A few months ago, I was hanging out with a friend’s parents. The dad is vaguely Italian American and was talking about italy. I mentioned that I have family in italy and have an Italian middle name. When I told him my name, he kind of scoffed and told me I was pronouncing it wrong.
This, folks, drives me up the fucking wall.
We’ve talked recently about pronunciation and how bad conversational pronunciation tends to bum me out, but there’s a whole other side of this argument that seems to be tangentially cropping up in the shadow of the world cup and I’d like to address it as best I can right now.
My mom lives in Missouri in the middle of nowhere. The closest town has maybe two hundred people in it and is called Versailles. It’s pronounced ver-sales. When I tell people this, or generally when people hear this, they jump into a smug, self righteous pitying head shake and weep for the ‘poor dumb hillbillies who don’t even know how to properly say the name of their own town,’ which, let me tell you right now, is extremely obnoxious.
See, here’s the deal: That’s what they named their town. If I have a cat, and I name it Lemon, but I pronounce it luh-MOAN, that’s not wrong, that’s what the name is. It’s MY cat. You can’t and wouldn’t ever presume to come up to me and say “well, the name of that cat is supposed to be pronounced ‘LE-mon,’ you poor uneducated slob” but that’s exactly what people are doing with this town. A town and a cat aren’t all that different when it comes to naming them, after all. You pick a name, settle on a spelling and pronunciation and bingo; shit’s named.
In New York, there’s a street called Houston, pronounced House-ton. Is that stupid? It’s their fucking street. The people who live there get to say it however they want. There’s no precedent for this kind of thing that’s really appropriate. If there was, there would be no heteronyms, for one thing, and for another thing, it’s all fucking just condescension anyway. Here’s what I mean:
A person from france (to borrow a scene from the Simpsons) pronounces the word chowder differently than we do due to his accent. He’s not saying it ‘wrong,’ he’s saying it using the filter of language that he understands, with a silent consonant and inflection that he grew up with. For a Midwestern American to interpret the letters that make up ‘versailles’ as ver-SALES seems to me to be the exact same thing. However making fun of the French guy is xenophobic and boneheaded, but making fun of the hillbillies is somehow sophisticated cocktail party fodder.
The most important point here, people (and it’s a point I have just barely touched on) is finally that words DO have proper pronunciations but when those words are names of things, the people that named them are ultimately right, regardless of what the letters look like. THEY INVENTED THE FUCKING NAME!!!! That’s it. The way my family has been pronouncing my middle name for centuries is the way that my family’s name is properly pronounced. I don’t care what you think you know, or what your level of sophistication is. My name. My family. That’s how we say it. This pronunciation denotes this strain of bloodline, and that’s all there is to it. Similarly, THIS pronunciation does NOT mean a church in france, it means a town in Missouri. This is NOT a town in texas named for a civil war era politician. It’s a street in New York, because practically, if you’re walking around manhattan asking people for where “Houston” (town pronunciation) is, they’re gonna say “texas” and that’s not productive. And if your ‘proper’ pronunciation gets you headed to the completely wrong place, while everyone who’s pronouncing it ‘wrong’ gets to where they’re trying to go just fine, who’s the asshole? Who’s actually wrong?
Now, finally, I’m not suggesting descriptivism over prescription when it comes to pronunciation or definition generally, that would be dumb. I’m just saying that when it comes to proper names, there’s nothing so shitty as being both elitist, smug and wrong all at once.
What does this have to do with the world cup? Well, assholes, denoted language is denoted language and fighting it because of some archaic and unquantifiable idea about propriety is shitty, one hundred percent of the time. Here in America, the shit’s called soccer. In most other places it’s called football. That makes sense, football is a good name for the game. But listen up, penis holes: In England they call fries chips and chips crisps. They call cookies biscuits and use the slang term ‘bird’ to refer to women, while we use the more Americanized ‘hoes.’
We have different words for all this. Is that wrong? Fuck no. It’s the evolution of language in different parts of the world. In Australia they use English differently than we do here OR there, likewise in South Africa, and it’s fine. The notion that I can’t call soccer ‘soccer’ because you call it something else, even though I grew up in a world where it’s called soccer, well, that’s pretty fucked up, right? I grew up somewhere else. Shit’s got different names. In different parts of America hoagies, grinders and heroes are all different names for the same sub sandwich, but nobody’s wrong, it’s regional diversity.
SO, before you get your panties in a bunch about people saying ‘soccer’ instead of football, how about you take a second and think about what the world cup is supposed to be about in the first place and appreciate the different things that the whole world brings to the table. I bet the Japanese don’t call it football. Are they wrong too, or are you, smug dick?
In conclusion, go Cameroon!