Retching schedule

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Tim Footman in the Guardian offers us a routine of standard-issue over-the-top retching about pronunciations other than his own. He pretends to get so overwrought on hearing someone saying mis-chiev-i-ous on BBC Radio 4 that he shouts at the radio (while temporarily so deranged that he is unable to tell that he was the person shouting), and needs a cup of orange verbena tea to calm him down. He purports to go to the toilet and retch into the bowl when he hears someone say schedule with initial [sk-]. It's interesting that he is so linguistically unsophisticated that he doesn't know the difference between what is standard American (as opposed to British) and what is non-standard. It's the same with his commenters. It applies both to pronunciations (like schedule with [sk-]) and spellings (a commenter objects to program). The mis-chiev-i-ous pronunciation is non-standard (see the Merriam-Webster dictionary). So is somethink for "something", which he also objects to. But that is not the case with schedule (or the spelling program). Tim Footman would have us believe that he experiences actual nausea when listening to someone who does not have shed as the first syllable of the word schedule. He doesn't seem to realize that it's not just an idiosyncrasy of a class of people who don't talk right (which I suppose you could say about mis-chiev-i-ous, if you are feeling uppity and intolerant). The [sk-] is standard for American pronunciations of schedule, and common among Canadians; it's only British speakers who mostly favour the shed version of that first syllable. The [sk-] speakers must number in the hundreds of millions. Tim Footman is going to spend a lot of time on the floor of the bathroom talking to Ralph on the big white phone.

[Thanks, I guess, to Steve Jones for the reference to Footman's tired little piece of fulminating ignorance.]


  1. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    March 4, 2009 @ 11:44 pm

    Any ideas on how mischievious came into being? I feel like it could be the urge to keep penultimate stress in the adjective mischievous as in mischief, and mis-CHIEVE-i-ous sounds better than mis-CHIEVE-ous (though I'm not sure why).

  2. joseph palmer said,

    March 4, 2009 @ 11:47 pm

    It's sometimes better to be simply wrong than to talk like an American in Britain, so I don't know if Footman would care about this too much. Talking like an American is treachery!

    Personally I have had my bottom smacked once or twice by linguistics PhD holders marking my essays (in the UK) for mixing US and British standards. It seems this form of prescriptivism is fine.

    [Oh, yes, and I approve of that. It is completely reasonable to enforce on UK students the British spelling standard, and correspondingly to enforce American spelling in the USA. With speech, though, one doesn't normally do such enforcement. But whether one does, my point in the post was that it was very strange to want to throw up at the mere sound of a standard American pronunciation. Stranger than wanting to throw up at the sound of a vulgar error that is not standard for anyone and thus represents an abuse of the language (or so the prescriptive-mind person would think). —GKP]

  3. jfruh said,

    March 4, 2009 @ 11:53 pm

    Wasn't it Dorothy Parker who responded to an American saying shedule with "You, my dear, are full of skit"?

  4. jfruh said,

    March 4, 2009 @ 11:57 pm

    Ryan Denzer-King: perhaps its an artifact of the spelling? I've been known to slip into mis-CHIEVE-i-ous on occasion. I was a bookish kid, and learned lots of words from print that I never heard anyone say; looking at mischievious, that i after the v looks like it should be its own syllable (cf. devious, for instance).

  5. AJD said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 12:17 am

    Jfruh, you've missed a step: there isn't an "i" after the "v" in the spelling of "mischievous".

  6. jfruh said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 12:19 am

    AJD: Eeps! I blush! Well, maybe there should be, because I pronounce it … er … um …

    Of course, I also occasionally slip into the dreaded "nuculer." I might as well just hand in my liberal elitist card now.

  7. Stephen Jones said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 12:39 am

    According to Webster the spelling mischievious with the 'i' dates back to the sixteenth century. It seems to me that there have long been two adjectives from 'mischief' and why Americans view one as sub-standard is a puzzle. Perhaps the variant was invented by a mischievous/mischievious little boy so pompous old farts would get their knickers in a twist.

    Footman is affiliated to the Adam Smith Institute and normally produces articles on economics of mind-numbing simplicity. When I suggested he let the market decide in the case of words as well he was genuinely puzzled that I saw any contradiction in his viewpoints.

    With regard to 'somethink' there is the problem that very often the 'g' is pronounced as a /k/ in the speech of standard speakers, so it's hard to tell what he is referring to.

  8. Robert S. Porter said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 1:53 am

    joseph palmer,

    Simply move to Canada where the British and American spellings are routinely mixed. I've certainly never been corrected on any of my papers for deviating from the 'Canadian standard'.

    And I can't see any value from enforcing one standard over another. If it's English and it makes sense it's good enough for me. That's certainly the standard I will follow when I (hopefully) enter academia.

  9. Cheryl Thornett said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 1:58 am

    I notice that the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (at hand on my computer) derives schedule through French but renders the Greek original with skh. Perhaps US English derives sk- directly from Greek rather than through French.

    There's nothing like ignorance for supporting a prejudice, is there?

  10. Sili said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 2:43 am

    As a dirty furriner I mix and match at random. These days I do try to aim for RP, when I become aware of a difference, but I'll never give up my skedule, skeme and skematics. Too much percieved respect for the Greek (and anyway, we use the k in Danish).

  11. Cecily said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 4:08 am

    Well if Footman objects to "idiosyncrasy of a class of people who don't talk right", he ought to know better than to use the word "toilet" – a major social marker in upper middle class England. (Loo or lavatory, but not bathroom (other than to take a bath) are the acceptable words to the upper classes.)

  12. Nathan Myers said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 5:19 am

    I find myself drawn to saying "whiles" for "while", despite that it's not used in any speech community I've actually been a member of. Where does this come from? Are there any British communities that do it, or is it uniquely American?

    [(amz) OED2 has whiles 'while' back to the 13th century. It originated as an adverbial genitive of the noun while. All the OED's citations are British, but that just might be a consequence of the way citations were collected. There are no citations at all from the 20th-century, which suggests that it's been used less and less in writing. But it's not hard to google up some recent examples, most of them in American speech and distinctly demotic in tone: Buster Brown's song "Gonna love my baby" ("whiles I got a chance"); "Hey Cleatus, hold ma brew whiles I scratch my back" (mock country speech); etc.]

  13. outeast said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 5:23 am

    The comments there seem to be dominated by the usual crop of people sharing their own misplaced bugbears about language use. A significant minority, though, are more reasonable… and one comment literally made me laugh out loud (in a figurative sense):

    'And, if you check latest trends, I believe youths are now saying "izzit" even when they mean "innit". How can they possibly tell rite from rong?'

    Nice to see some people, at least, still see this stuff as being as risible as it is.

  14. Picky said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 5:40 am

    Mr Footman is going to spend a lot of time in the loo, I think, because my impression is that the AmE pronunciation of schedule is gaining ground in the UK and may by now even be in the lead. (I avoid it, of course, but then I'm even more of a class-bound prude than Mr Footman is – if he really says "toilet").

    And surely "somethink" is spelled with an "f", for heaven's sake.

  15. Breffni said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 5:42 am

    There's an interesting note in the OED's etymology for mischievous, noting that "A pronunciation with stress on the second syllable… was common in literary sources until at least 1700, but subsequently became restricted to non-standard usage", and that that may have given rise to the four-syllable variant by analogy with previous, devious (given that the only other -ievous word is grievous). But my favourite part is a quote from John Walker's "A critical pronouncing dictionary and expositor of the English language", 3rd ed., 1802:

    There is an accentuation of this word upon the second syllable, chiefly confined to the vulgar, which, from its agreeableness to analogy, is well worthy of being adopted by the learned… But what analogy can give sanction to a vulgarism..? In language, as in many other cases, it is safer to be wrong with the polite than right with the vulgar.

  16. outeast said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 6:31 am

    given that the only other -ievous word is grievous

    And whaddaya know, grevious is commonplace too – even making it past the copy-editors of The Daily Telegraph of all places (though in the sports pages, which maybe doesn't count).

  17. Arnold Zwicky said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 8:58 am

    Following up on Breffni's comment: according to the OED, both mischievious and grievious have been around for a long time (in a variety of spellings) — 1500s on for the first, 1400s on for the second (the shorter variants, without the i, appeared first, but not by a great amount of time) — and occurred in literary sources for some time, before becoming associated with "vulgar" speakers. They continue to be frequent, but are now (as in Brians's Common Errors) labeled simply as mistakes.

    I have a considerable file of -i- "linking" a stem to a monosyllabic suffix; the result is stressed on the final syllable of the stem (often requiring a stress shift from the standard variant, as in mischievious). In addition to mischievious and grievious, I have intravenious and heinious, with -i- linking to -ous; doctorial and pectorials, with -i- linking to -al; similiar, with -i- linking to -ar; and gal(l)iant, with -i- linking to -ant. The last of these is not listed as a variant of gallant in the OED, but Jon Lighter reported to the ADS-L in 2005 that galliant was fairly common in 19th-century ballads, and Paul Frank added some non-ballad examples.

    For all of these non-standard examples there are standard examples with linking -i- that can serve as models: devious, ingenious, professorial, familiar, valiant, and a number of others.

  18. Dan Lufkin said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 9:32 am

    As long as we're venting on stuff like that there, does anyone have a clue about why, in central Pennsylvania, people always use "whenever," seldom just plain "when"? There's some kinda boundary — "My dog barks when(ever) anyone comes to the house". But they say, "Why are you at the movies whenever you should be in school?" for a single instance?

    Are there regional or national differences?

  19. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 9:38 am

    Is "grievous" the only other word that even ends in "vous"? (Other than something like "rendezvous", which of course belongs to a different class of words.) And "grievous" isn't super-common. This could be a big reason people like to stick that "i" in there.

  20. Breffni said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 9:47 am

    Dan Lufkin: I'd bet that use of "whenever" was brought to Pennsylvania by immigrants from Ulster. "Whenever" for punctual rather than habitual events is common in Northern Irish speech: "I met them whenever I was in Ballymena last month". OED's earliest cite is 1655, but labels it "Now only in Sc. and Irish use" – so the N. Ireland usage probably derives from Scots, given the historic connections.

  21. Andrew said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 9:56 am

    Anecdote (presumably apocryphal) about WWII leaders:

    Roosevelt: 'We must establish a skedule – '

    Churchill: 'Where did you learn to pronouce "shedule" like that?'
    Roosevelt: 'In shool'.

  22. Kay said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 10:26 am

    So what if certain spellings or pronunciations date back to the 1700s? Do we live in the 1700s? To me, using this logic is the literary equivalent of "Patriotism [being] the last refuge of a scoundrel."

  23. David Scrimshaw said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 10:31 am

    Two observations:

    Here in Ottawa (Canada) I've more than once heard friends strenuously object to the practice of CBC radio announcers saying "shedule". It sounds affected and elitist to them.

    I discovered a few years ago that I say "somethink" instead of "something". (Because I had a friend who mercilessly teased me about it.) In fact, unless I pay close attention, any word ending with "ing" is likely to end with an "ink" sound when I say it. I'm not doing this deliberately and consider the "ink" to be wrong. For me, at least, it's a completely different sort of "mispronunciation" from my deliberate choice to say "skedule".

  24. parvomagnus said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 10:39 am

    I've never used 'mischievious' before. Kinda like it. Seems like the difference between 3rd grade mischief and some full-on Trickster type skit.

  25. Randy Nowlan said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 10:43 am

    I remember seeing in my youth a movie whose name I cannot remember, in which the pronunciation of schedule was the cause of a young Scot's being mocked by a group of young English. I wonder if the pronunciation is a consistent distinction between the North and South Britons. Is it a shibboleth or a schibboleth?

    I am from the east coast of Canada, where schooners sailed on schedule, and my wife is from the west coast, where even Chinook is pronounced as if spelled "shinook". Schedule is one of the many things we will never agree on.

  26. Dan Lufkin said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 10:52 am

    Thanks, Breffni, that explains a lot. Central PA is indeed a Scots/Irish stronghold, politics as well as dialect.

  27. Cameron said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 11:33 am

    Yeah, the PA "whenever" (I've heard it in and near Pittsburgh, as well as in Central PA) is almost certainly a Scots-Irish survival.

    Another Scottish or Scots Irish usage you still hear in Central and Western PA is the construction needs + past-participle, as in "this shirt needs washed". That would probably also cause some gastro-intestinal distress for the unfortunate Mr. Footman.

  28. Breffni said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 11:37 am

    Kay, of course yesterday's norm doesn't necessarily apply today. But likewise, today's norm might not apply tomorrow. This unfortunate journalist is at risk of becoming unhinged over variant pronunciations that pre-date his great-grandparents. He doesn't have to accept them as standard – I don't accept "mischievious" as standard – but a bit of historical perspective ought to be more soothing to a rational person than orange verbena tea.

    [(myl) Yes, there's some evidence that cognitive therapy can help. ]

  29. Stephen Jones said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

    So what if certain spellings or pronunciations date back to the 1700s? Do we live in the 1700s? To me, using this logic is the literary equivalent of "Patriotism [being] the last refuge of a scoundrel."

    And the spelling is still being used now or there wouldn't be a kerfuffle about it. The legitimacy of what you consider to be the correct spelling goes back to how long it has been used. If you deny the relevance of tradition in spelling then you have no right whatsoever to insist that yours is the correct spelling.

  30. Mark Liberman said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

    Kay: So what if certain spellings or pronunciations date back to the 1700s? Do we live in the 1700s? To me, using this logic is the literary equivalent of "Patriotism [being] the last refuge of a scoundrel."

    Tim Footman, whose ill-informed rant is under discussion, is driven to "retreat to the lavatory and retch like a secret bulimic" by what he calls "jarring neologism[s]" on the radio. In this context, it's simply a matter of helpful fact-checking to point out that the spellings or pronunciations in question are hundreds of years old. No scoundrels are in sight, nor any refuges other than that (I hope metaphorical) toilet bowl.

  31. Q. Pheevr said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

    Tim Footman is going to spend a lot of time on the floor of the bathroom talking to Ralph on the big white phone.

    And heaven forfend that anyone suggest he is placing a call to [rælf] rather than to [reɪf]!

  32. Mike Keesey said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

    Wasn't it Dorothy Parker who responded to an American saying shedule with "You, my dear, are full of skit"?


    From a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode:

    Narrator: And here we see people skiing, or, as I'm told the correct pronunciation is, "shee-ing".
    Joel: Yeah, well I think you're full of skit!

  33. Bobbie said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

    Footman is more apt to be kvetching than retching.

  34. Steve said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

    As Picky mentioned, the so-called AmE pronunciation of 'schedule' is indeed gaining ground in Britain and I would agree that it's now probably the dominant form. I am not aware of any particular North-South divide, but there is definitely a generational divide – I doubt you would find many speakers under 30 who would use the 'sh' pronunciation. I find I use both pronunciations myself so I don't know how Tim Footman would react to that.

  35. Z. D. Smith said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

    In light of that sort of development the perennial British pastime of language rage isn't wholly incomprehensible. Britain of course was long ago eclipsed by America and others in its position as world-dominating superpower, but at least for much of the 20th century it retained a very vital cultural relevance and cachet. If the younger generations of British English-speakers are adopting (more) American pronunciations, however, surely that must make any Briton with some sense of national pride more nervous. Theirs is the language that more than any other defines the times that we live in, and I think Mr. Footman sees it slipping away. Indeed, he is quite disingenuous about his outrage because if skedule (djule or dyool, I wonder?) actually were a neologism—the fanciful or random mutation of simple British word—I suspect it would cause him much less agita than as the harbinger of continual American approach across England's mountain's green.

  36. Z. D. Smith said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

    (Or, I should add, West Indian, Indian Indian, Pakistani, African and other approach as well.)

  37. Picky said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

    I'm sure you're right, Z.D., that there's always a little sour grapes and nostalgia for greatness past in some of criticisms of American influences on BrE culture. That may not be pretty, but it's not unnatural, either. I do, however, believe – maybe I'm trying hard to see signs – that we're growing out of that. It would be a sad thing if our sense of national pride had to rest on something as daft as a bit of disputed pronunciation.

    But, happily, I can assure you that the British were making a silly fuss about acceptable and non-acceptable pronunciations even while we were at the top of our game and thrashing that bounder Napoleon.

  38. Adrian said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

    outeast said: and one comment literally made me laugh out loud (in a figurative sense)


  39. Bryn LaFollette said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

    I'm actually a little surprised that the literature labels mis-CHI-vi-ous as non-standard. Although I hadn't really previously given it much thought, I realize that in Southern California these two are really in free-variation among the natives here. Certainly neither pronunciation has any stigma attached to it that I've observed. I had sort of thought of them as analogous to the freely alternating pronunciations for "either" ([i'ðər] / [aı'ðər]).

    As for "skedule" vs. "shedule", no one here uses the latter pronunciation. It's not that it's considered high-class or elite, it's simply non-existent in the dialect. Mostly, I find it sounds sort of silly and quaint.

  40. Bill Ward said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 6:31 pm

    I'd be interested to hear how the BrE speakers of "sked-" handle the rest of the word. AmE usage is more like "sked-jool" whereas traditional BrE pron was more like "shed-yool." Are BrE speakers now saying "sked-yool" or "sked-jool"?

  41. mollymooly said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 7:22 pm

    The Longman Pronunciation Dictionary 2007 survey of British English gives for mischievous: ˈmɪs- 65% / -ˈtʃiːvəs 15% / -ˈtʃiːviəs 20%

    The survey doesn't cover schedule, but the 1998 LPD survey gave 30% sk- / 70% ʃ, with 65% of those born after 1973 favouring sk-

  42. mollymooly said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 7:30 pm

    And here we see people skiing, or, as I'm told the correct pronunciation is, "shee-ing".

    Merriam-Webster s.v. "ski" says "Pronunciation:\ˈskē, British sometimes ˈshē\" While that's the Norwegian pronunciation, I doubt anybody in Britain has said shē since the War.

  43. Nathan Myers said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 7:45 pm

    On "shit", which AHD says shares a PIE root with scissors and lots of other practical and ceremonial cutting and splitting-related words, I have wondered whether it traces to simple action of the sphincter (referenced in the idiom "pinch a loaf"), or implies something more like a curse on the result ("good riddance to you"). Did it once have wider use, now narrowed except metaphorically, or has it always been specific to fecal matter? And, relatedly, did it start out as a euphemism, and if so, do we retain any traces of what word it was a euphemism for?

  44. joseph palmer said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 9:03 pm

    Deviating from a national standard in an essay does not necessarily refer to spelling, and modern linguistics courses are generally full of people from all nations, including Canadians who have necessarily confused minds! Is it really valid, therefore, to demand one set of national standards only, or even to allow only the consistent use of the two "important" ones?

    As people have noted, Americanization of British English is happening fast. For those Brits, like me, who do not live in the UK and also read lots of material at online places like this one, it is hard to keep the standards straight.

  45. Charles Belov said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 9:31 pm

    I too was bookish and probably picked up the mis-CHIE-vi-ous spoken form from reading it. I picked that word up as a kid, so I wouldn't trust this. I am aware of the MIS-chie-vous pronunciation except that I hear it mentally with an "f" rather than "v" sound. Most of my speech patterns are form Western Pennsylvania.

  46. dr pepper said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 10:41 pm

    Seconded on Socal. I wasn't aware that there was an issue with "mischievous/mischievious" or "grevous/grevious" until now.

  47. Steve Morrison said,

    March 5, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

    It's a good thing Footman never met the late Isaac Asimov, who had the same feelings in reverse about the pronunciation of "schedule". This is from the beginning of his essay "The Mispronounced Metal":

    As a die-hard one-worlder, I scorn the way people quarrel over languages[…]
    So you think that I would not be affected by minor dialectical differences in English. If I scorn quarrels over entire languages, I certainly won't be perturbed by a small matter of pronunciation.
    Oh, do you? You understand nothing about human nature, then.
    Last night I was watching an episode of "The Avengers", which I watch every chance I get since there are few episodes I have seen oftener than a dozen times.—And in this episode, one of the characters casually referred to a "school schedule," pronouncing it "skool shedule."
    I was rocketing out of my chair at once, crying out incoherently something that would have been like this if I could have maintained my cool. "Shedule?" I was trying to say. "Shedule? Why not say 'shool shedule'? Why not say 'sholar' for 'scholar,' and 'sheme' for 'scheme,' and 'shizophrenia' for 'schizophrenia,' and 'Shenectady' for 'Schenectady'? Only in German is 'sch' pronounced 'sh' as in 'schnitzel' and 'Schubert.' You hear me? You hear me?"
    They didn't hear me. I missed a full five minutes of the program and it did me no good. Worse yet, I do this everytime I hear anyone mispronounce "schedule" in that jackass way, and it never does me any good.

  48. Janice Huth Byer said,

    March 6, 2009 @ 12:29 am

    With reference to Footman's alleged need to know "skedule" is standard American pronunciation, Joseph Palmer (above) commented, "I don't know if Footman would care about this too much. Talking like an American is treachery!"

    My impression, exactly! I presume Footman well knows "skedule" is standard across the pond. However, to grant that fact would dignify it and undermine his position. His claim to retch, I take as is his exaggerating for the effect of persuading us of the strength, and he hopes, the legitimacy of his feelings.

    Reportedly, not a few Britons feel toward our English like the French feel toward all English.

  49. Picky said,

    March 6, 2009 @ 8:57 am

    Having been all reasonable about "sked", I must confess to being totally irrationally irked by UK businessmen who I'm sure normally pronounce "lever" with a "leev" vowel, BrE-style, but who pronounce leverage with a "levv" vowel when they are talking about the magnifying effect debt-based transactions can have on profits and losses.

    I say I'm not objecting to an AmE pronunciation per se. I say I'm objecting to the fact that they've evidently picked the word up from management consultants.

    [(amz) Well, from AmE speakers who have reason to talk about "leverages" and "leveraging". So BrE speakers pick up the pronunciation from people they're in contact with; there's nothing remarkable, or reprehensible, about that.]

    I say that they're showing they've totally missed the metaphorical power of the word.

    [(amz) Pronouncing "lever" with [i] and "leverage" with [ɛ] slightly obscures the derivational relationship between the words. But then English has tons of pairs of derivationally related words with different vowels. In fact, the vowel relationship in these pronunciations of "lever"/"leverage" is the same as the "trisyllabic laxing" relationship in "serene"/"serenity", "impede"/"impediment", and a number of other pairs.]

    But am I just fooling myself?

  50. acilius said,

    March 6, 2009 @ 10:40 am

    Not only in western Pennsylvania, but throughout the Ohio valley, "whenever" is often found in contexts where English speakers elsewhere might say "when." To be sure, many Ulstermen settled these areas. So, however, did many Germans. To my ear, the Ohio valley "whenever" often sounds like a calque of the German "wenn." Is this perhaps a plausible alternative to the Scots-Irish origin proposed above?

    [(amz) The two accounts are not incompatible. The factors might well have reinforced each other.]

  51. Janice Huth Byer said,

    March 6, 2009 @ 11:49 am

    Picky, your ear sounds just right to feel affronted by "lever" being mindlessly spoken in a foreign accent, in a context, where its metaphorical value depends on its everyday literal meaning.

    It strikes me as not just a valid exception to reasonable exemptions, but a valid rule, in itself, that heterolingualism, for lack of a real word, entailing, as it does, mistaking a different pronunciation for a different word, would be inherently wrong.

  52. Picky said,

    March 6, 2009 @ 1:12 pm

    amz: I didn't make myself clear (as ever). These benighted British businessfolk have three words: lever (leev) the pole-thing you lever with; leverage (leev) the extra oomph you get when lifting a heavy object with a lever; and leverage (levv) the extra oomph you get when your transactions are funded by debt. I think they are silly fellows.

  53. Steve said,

    March 6, 2009 @ 4:34 pm

    @ Z D Smith & Bill Ward – as I said, I use both the 'sk- and 'sh' pronunciations at the head of the word, and I suspect I probably vary in my pronunciation of the second syllable as well. I'm pretty sure I never say 'shedjyool', but 'skedyool' and 'skedjyool' both seem to come fairly naturally, and I would guess that other British 'sk' favourers may be as inconsistent as I am. Of course it is notoriously difficult to be sure how one pronounces a word without recorded evidence because we automatically adopt the pronunciation we believe is 'correct' rather than what we actually say.

  54. GAC said,

    March 6, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

    I've never in my life heard that mis-CHIEV-i-ous was nonstandard. And I've heard some pronunciation advice that make me look cross-eyed before (like a communication teacher telling me that larynx should be pronounced "LAIR-nix" — note the apparent metathesis).

  55. Andrui said,

    March 7, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

    Here in my part of Ireland, we say shkedule, thus maintaining our neutrality.

  56. Wilson said,

    March 7, 2009 @ 10:18 pm

    Speaking of English English, when I was in high school (1950-1954), I was taught that the unit of measurement, the "joule," named after the British physicist, Joule, is pronounced as though spelled "jowl." However, here of late, I've noticed this measurement is now pronounced "jool," at least in the States.

    Whut up wit dat?

    As a child in the 'Forties, I had to unlearn both "grievious" and "mischievious," as my pronunciations of choice. Since I had originally learned both words from reading, I have no idea why I inserted the "i."
    In like manner, I learned a new word, "enroachment," very popular immediately after WWII to describe Soviet enroachment into Central Europe. Then, one day, I noticed that there was a whole new word, "encroachment," with exactly the same meaning as "enroachment," which had, somehow, simultaneously vanished from use.

  57. Nathan Myers said,

    March 8, 2009 @ 3:59 am

    Wilson: I've mentioned Joule in comments here before. According to Wikipedia, Joule's relatives at the time pronounced their name in the pansy French way. My own physics teacher insisted that Joule himself was proudly English and insisted on "jowl". I don't know of any documentary evidence of that, but find it as easy to believe as to disbelieve. For lack of evidence, I follow my own preference and say "jowl", and repeat my teacher's possibly apocryphal justification to others, although nowadays I add that it's undocumented.

  58. marie-lucie said,

    March 8, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

    in the pansy French way

    The name Joule does look to a French person (and perhaps to others) like a French name, although an unusual one. It may be "pansy" to an English person, and may have been an affectation indulged in by his family, but it sounds perfectly ordinary to a French person speaking their own language.

  59. joseph palmer said,

    March 8, 2009 @ 7:26 pm

    By the way, if it is rare to be prescriptive about spoken language (which I doubt) then the usage of US expressions in Britain, by Britons, is definitely an exception. For example, I sometimes refer to "sweets" as "candy" since I am used to US vocabulary, and British people do not like that kind of thing at all, and say so!

  60. Stephen Jones said,

    March 10, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

    Candy has a specific meaning in British English though. What people are objecting to is surely the possible misinterpretation rather than the Americanism.

  61. Allison said,

    March 11, 2009 @ 12:04 pm

    The 'sh' v. 'sk' dates back from the viking invasion of northern parts of England – many words shared the same proto-germanic root but in Anglo Saxon there was a fronting of the "sk" to "sh" but this change didn't happen in the Viking's language. "scip" (the parent of our word "ship") was pronounced "ship" (pardon the lack of IPA) and descended in Dutch to "skiff" – which was borrowed back into English. Shirt and Skirt were originally the same word describing a tunic, but after the settling of vikings in the northern parts of England (and through a great deal of Scotland) "skirt" came back into English and developed distinct meanings.

    The "sk" remained pretty prominent in regional dialects of BritE (and if I'm not mistaken still is in places) but of course Standard Brit Eng was taken from London and environs which would favor the "sh" in front of front vowels. American standard was more strongly influenced by the populations that settled here – a smaller proportion of whom were from London and over time became the standard.

    Do the Brits have a word whose analogy is "racist" but with regions of less prestige? I think Tim Footman is being that.

  62. Nathan Myers said,

    March 11, 2009 @ 2:30 pm

    Allison: "Elitist" may not have lost all meaning yet.

  63. Picky said,

    March 11, 2009 @ 3:07 pm

    I don't think someone with a "metropolitan bias" – which is the mimsy way we British tend to refer to those who never pass mentally beyond the M25 Orbital Motorway – would be sufficiently in contact with the sh/sk divide for that to be the motivation, and (I may well be wrong about this) but although the initial sk is present in many words and placenames found in Cumbria and West Yorkshire, I don't think it very common for people there to pronounce words starting "sh" as "sk". I would welcome correction if I'm wrong.

    And although the Guardian has been somewhat lured by the attractions of the Metropolis, it is, from its Manchester origins, not the first place you would expect to find anti-Northern prejudice. Nor is Footman's background conventional metropolitan, I think.

    No, this is probably just plain old dislike of British folk using "American" pronunciations, I suspect – as tedious as that. Silly chap.

  64. Picky said,

    March 11, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    "and but although?"

    I need a bit of prescriptive training.

  65. Kragen Javier Sitaker said,

    March 12, 2009 @ 1:04 am

    Well, según the British pronunciation is a vulgar error; the word is from Classical Greek σχιδα "splinter", which is definitely not pronounced with a "sh" sound. It's just that in this case, the vulgar error is dated back at least to 1397 "sedule" or "cedule", and was only corrected by Webster, which is why the ignorant British have not yet corrected their six-century-long mistake. Pardon me while I go retch in the crapper.

  66. Picky said,

    March 13, 2009 @ 4:57 am

    Well, there you go. Another centuries-old mistake that still lives to haunt us. We've been around too long, that's the trouble.

  67. anthony buckley said,

    March 9, 2010 @ 11:44 am

    I am about a year late on this particular controversy and came across it because I was trying to use the Internet for information on the pronunciation of "retch". My late mother (God be good to her) used to pronounce it as "reach", and I assume that this pronunciation had some sort of pedigree and wasn't just a mistake on her part. Any information?

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