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Are Two r’s One Too Many?
Here we are, in the month that’s hard to spell and harder to pronounce. Every year I grit my teeth listening to the bizarre ways people mangle
“February.” The culprit is that first r. Most people just ignore it and say “Feb-yoo-ary.”
The 2006 American Heritage dictionary has a “Usage Note” at “February” that made my brain squirm the first time I read it:
“the variant pronunciation [Feb-yoo-ary] … is quite common in educated speech and is generally considered acceptable. The loss of the first r in this pronunciation can be accounted for by the phonological process known as dissimilation, by which similar sounds in a word tend
to become less similar.”
Oh, I grumbled. Now I’m expected to believe that a blatant mispronunciation is not simply sloppy—no, don’t you see, it’s a phonological process, dear boy.
This is the kind of thing that gives scholarship a bad name. At least that was my initial reaction. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe “Feb-roo-ary” is the way to go, but there might be more to this dissimilation business than I originally recognized. Take a look at
other instances …
Library Just about every schoolchild who ever lived has said “lie-berry,” and some say it well into their teens. The similarity of this word to February can’t be overlooked.
Roller coaster I have heard sane adults say they went on the “rolly coaster.”
Kindergarten Come on, admit it, you or someone you know says “kin-dee-garten.” You’re as likely to hear it from parents as from kin-dee-gartners themselves.
Peripheral It’s quite common to hear things like, “When I was a young player, I learned to use my periph-ee-al vision.”
All four of the previous examples are words in which the r’s cause the difficulty. But other consonants can create similar problems …
Probably A lot of, uh, dissimilators pronounce it “prob-lee.”
Et cetera (etc.) Many smart, educated people botch, er, dissimilate the first t, and say “eck settera” rather than “et.”
I don’t know if the next two examples count as “textbook” dissimilation, but a curious thing happens with certain double-c
Succinct Everyone says “suh-sinkt.” When was the last time you heard someone correctly pronounce it “suk-sinkt”? Well, why else are there
two c’s? You don’t say “secede” when you mean succeed.
Flaccid Again, most people overlook one of those c’s. The widespread mispronunciation is “flassid”; the correct pronunciation is
But I’ve been saving the best for last. Can anyone explain the silent c in Connecticut? All I’ve been able to dig up
is that the state got its name from quinnitukqut, a Mohican word meaning “beside the long tidal river.” So where does the second c in Connecticut come from? Note that it’s quinnitukqut, not quinnictukqut.
Maybe, when nobody was looking, some prankster, perhaps one of the ringleaders of Dissimilation Theory, sneaked in that middle c, daring anyone to
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If these newspaper headlines found circulating the Internet are authentic, they surely demonstrate an absence of thoughtful editing.
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.