The Cure For Outrage: Correct Pronunciation
July 4, 2009 1 Comment
I must have read about a dozen blog posts expressing shock and disbelief about the Russian naming of the new Russian-Nigerian joint venture Nigaz, before I figured out what everyone was upset about.
Naturally, being somewhat familiar with Russian, I assumed this was a transliteration of something like “нигаз” and just read this as nee-GAHZ. Big deal. I did think it a little odd because my amateurish Russian was initially inclined to parse this as “not gas”, but then I conjectured that the “Ni” part was probably a “ни” for “Nigeria”, not a “не-” prefix for negation. Anyway, is that what everyone’s so upset about?, I wondered. That they almost named a joint gas venture, in effect, “not-gas”? Maybe that doesn’t make sense, and is a little stupid and unimaginative, but so what? There are plenty of foreign corporate names that sound stupid to English ears (“TotalFinaElf”, anyone? Or one of my favorites that I kept encountering at work, the troubled Icelandic bank “Kaupthing”, which I instinctively mentally pronounce to the tune of that song “Wild Thing”?). Oh well, I shrugged, figured I was just missing something, and let it go.
But I kept seeing post after post on it, and they were talking about things like “racism”, and such, that made absolutely no sense to me. Finally, on like the dozenth blog post, I figured out how everyone else must be reading it.
But this is easily answered: they’re just not pronouncing it correctly. They literally don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re looking at an English transliteration of a foreign word, reading it wrong, and getting outraged.
This reminds me of the whole “niggardly” brouhaha a couple years back. Ignorance, it seems, gives one license to vent the dumbest sort of outrage. And clearly the more ignorant you are, the more opportunities you have to find things to be outraged by. And it increasingly seems as if the ignorant are demanding that everyone else conform to standards of language and thought that won’t even offend the ignorant. So now when you name something, or use a word, you not only have to be careful not to offend normal people who have a minimum amount of intelligence/knowledge and will read/interpret you correctly, you have to also try to imagine all the ways which ignorant idiots could misread/misinterpret/etc., and make sure not to offend them, either.
Side note: not sure if this is related, but it always irks me when the “gangsta” pronunciation of “player” is transcribed as “playa”. Maybe it’s just because I used to live in San Diego, close to Mexico, but every single time I come across this usage of “playa”, at first the only thing I think of is the beach….