April 03, 2008

Saying it wrong on porpoise

Grant Barrett is now doing a weekly language column for the Malaysia Star, and this week he talks about saying things the wrong way on purpose — intentional errors like the Internets and coinkydink. The column got picked up by Jason Kottke's blog, where commenters are chiming in with their own examples.

Just in case anyone thought this was a new phenomenon (hello again, Recency Illusion), an article on "Intentional Mispronunciations" appeared in the journal American Speech way back in 1932. If you don't have access to JSTOR and you're not a member of the American Dialect Society, you'll have to make do with this recent summary by Larry Horn on the ADS mailing list:

Margaret Reed (1932), "Intentional Mispronunciations". American Speech 7: 192-99.

This covers what Reed took to be a fad among the "light-hearted youth" of Central Westerners (she's writing from Nebraska) to circulate...well, intentional mispronunciations. (She's following up on a paper by Louise Pound from 10 years earlier in Dialect Notes.) Her categories include everything from adding or subtracting syllables and restressing (antique as "an-tee-cue", "champeen", "the-'ater"), tensing lax vowels ("genu-wine"), borrowing of "vulgar" pronunciations ("agin", "extry", "who'd-a thunk it", "varmint"), "Al Smith" English [a.k.a. Brooklynese, not a moniker Reed herself applies] ("boid", "noives", "toity-toid street", "winegar woiks"), the "extremely annoying" affectation of children's speech ("sojer", "sword" [with /w/, as we've been discussing recently], "Injun", "ax" for 'ask' [!-- she does add 'also archaic' for this], "itty bitty"), Yiddishisms ("epple", "darlink", "dun't esk"), various other dialect borrowings ("enyhoo", "pitcher" [for 'picture'], "divil"), blends and folk etymological forms ("bumbershoot", "brass-ear", "animule", "absotively"), misdivisions ("a tall", "a norange", but not "a whole nother"), spelling pronunciations ("k-nife", "g-nat", "X-mas"), and so on. She ends with the wistful hope that while "human nature" may be responsible for perpetuating this fad (or these fads--unclear how many causal factors are involved), "surely, in its fullest and most extreme form, the phenomenon is now passing its peak".

And of course we could take things back a century before that, to the 1830s, when a fad in comical misspellings eventually led to the popularization of O.K. (as definitively proven by Allen Walker Read in a series of American Speech articles in 1963-64).

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at April 3, 2008 03:33 PM