A ‘secant’ look at mispronunciation

By Clément Imbert

IN A previous article I gave several
examples of the ways in which we
mispronounce words by addition,
substitution or transposition of letters
and often misspell them in writing as
well. There are so many words on which
we commit this butchery that several other
examples warrant a second article, if
not more.
The word “second”, the fifth to last
word in the paragraph above, is as good
an example as any with which to start.
The “d” is often replaced (substituted) by
a “t” and very often the “o” is pronounced
as an “a” instead of a soft “u” to give “secant”,
which is a proper English term in
trigonometry with a completely different
Many women with fibroids have complained
about their “friboids”, casually
transposing the letter “r” without compunction.
Others complain about a “fresh
cole” and “hot” their “corffee” in their
“orffice” hoping to soothe the effects of
the cold, adding an “r” to the pronunciation
of “coffee” and “office”.
I have bought shrimps from roadside
vendors and some have assured me that
their “strimps” were fresh despite the fact
that in many cases the word was spelt correctly
on their display boards.
Many vendors expect clients or prospective
buyers to bargain, to request a
reduction in, or subtraction from, their
initial quoted price. Many however insist
that their price is fixed, claiming
that they could not “substract” anything,
an example of modification by addition,
which is rather ironical, considering that
some people seem to see the need to add
to, rather than subtract from, “subtract”.
Another transformation that I have
heard is the addition of an “i” before the
“e” in the word “student” to get “studient”
which is even more ironical when said by
students themselves, at the university, of
all places, believe it or not.
For many years, particularly in the
1970s and 1980s, live wrestling was very
popular in Trinidad, due mainly to the
success in the ring of world acclaimed local
wrestler Ray Apollon and his acumen
as a promoter. He brought well-known
international wrestlers such as Victor
Jovica and Abdullah the Butcher to Trinidad
and also had a close relationship with
the famous Indian wrestler, actor, director
and producer, Dara Singh. Abdullah
was notorious for his savagery and deep
scars, gouges almost, on his bald “plate”,
a mispronunciation of “pate” so often
heard locally.
Apollon and Abdullah were both
famous, or rather infamous, for
their vicious use of the head
butt, with which they often
knocked out opponents cold. Interestingly
the conjunction “but” is properly pronounced
by Trinidadians but for some
unknown reason, at least to me, the word
“butt” is pronounced “boot” to rhyme
with “foot”. Actually the term “head
butt” is tautologous—the word “head”
is redundant—as humans (and cows and
goats for that matter) butt with nothing
but their heads.
Wrestling was so big in Trinidad at
the time that Ric Flair, probably the best
known wrestler in the world at the time,
was defeated by Jovica in Trinidad, in
1983, for a version of the World Heavyweight
Wrestling Championship which
Flair held. The decision, however, was
soon reversed due to an alleged infraction
by Jovica.
I got to know Apollon fairly well as he
had property, which he visited frequently,
not far from where I lived. Although at
the time I lived in Sangre Grande, about
50 kilometres (over 30 miles) from where
these matches took place, I went to see
many of these “wrastlers” as some of my
friends called them.
The mention of Sangre Grande brings
to mind how often the name of this town
is mispronounced. The name is Spanish,
like San Juan, the other town which suffers
more mispronunciation than any
other in Trinidad and Tobago.
Sangre Grande is correctly pronounced
“Sangray Granday”. One can accept
the somewhat anglicised pronunciation
“Sangri Grandi”, whereby the “e” in
both words is pronounced as an “i”, but,
at least, the “gr” in the first word should
be pronounced and not substituted by a
“d” as in “Sandi”, which is the pronunciation
most commonly heard. Admittedly
“Sandi” rolls off the tongue more
instinctively as it rhymes “better” with
“Grandi”, both ending in “di”. I hope
readers forgive me for being a bit sensitive
about this as it is the town of my
youth. I am even more sensitive about
the mispronunciation and misspelling
of people’s names as I suffer from this all
the time.
As many people know, my last name,
Imbert, is French and is properly pronounced
“Ehbeer”. Most times when I
tell people my last name, pronouncing
it correctly, I also spell it to make sure
they get it right. All too often I get the response
“you mean Imbert”, whereby the
“m” and “t” are pronounced in an anglicised
version. I usually readily compromise
and accept “Imbeer”, with the “m”
but I insist that the “t” is silent. After
some explanation regarding its French
pronunciation most people get it right.
Most people know how to correctly pronounce
French surnames found in Trinidad
with silent endings like Maingot and
De Verteuil as well as places like Sans
Souci and Morvant, so there should be no
problem with “Imbert” if they hear the
correct thing often enough.
Maybe I shouldn’t complain too
much because, after all, the
pronunciation of my name
is only anglicised whereas
certain names in Trinidad are routinely
changed, such as the names Bernard and
Benjamin, which become Bennard and
Benjiman respectively to many people;
Maloney becomes Meloney to some who
clearly have a preference for “e” over “a”.
The above mispronunciations are just
a few examples and may be considered
grievous but they are certainly not “grevious”
and it would be just as bad to refer
to them as “mispronounciations”, with
the unnecessary, erroneous, but frequent,
addition of an extra “o”.
* Clément Imbert is Professor of Materials
and Manufacturing in UWI’s Faculty
of Engineering at St Augustine
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