Spelling and Pronounciation

This morning's XKCD from Randall Muroe (author of one my favourite more recent books) had me laughing out loud for a little while. 



Spoken language is interesting. On the one hand, I'm not a grammar nazi, but I am very aware that others use the way I speak to make judgements about me. It's a significant part of the "first impressions" process that I have some level of control over.

The words you use carry not just the semantic information of the words themselves, but also information about the speaker. In the same way that an image file on your phone carries embedded within itself information about when and where it was taken. Obvious examples include your accent, or the way you pronounce things like po-tay-to or po-tah-to convey information about where you were raised. Hearing someone say utilize where use is perfectly acceptable indicates that someone is trying to impress you by appearing more brainy or businesslike than they are comfortable being.

I discovered a few years ago that pronunciation carries information about the source of knowledge. A friend tried to pronounce Richard Dawkins' neologism meme.

Spoiler Alert: When Dawkins gives public talks, the word is pronounced "meem", and he said, in The Selfish Gene where he coined the term, that the word is intended as an analogy for gene and so sound similar. 

When my friend pronounced it, he called a "mimi". What I immediately realized was that he had never heard the word pronounced before; his knowledge of that term came entirely from reading. This happens a lot in magic where most of our history is recorded in books (with VHS, DVD and YouTube coming along fairly recently.) And there are names of prominent magicians with names whose pronunciations aren't obvious like "S.W. Erdnase", "Henry Christ" (which rhymes with gist) or more recently "David Acer" (pronounced Akker). So someone who knows of one of these magicians who doesn't know how to pronounce their name, must have encountered it only in text, indicating where their knowledge of magic comes from. Whereas someone who pronounces it properly (and may or may not know how to spell it properly) is more likely to have encountered it in conversation with other magicians, in a social setting or as part of a mentorship relationship. 

It's interesting to think about because on the one hand, we tend to have a great deal of respect for those who dig through original source material in search of fun new things to perform. On the other hand, we also respect the value of mentorship relationships for performers. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes a word is worth more than a word.