Saturday, January 29, 2011

Panama, I Presume?

I am an official Word Nerd.

This has its roots in my early education, at a very forward-thinking grade school in Pennsylvania. We were not permitted to say 'ain't', or to use poor English at all, for that matter. For this we were severely and publicly reprimanded. The students of Grandview Elementary took pride in their mastering of the Language. So I am picky, when it comes to the written or the spoken word. I like it to be right.

When I hear something pronounced incorrectly, I cringe. When I discovered that I had been saying the word 'commute' with the emphasis on the wrong syllable for YEARS, and no one had bothered to tell me; well, let's just say that I was horrified.

My older sister, Lauren, went to the same school as I; but it appeared that she may have missed a few small items. When she says a word incorrectly, I can't help but call her on it. She, being well aware of our privileged education, and not wanting to appear in error, tries to pull the old, "Well, I only pronounce it that way because that is the CORRECT way. OUR way is different than other people's out's because we're from Pennsylvania...we speak much better English." While this method might ring true for words like 'creek' and 'crick', or 'roof' and 'ruff', or 'syrup' (sirrup) or 'syrup' (seerup'), it just never did jive for whichever word she would be slaughtering at the moment.

I tried not to get after her too often; I'm well aware of my O.C.D. that way, and that it could be obnoxious...but when we got to the late 80's, I was subjected to the worst sort of verbal torture. The band Van Halen came out with a song called 'Panama'....(pronounced 'pan-em-maw'). THEY sang it correctly (Thank you, Van Halen.) Lauren did not.

"Panemuh...." she'd sing. "Panemuh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh, PAN-EM-MUH!"

I thought my head was going to burst. Over the music I would be yelling like a crazed English professor, "PanamAH! It's PanamAH, not PanemUH!"

And she would argue with me that SHE had the correct pronunciation, because SHE was from Pennsylvania. And besides, when we lived there, she'd been in the grade above me, not below me, and she'd always been the straight A student and I wasn't, so that, of course meant that she'd retained more. That also meant that the word, my Dear Younger Sister, was 'PanemUh.'

Every time I heard her sing that song, I was in my own private little pronunciation hell.

Years later I was minding my own business, watching the news, when a newscaster from one of the networks dropped the same bomb on me. 'PanemUH', he'd said, plain as day. Suddenly I was doubting; could I possibly have been wrong all of these years? I ran for a dictionary. Nope. Pan-em-maw....I was still right, phwew.

But it made me feel badly about getting after Lauren for all of those years, and just not letting it slide whenever she made a language faux paux...this word stuff isn't for everyone, after all...So I called her just to tell her that a newscaster had said 'Pan-em-mUH', and that perhaps there might have been differing, yet equally correct ways to say the word. (Hey, I can at least give her that concession). We chatted for a while, it was a pleasant conversation. I was glad that I had called. When it was time to go, she asked me what I'd been doing before I called her. I told her I'd just been watching some tv. She thought that she would try out her newly esteemed vocabulary.

"All right, then," she said airily, " You may return to your former activity.....You may.... 'presume.'

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