Seeing and Saying

‘New York radio station WQXR used to inflict this pronunciation test on prospective announcers — try reading it aloud:

The old man with the flaccid face and dour expression grimaced when asked if he were conversant with zoology, mineralogy, or the culinary arts. ‘Not to be secretive,’ he said, ‘I may tell you that I’d given precedence to the study of genealogy. But since my father’s demise, it has been my vagary to remain incognito because of an inexplicable, lamentable, and irreparable family schism. It resulted from a heinous crime, committed at our domicile by an impious scoundrel. To err is human … but this affair was so grievous that only my inherent acumen and consummate tact saved me.’

It’s a minefield. In Another Almanac of Words at Play, Willard R. Espy lists the pronunciations that were considered correct:

  • flaccid FLACK-sid
  • inexplicable in-EX-plic-able
  • dour DOO-er
  • lamentable LAM-entable
  • grimaced gri-MACED
  • irreparable ear-REP-arable
  • conversant KON-ver-sant
  • schism SIZ-m
  • zoology zoh-OL-o-ji
  • heinous HAY-nus
  • mineralogy miner-AL-o-ji
  • domicile DOMM-i-sil
  • culinary KEW-li-ner-y
  • impious IM-pee-yus
  • secretive see-KEE-tiv
  • precedence pre-SEED-ens
  • grievous GREEV-us
  • genealogy jan-e-AL-o-ji
  • inherent in-HERE-ent
  • demise de-MIZE
  • acumen a-KEW-men
  • vagary va-GAIR-y
  • consummate (adj.) kon-SUMM-it
  • incognito in-KOG-ni-toe

Getting 20 of the 25 “stumpers” right was considered excellent. But that was 40 years ago, and even at the time Espy found 21 dictionary listings that accepted different pronunciations. “So not to worry when you don’t sound like WQXR,” he wrote. “One man’s AB-do-men is another man’s ab-DOUGH-men.”

Source: Futility Closet

I certainly would not have cut the mus-TARD at WQXR! I would have pronounced at least 12 of them differently:

  • flaccid FLA-sid
  • inexplicable in-ex-PLIC-able
  • lamentable lam-ENT-able
  • grimaced GRI-maced
  • conversant con-VER-sant
  • secretive SEE-kre-tiv
  • precedence PRE-sed-ens
  • vagary VEY-gar-y
  • consummate KON-summ-it
  • incognito in-kog-NI-toe