Being Mocked for Mispronunciation
An aphorism did the rounds recently, and it struck a chord:
“Never make fun of somebody if they mispronounce a word. It means they learned it by reading.”
That’s been me all my life: mispronouncing words discovered exclusively through books. Sometimes I have discovered this through a gentle correction given quietly after the fact, or as part of a shared laugh over the gaffe, but not always.
The most unkind instance was when I was in law school. It was a constitutional law tutorial, compulsory and deadly boring. The word was “quorum”, which means the minimum number of members that must be present to start a valid meeting. It is pronounced kw-or-mm. I pronounced it kw-ere-mm, for I suppose I had never heard it spoken, having skipped the relevant (but mind-numbingly boring) lectures.
Many of my classmates snickered. A tall, blonde, athletic boy from a grammar school, who to this day makes me think of the Hitler youth, snickered the loudest. Being that I had to repeat the word many times in my little presentation, it got to the point that I stopped and asked the group: “What is so funny?”
The young Hitlerite decided to act as group spokesman. He took great pleasure in telling me that I was mispronouncing the word, and finished by asking if I had any sort of education whatsoever.
I glared at him, my fists balled, and I contemplated—quite seriously—leaping across the desk and punching him in the face, as would be voted appropriate by a quorum of Nannupians or public school ruffians of my ilk. But I knew it would cause more problems for me than him. Indeed, I would have been ejected from the law degree I so loathed. So the tutor interjected, and that was that.
That blonde boy was later accused of rape. Not a joke.
What’s the point? Well, it’s obvious. You can quietly and humbly correct someone’s pronunciation, and that is a kindness. You can together laugh at it all. But if you mock them to make them feel small and yourself big—then you are a coward and a tyrant. I’m pretty sure that that’s what that aphorism was trying to say.