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Wait, what did you — my leg!
Friday, May 18, 2007   8:15 PM

My correction of some affect/effect confusion got stetted by the client a few days ago. A little bit of my soul died.

Watching Planet Earth tonight, I was surprised to hear piranha pronounced like "peer-on-yah" instead of "per-ahn-uh." Apparently this is the "correct" pronunciation, and for what it's worth the guy seemed to be a local.

Still, I prefer Craig Ferguson's less snoot-y rationale:

Piranha fish. I like to say "piranya" instead of "piranha," because "piranya" is the way a Bond villain would say piranha fish. "Be careful of my 'piranya' fish, Mr. Bond."

I'm all for attempting to abide by older pronunciations if the word is a recent addition to English. But "per-ahn-uh" is already out there. I like it, and the Midwest won't look askance at me if I use it.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my pronunciations, trying to decide between variants on the basis of acceptability and elegance rather than imaginary notions of correctness.

(Picture me riding on my bike, ruminating on the possible advantages of "salza" over "salsa.")

Unfortunately, each of us is allowed to consider himself an expert on the English language. And we all have correctness conditions.

Unless you have a British accent, any perceived novelty in pronunciation runs the risk of generating a WTF reaction from your audience. I once got in a nasty, stilted argument with a German over the "correct" way to pronounce Achilles — because no sane American would pronounce it the classical Greek way.

(For their part, I've heard dozens of Germans, including an English-language teacher, refer to Arkansas as "Are-kansas.")

If a pronunciation I've chosen does stop a conversation cold, there's always the Dictionary Defense — which I'm loath to use for grammatico-political reasons. If anyone's interested, however, my dictionary recognizes four pronunciations for piranha.

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