The form and content of Barack Obama's Second Inaugural have stimulated even more than the usual amount of commentary, including some analyses of linguistic interest. For today, I'll limit myself to noting that one aspect of the president's performance gave Bryan Garner a case of the vapors:
Listening to the Inaugural Address now. Oh dear. President Obama said "tenants of our faith" this morning instead of "tenets."
— Bryan A. Garner (@BryanAGarner) January 21, 2013
Mr. Garner was right about the pronunciation:
And as Ben Zimmer pointed out, the president has used this pronunciation before:
— Ben Zimmer (@bgzimmer) January 21, 2013
It's clear from the frequency of misspellings on the web that this is a fairly common pronunciation. It's also easy to find explicit discussion of the question, as in these comments at the Merriam-Webster site:
Or this plaintive appeal to Yahoo Answers:
And there are many other cases where the pronunciation-influenced misspelling is questioned only by being mixed in with the standard spelling:
There are several reasons why people might get confused — -ent and -ant are common word-endings, derived from Latin present participles; relatively few Latin words inflected for person have been borrowed into English (fiat, caveat, credo, ignoramus, …); the earlier /n/ may tend to perseverate in perception (and thus later in production), as in the case of pundit / pundant; and so on.
Anyhow, it's interesting to see President Obama getting a little bit of the excessive linguistic scrutiny that used to be directed at George W. Bush, at least in some other area than alleged over-use of first person singular pronouns. But I'm happy to say that so far, "He mispronounced tenets!" doesn't seem to have the popular resonance of Jacob Weisberg's "He said 'Grecians'!", or George Will's "If you struck from Barack Obama’s vocabulary the first-person singular pronoun, he would fall silent".