I was once admonished by a sleazy guy at a party for using the word chagrin. He recoiled as if I were a snake, saying, “Honey, if you ever want to catch a man you’ll stop using words like that.”
When I recovered from the shock – that he thought I was trying to catch him, as opposed to tolerating his painful small talk – it occurred to me that the word chagrin could serve as a useful conversational litmus test. So I resolved to use it as often as possible, to weed out men like him. And, by the way, I don’t mean purely socially. The litmus list is subconsciously at work even if I’m interviewing a client or a job candidate.
Many people of both genders have their own pronunciation litmus tests, whether they realize it or not. It’s a collection of words that, when mispronounced (or spelled the way they are mispronounced) cause the user to drop several points in the listener’s opinion. The offender might be physically attractive, charming, successful … but there’s always that nagging gaffe that needs to be mitigated or overcome. Regional American accents notwithstanding, modern communications leave no excuse for these atrocities:
- asterick – There is a risk in asterisk.
- expresso – Good espresso may not be fast. No x.
- mischievious – Mischievous has three syllables: MISS-chu-vuss, not miss-CHEE-vee-uss.
- nucular – Nuclear. Even educated Texans say NEW-cle-ur.
- sherbert – Sherbet does not rhyme with Herbert. Only one r: SHUR-bet.
- taunt – If you mean taut, tight, as in stretched, it rhymes with fought, not want.
This bonus word has caught on, especially in tech circles in recent years, but that doesn’t make it correct:
- processees – Processes. It’s PRAH-cess-uz. Brits and Canadians get a pass on PROE-cess-uz, but the plural of process is not PRAH-cess-EEZ.
It registers as a bungled affectation. I think people hear index-indices, analysis-analyses, and they like the way it sounds. But those words are of Greek origin and that is how plurals are formed for those words. Process is not a Greek word. Neither is princess. Or abscess.
So if the Man of My Dreams ever saunters up at a conference and asks, “Where is the session on Business ProcessEEZ?” …. well, you can imagine my chagrin.
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