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How Not To Sound Dumb.

Steve was a very well-read friend of mine in high school. I read a lot, too, but Steve read constantly, almost indiscriminately. He had a shameful penchant for D&D novels (haven’t seen Steve in awhile, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he has written some fan-fiction).

Being young and sheltered, we didn’t always “get” what we were reading. No one really picked up on any conflicting ideologies in Anthem and 1984—they were just dystopian stories with cool book covers. We also tried to work writerly words from our reading into conversation, with poor results. I’d like to think we were driven less by a desire to sound smart than a genuine hunger for and excitement about language in general, but we always came off like know-it-all jerks, particularly in our spectacular failures at saying the words we had read, but never actually heard.

We read Don Quixote and, separately, the word “quixotic,” and naturally assumed it was key-HOE-tik. Woops. We read a piece by David Mamet after studying Manet. French playwright David Mah-MAY was born. We didn’t know what the hell to do with “juxtaposition,” especially after the “quixotic” fiasco. I think I heard it as YUK-stah-poe-zih-shun at least once.

I felt a familiar flush creeping into my face recently when a coworker asked about a book I was reading—William T. Vollman’s Europe Central. I said I wished I was more music-literate, because Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich is a central character. I got a puzzled look. “Ooooh,” she said, “Shah-stah-KO-veech. I should really read it; I love Shah-stah-KO-veech.” All this time I’ve been calling him Show-STOCK-o-vitch. Why didn't someone tell me? I was making an idiot out of myself.

For the record:

Shostakovich = shah-stah-KO-veech
quixotic = kwik-SAH-tik
Mamet = MAM-it
juxtaposition = juks-tah-poe-ZIH-shun
Krabappel = Krub-OPP-uhl (definitely not KRAN-dul)

Photo of Montgomery County (MD) high school students circa 1940 from Shorpy.


KC said...

Chock-lat Bay-gul

Chaz said...

Yeah, maybe I'm not the best one to talk about this... or AM I?