IVP - Strangely Dim - The Arcane Scrutiny

April 8, 2010

The Arcane Scrutiny

Earlier this week, in a bit of correspondence, I crafted what we in the biz call a "homonym substitution." On purpose. That's how clever a wordsmith.I.am.

For the uninitiated among you, a homonym substitution is a word that sounds like, but has an entirely different meaning from, another word or phrase. Mine, for example, was "That's like comparing tangerines to oranges. Both have appeal." See what I did there? "Appeal" sounds like "a peel." Please, save your applause till the end . . .

Anyway, I recount this example of wordy-nerdiness as an introduction to a little survey I heard about today via a network of editors I'm apart of. (See what I did there?) Here's the text of the e-mail:

There are two kinds of words we'd love to get your feedback on:

1. What words peculiar to Christian books seem to get mispronounced a lot (in sermons, conversation, and audio books)? For instance, I occasionally hear Frederick Buechner's name pronounced "BUKE-ner" (first syllable rhyming with FLUKE) instead of "BEEK-ner." One time I even insisted to the recording engineer that Simone Weil's name was pronoucned "VEY"--but they didn't believe me and recorded it as "WHILE" anyway. It doesn't have to be just proper names--are there other theological or religious words you hear mispronounced frequently?

2. General pet peeves about common words (non-religious) that get mispronounced. For instance, for me the word "err" is correctly pronounced "UR" (rhymes with SPUR) not "AIR." (Although Webster's gives "AIR" as a secondary pronunciation.) Some studios provide whole books of pronunciations for their voice talent, but that doesn't mean they necessarily read them.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what editors do. A lot. We scrutinize not only the English language but people's use (and abuse) of it. This isn't mere self-indulgence, however; we're providing a good service to society--protecting the language from its mishandlers, preserving a literary history unmarred by careless diction. You may not appreciate it, but your great-great-great-great grandchildren . . . well, they probably won't appreciate it either. Sad, I no. (See what I did there?)

Anyway, please feel free to post your suggestions here; I'll make sure they get into the write hands. (Ha! I can't stop!)

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at April 8, 2010 1:05 PM Bookmark and Share


I'm a king of Oolov, myself, which isn't quite the same thing, but SIM-yu-ler.

I had a college professor who never URRed in his pronunciation. He did a good job of a-CLIMB-ate-ing us to proper English usage. I might of done better in his class had I understood the difference between "of" and "have."


Comment by: Mark Eddy Smith at April 8, 2010 3:42 PM

i apologize for being both off-task and off-subject. i have no commonly mispronounced words to contribute. but i need to admit that i, myself, am responsible for at least a few.

when i lived in china, i earned extra cash recording audio for books used in schools throughout the country. those in charge of hiring often knew little english, and were put in charge of the near-impossible task of convincing foreigners to spend their saturdays recording for not a great deal of money. but there were two of us who really enjoyed it. in addition to our already southern-drawled accents, we would intentionally mispronounce words or speak in odd rhythms to try and make the other laugh. i know we shouldn't have; we just thought it was too funny.

but it wasn't nearly as funny when, a year or two later, we'd pass a classroom at some university and hear the southern twang of one of our voices, followed by the echoes of chinese students mispronouncing words in just the same fashion.

you may throw your stones now.

Comment by: JamesBrett at April 9, 2010 8:47 AM

I'll pray for both of you. Go and sin know Moor.

Comment by: Dave at April 9, 2010 9:07 AM

I hear "propitiation" mispronounced a lot.

Comment by: Jim Collins at April 9, 2010 9:29 AM

Comments are closed for this entry.

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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