Words That Are To Be Seen and Not Heard

dictionaryAs a child, I read a lot. I never got teased or called nerd or anything like that because I also played sports a lot. The reading? It was mostly a sideline activity — a quite extensive one — and a lasting result of all that reading was my vocabulary. It grew to be both strong and suspect.

Suspect, you ask? No, I don’t mean words like Lee, Harvey, and Oswald or John, Wilkes, and Booth. I mean words you see if you read frequently but don’t hear because, well, people just don’t spend $10 words like that, at least with their mouths.

A strong “visual” vocabulary like mine had an unfortunate effect — it led to mispronunciations. Think of it: All those words seen time and again but never heard from so much as a soul. I was left to jury-rig my own pronunciation, usually via the most direct, phonic route (pronounced “rowt”).

For year upon embarrassing year, for instance, I pronounced “vestige” like so: ves-TEEJ (like next-door neighbors to “prestige”). Turns out, it sounds like “VEST-ij.” Then there was “misled” which somehow, in my visual mind, became “MY-zld” (what can I say — I was “mis-LED”).

Or how about the British word “victuals”? To me, it was “VIC-chew-als” until one day I was laughed at by some Anglophobe or other (damn them all to Fleet Street anyway), who said, “Do you mean ‘vittles?'”

Yeah. That.

And on it goes. Think of the fancy words, the mostly Latinate and Greek words. Like children, they are to be seen and not heard (if you read a lot), and that’s to your ever-living regret.

I run across words like sinuous, supercilious, stentorian, efficacious, factotum, jejune, mellifluous, and perspicacious all the time in my readings. In my hearings, though? Never.

What can I say? I don’t hang around professors. Middle school teachers, is all, and we speak the language of the hoi polloi, so there.


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