Of Pogue and plosives and palates

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In his latest article, “Packing a Series of Pluses,” New York Times tech columnist David Pogue went 1 for 2 in his phonetic terminology:

Apparently, the people in positions of power at Palm weren’t completely pleased with the plethora of P’s in the appellations “Palm Pre” and “Palm Pixi,” the app phones Palm produced for Sprint. Palm has now expanded the parade of P’s with a pair of improved products: the Palm Pre Plus and Palm Pixi Plus.
(We’ll pause while you repair your palate after all those plosives.)

Props to Pogue for working “plosives” in there, possibly a first in the history of the Times. But what’s up with the “palate” business? If he knows enough to identify /p/ as a voiceless bilabial plosive, he should also know that the palate doesn’t enter into its articulation.

But of course the alliteration was irresistible, not to mention the allusion to the expression “cleanse one’s palate” (where palate means not “‘roof of the mouth’ but ‘sense of taste’), so I suppose we can give Pogue a pass on this one.

(Hat tip, Greg Howard.)

[Update: Pogue actually is not the first Times writer to refer to “plosives.” A piece from August 16, 1972 by Francis Griffith entitled “A Better Idear” includes this line (accurate in its phonetics but appalling in its folk-phonetics):

Indigenous Brooklynites found the sounds of t and th, one plosive and the other fricative, incongruent for their easy-going ways, and therefore avoided them. They preferred d, a softer, lazier sound.

More recently it appeared in a 2001 article about a British voice coach who “stresses the difference among plosives, fricatives and affricates.” And former Times music critic Kelefa Sanneh used it a few times to talk about rapping styles (“spectacularly popped plosives,” “pop some plosives,” “distended vowels bounded by hyper-enunciated plosives.”)]



16 Comments

  1. Ast A. Moore said,

    January 22, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

    What a delightful post. Phonetics, language, and Mr. Pogue all rolled into a single, precious package!

    Mmm. Yummy.

  2. wally said,

    January 22, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

    “so I suppose we can give Pogue a pass on this one.”

    perhaps this phrasing:

    ‘ I propose we provide Pogue a pass on this performance’

  3. JLR said,

    January 22, 2010 @ 12:46 pm

    > he should also know that the palate doesn’t enter into its articulation

    Pointless pedantry?

  4. Grant Barrett said,

    January 22, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    This week we recorded a word puzzle with David for a future episode of the radio show and he specifically mentioned being a particularly proud papa of that paragraph.

  5. John Cowan said,

    January 22, 2010 @ 2:14 pm

    Wally: That doesn’t help, since provide alliterates on /v/, whereas most of the words in the original passage properly alliterate on /p/, including apparently, completely, expanded, improved, repair. Of course, there are also the non-alliterating words positions, appellations, app, phones, produced.

  6. Lazar said,

    January 22, 2010 @ 2:37 pm

    @John Cowan: Is it fair to include “expanded” in that list? I would say that it alliterates with /sp/, not with /p/.

  7. Sridhar Ramesh said,

    January 22, 2010 @ 6:50 pm

    Pardon my ignorance, but what does it mean to say “provide” alliterates on /v/ rather than /p/?

    Regardless, since the original concern being parodied was orthographic (“plethora of P’s”) rather than phonetic, every “non-alliterating” word in Cowan’s post seems acceptable, regardless of matters of pronunciation.

  8. Sridhar Ramesh said,

    January 22, 2010 @ 6:52 pm

    (I suppose there was never any actual concern from the people in positions of power at Palm about the plethora of P’s, so that the parody could have chosen to highlight the alliteration instead, and indeed probably even to a large degree meant to. Still, they did explicitly state a target and stick to it.)

  9. Sridhar Ramesh said,

    January 22, 2010 @ 6:53 pm

    (I also suppose “plethora of P’s” could have meant a plethora of /p/s rather than a plethora of s. I’ll stop talking now…)

  10. Sridhar Ramesh said,

    January 22, 2010 @ 6:54 pm

    Er, dammit, that was meant to read “rather than a plethora of <p>s”. I’ll stop talking now.

  11. dan e bloom said,

    January 22, 2010 @ 9:27 pm

    Speaking of “A Better Idear” — as a kid i used to say “idear” instead of “idea” and I grew up in Western Mass and was the only one of the 5 kids in our family compound to do so. Did I get it from my Brooklyn papa? {as a matter of fact, i still say “idear”……who knew?_]

  12. Tom V said,

    January 22, 2010 @ 10:41 pm

    If I hear that last quote from Kelefa Sanneh rather than reading it, it sounds like some particularly painful form of indigestion. Don’t these guys ever talk out loud to themselves when they write?

  13. Caitilin said,

    January 22, 2010 @ 11:36 pm

    and aren’t those example not of alliteration, but of consonance? :)

  14. Rick said,

    January 23, 2010 @ 3:39 pm

    The pre-eminent prize for protracted plosives, particularly p’s, is presumably the privilged property of PUGNA PORCORUM (Battle of the Pigs). Written by a monk in 1530, it consists of 253 Latin hexameters in which every word begins with p.

  15. Amy Stoller said,

    January 24, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

    Re: Francis Griffith: horrifying. Absolutely horrifying. Speech sounds are value-neutral. Griffith’s remarks are value-absent. Or perhaps I mean value-negative. They make me reconsider whether my pacifism is worth it.

    Pogue, on the other hand, is a smart guy, if occasionally too much of a wiseacre for his own good and that of his readers. Maybe someone with more clout than I have can reach out to him.

  16. Patrick Daughters said,

    January 24, 2010 @ 6:29 pm

    The term “plosive” is well-known in broadcasting, as plosives and sibilants cause the most trouble with the mike. It’s possible Pogue picked it up at J-school.

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