, < σκέλλειν to dry up.

OED

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Posted: 06 November 2013 11:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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That does make sense, syntinen. Frank’s a Brummie and is very acute about about language (though not in an LH way). I remember him saying he still uses picture house for cinema and channel changer for remote control and didn’t realise this till someone pointed it out. My friend’s dad used stove rather than cooker in the 1970s. Wireless for radio which some oldsters still use might be from the military use of battery-powered ones in the field?

My dad used to sing only a few lines from that song when bathing me and not in Cockney ie My baby has gone down the plughole/My baby has gone down the sink/My baby has gone down the plughole/ I won’t get it back now I don’t think.

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Posted: 06 November 2013 11:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Dr T, I think the Verbatim writer was making the point that the “wrong” written syllables were being elided ie comf-ter-bull not comf-ta-bull with the ta from the table part and the fort part lost, if that matters. I don’t know. I didn’t write the article and unfortunately I can’t remember where the writer was from.
We have OP’s version. How do others here say it independent of dictionaries? Now I’m not entirely sure I say jew-ler-ee either, maybe jule-ree. Someone wearing a wire needs to record me unbeknownst.

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Posted: 06 November 2013 02:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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I think “wireless” was originally an adjective, the first half of “wireless telegraphy”, which is what the technology was called over a century ago, say pre- WW1. Unmodulated radio signals were used, to transmit Morse code, for a number of years before speech transmission became possible.

Thanks, Oecolampadius. I was right to be wary, then.

I think we may be too hasty in assuming that we always pronounce a given word in exactly the same way. If we all had such marvellous control of our vocal apparatus, there’d be no need of voice coaches, voice training, and such. I wouldn’t dream of undertaking always to say any given word exactly the same way—it might be “jewellery” (4 syllables) one time, “jewelry” (3 syllables) another, “joolry” (2 syllables) a third time. And that’s when I’m cold sober. In my cups I think I could produce a whole range of additional pronunciations.  A word doesn’t necessarily come out of our mouths sounding the way it does in our minds as we say it. Joking apart, drunken speech, where we lose whatever degree of control we have when sober, bears out what I say.

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Posted: 07 November 2013 01:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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lionello - 06 November 2013 02:35 PM

I think “wireless” was originally an adjective, the first half of “wireless telegraphy”, which is what the technology was called over a century ago, say pre- WW1. Unmodulated radio signals were used, to transmit Morse code, for a number of years before speech transmission became possible.

Thanks, Oecolampadius. I was right to be wary, then.

I think we may be too hasty in assuming that we always pronounce a given word in exactly the same way. If we all had such marvellous control of our vocal apparatus, there’d be no need of voice coaches, voice training, and such. I wouldn’t dream of undertaking always to say any given word exactly the same way—it might be “jewellery” (4 syllables) one time, “jewelry” (3 syllables) another, “joolry” (2 syllables) a third time. And that’s when I’m cold sober. In my cups I think I could produce a whole range of additional pronunciations.  A word doesn’t necessarily come out of our mouths sounding the way it does in our minds as we say it. Joking apart, drunken speech, where we lose whatever degree of control we have when sober, bears out what I say.

Four syllables? Never heard that one.

Strictly /dʒʊəlriː/, ‘round my way.

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Posted: 07 November 2013 09:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Interesting, lionello. Some old folk still use wireless to mean the actual object you listen to (the radio) even when it’s plugged in the mains and it is sometimes used by the young ironically or for humorous effect - ‘I heard it on the wireless last week’. Those early 1960s Sony transistor radios used to be called trannies in the UK which is not the current meaning.

As you say, pronunciation varies even with an individual so no dictionary can hope to cover all of these phonetically even though nucular is widespread unless specialist dictionaries like DARE do. I once saw a book in a library charting with maps variations in British English in Britain (isoglosses?) but that was for vocabulary. I remember a link in a post here showing variations in American terms for soda/pop etc. It would be interesting to know if George H W and Barbara Bush also said nucular. Is all our pronunciation received? It must be unless there’s some form of pronunciation dyslexia.

I’ve also remembered that another British wireless broadcaster, Danny Baker, used to call Victoria Beckham the Skelington as a joke and he is a cockney but he may have grown up pronouncing it that way too like Frank did with his cullies and then corrected himself.

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Posted: 07 November 2013 04:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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venomousbede - 07 November 2013 09:41 AM

Interesting, lionello. Some old folk still use wireless to mean the actual object you listen to (the radio) even when it’s plugged in the mains and it is sometimes used by the young ironically or for humorous effect - ‘I heard it on the wireless last week’. Those early 1960s Sony transistor radios used to be called trannies in the UK which is not the current meaning.

The wire that the wireless doesn’t have is the wire carrying the signal that was a feature of pre-wireless telegraphy.

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Posted: 07 November 2013 05:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Interesting etymological overlap between “wireless” and “radio.”

wireless
1894, as a type of telegraph, from wire (n.) + -less. In ref. to radio broadcasting, attested from 1903, subsequently superseded by radio.

radio
“wireless transmission with radio waves,” 1907, abstracted from earlier combinations such as radiophone (1881) and radio-telegraphy (1898), from radio-, comb. form of radiation (q.v.). Use for “radio receiver” is first attested 1917; sense of “sound broadcasting as a
medium” is from 1922. Wireless remained more widespread until World War II, when military preference for radio turned the tables. The verb is attested from 1919.
(From Etymonline via dictionary.com)

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Posted: 08 November 2013 02:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Faldage - 07 November 2013 04:50 PM

venomousbede - 07 November 2013 09:41 AM
Interesting, lionello. Some old folk still use wireless to mean the actual object you listen to (the radio) even when it’s plugged in the mains and it is sometimes used by the young ironically or for humorous effect - ‘I heard it on the wireless last week’. Those early 1960s Sony transistor radios used to be called trannies in the UK which is not the current meaning.

The wire that the wireless doesn’t have is the wire carrying the signal that was a feature of pre-wireless telegraphy.

I’ve been watching a lot of 30s American movies and it’s interesting how many characters use wire in reference to the telephone, especially in the phrase hold the wire, ie hang on.

When I was a boy in the 50s the radio was always the wireless in our house. I don’t think it was until the early 60s and the appearance of transistor radios that the nomenclature changed in the boronti household.

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Posted: 08 November 2013 04:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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I’ve seen Bell Canada trucks running around the city lately bearing ads touting “Wireless TV.”

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