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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Humility On The Bell Curve

It began as I skimmed a book by the late George Carlin. When he began riffing on his annoyance with people who mispronounce words, I nodded my head and laughed. An unhealthy whiff of condescension accompanied my simpatico with Carlin.

But the laughs stuck in my throat when he got to the word "forte", the synonym for strength - one syllable, silent "e", does not end in long "a". This word, which I've mispronounced as long as I can remember, sounds identical to "fort" - where soldiers live. The two syllable forte that ends with a long "a" is Italian and usually applies to music; it means loud. Even my wife didn't believe me until I showed it to her in a dictionary. After all, words are my forte, right? But the saga & the humbling do not end there.

Still licking my hoity-toity wounds, I introduced forte into a conversation with my college educated family. More disbelief until a dictionary was produced. All were mildly chastened; none were yet humbled. What might bring all these smart asses, including yours truly, down to earth with other mere mortals you ask? A website with 100 commonly mispronounced words. Yes, the hits kept coming. I'll cite just two others, aside from forte, that no one in this esteemed group got right: mauve & diphtheria. Try them on for size and see how you do. Suggestion: Have a dictionary handy.

BTW, of the six undergraduate degrees represented by the aforementioned intelligentsia, two are from an Ivy League University. Oh yeah, there's also one Master's degree. And, although only forte, mauve & diphtheria are mentioned here, there were plenty of others from the hit parade that only one or two of us brainiacs got right. My processing of this sorry saga continues but one thing is clear; my blog is appropriately named.

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