Word Maven Patricia T. O'Conner on the News

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Our word maven Patricia T. O'Conner talks about how certain words, such as "news," are pronounced on the radio. She’ll also tackle your questions about the English language and grammar. An updated and expanded third edition of her book, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, is now out in paperback, along with Origins of the Specious, written with Stewart Kellerman.


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [60]

ndv from New York

As a NYC Public School Teacher, I can say that the practice of explicit grammar instruction is rarely encouraged. However, good teachers will employ grammar practice and implicit instruction during reading, writing, and during the oral discussions and written discussions of all subjects. Some within the NYC Public Schools may believe that this implicit instruction is enough, and for many students; who develop language skills in a normative, middle or upper class environment; it most likely is.

However, many of the NYC Public School students are English Language Learners, Learning Disabled, or are at or below the poverty line, which means that these populations have a significantly reduced working vocabulary and a mixture or language norms, rules, dialects, words, inflections, tones, phonemes, and grammatical conventions to contend with when developing their verbal and written English. (Research is available on each subgroup including data that shows the drastic differences in word acquisition in Elementary School Students based on there economic status.)

I have found that interspersing explicit grammar instruction, coupled with implicit correction and discussion during all language based activities (which are really all language activities) is very helpful. The trick with the explicit grammar instruction is that you have to make it achievable, useful, and amusing and then implement a system of consistent and constant implicit follow-up until the grammatical convention has been mastered and internalized by the students.


Jul. 20 2011 02:55 PM
Michael from brooklyn

"Bag of wet mice" is a great term. A close cousin to the classic Wet Sandwich, I reckon. You're way off base on Pat O'Connor, though. She's a gem. Up there with the Ubell bros.

Jul. 20 2011 02:19 PM
john from office

It is not the way she says her name, it is how she says New Mexico, LA, montana, colorado. They are American english names. Those are only a few examples.

Jul. 20 2011 02:11 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

John from office - So how do you feel about Mandalina Delbarco?

Jul. 20 2011 02:06 PM
Eden from NYC

The gender neutral "you guys" might have gained increased usage from Sesame Street. When I watched it with my children, several characters used to say, "Hey, you guys!"

Jul. 20 2011 02:05 PM
john from office

The reason for the Spanish pronounciation is because of POLITICAL CORRECTNESS. the first violator of this is Maria Hinojosa, who's reports are unbearable. And I speak spanish

Jul. 20 2011 02:03 PM
jamie hill

How, pray tell, does this bag of wet mice come off as an authority on english? On ANYTHING? Who lost that bet? Mr. Lopate is freakishly talented, but couldn't trust Oconnor to tell me how to get to 43 rd st, from 42nd.

Jul. 20 2011 02:03 PM

Robert from midtown - I agree with you one hundred percent on the misuse of
"there's" when refering to the plural. I guess people are just too lazy to say "there are", or maybe they are just ignorant.

Jul. 20 2011 02:02 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Robert from Midtown - "they're" is incorrect. Correct usage would be, "There are two problems...". The contraction "they're" would mean "They are two problems...".

Jul. 20 2011 02:01 PM
Kate from NYC

I've traveled a lot in Latin America, and when I have been SPEAKING IN SPANISH and pronounced "Puerto Rico" the Spanish way, people laughed and said they pronounce it the English way ("Porta Rico"). Same thing with Miami - all over Latin America it's pronounced in the Anglicized way (not Mee-a-mee). So I always have to laugh when people speaking English jump to the Spanish pronunciation.

Jul. 20 2011 02:00 PM
Kate from NYC

Hey - have you ever addressed the very annoying switch for "troop" to mean "soldier" instead of a group of soldiers? I want a campaign to get back to the proper usage!!

Jul. 20 2011 02:00 PM
Diana from Manhattan

Perhaps this tendency to pronounce in Spanish is due to the reality that Spanish is not really a foreing language in the US. With such a large population of Hispanics and with the history of some populations (the Southwest becoming part of the US suddenly), it is more of a second language.

Jul. 20 2011 02:00 PM
Michael from brooklyn

Funny thing about the "girl crush" term is that it is called "man crush" for guys.

Jul. 20 2011 01:58 PM
Ash in Chelsea

To Cosmo Lee from Park Slope: Me disagrees with you! ;-)

The only time I ever have a problem with this constuction is when I write on the back of a photo of me and someone. "John and me" or "John and I" (since there is really no context in a sentence)?. Whadda ya think?

Jul. 20 2011 01:57 PM
Jennifer Ervin from New York

Why do so many people say "nuc-u-lar" instead of "nuclear." I have remember that George W. Bush said it. I have even heard nuclear engineers say it.

Jul. 20 2011 01:56 PM

Language and culture both are highly plastic. I find the frustration that many callers are expressing with regard to what is "proper" pronunciation and grammar to be the product of the resistance between theory and the reality it attempts to describe. Linguistics should be descriptive instead of proscriptive.

Jul. 20 2011 01:55 PM
Russell from Manhattan

I was always advised that RAWT was descriptive of a smaller or minor path or road or designated highway as in "paper route", but a more significant road or path was a ROOT. Maybe not definitive, but a start.

Jul. 20 2011 01:55 PM
Philipp from Queens

I thought "shtreet" etc was a New York thing coming from the Yiddish or German roots (where that is the standard pronunciation of "st").

Jul. 20 2011 01:55 PM
Richard Storm from Hell's Kitchen

Can Ms. O'Conner shed light on the use of the verb "to go" for "to say" (as in "So she goes 'what's up?' and I went "nothing"). It seems to have taken over. Does this transposition exist in other languages? I know that in French the weather is "made" (il fait chaud) instead of being. Does this come from another language?

Jul. 20 2011 01:55 PM
Kristen Pierotti from Summit NJ

This one drives me crazy - seems to be most frequent among Washington "wannabee" elitists

W-arsh -ington

any idea of the origin? You hear it all over the news shows on TV and Radio

Jul. 20 2011 01:53 PM
Cosmo Lee from Park Slope, Brooklyn

Oh, please, can we stop the belly-aching about using or not using subject or object pronouns. The distinction between the two is DUMB. They serve NO purpose other than as grammatical boondoggle.

Unless a rule causes a sentence to be more clear, it should be abandoned. This is the case with subject and object pronouns. Using an object pronoun instead of a subject pronoun in no way clarifies a sentence. Object pronouns cannot justify their existence in terms of utility.

Here's the proof: the subject and object pronoun for second person singular is the same - "you". Nobody is ever confused over there not being distinct forms for subject and object pronouns. THEREFORE: we simply do not need them! Please cut the whining! The language needs to evolve...

Jul. 20 2011 01:53 PM
Len from Westchester

On 'shtreet' -

It may stem from the way Italian is spoken in Naples.:

'Shpaghett' for 'spaghetti

(I suffer from this pronunciation, though I'm not italian.)

Jul. 20 2011 01:53 PM

Hi. I appreciate this guest a lot. I have a burning question that may have been asked before. Is it correct to say "the reason is that..." or "the reason is because"

Jul. 20 2011 01:53 PM
Emily from Brooklyn, NY

What is the role of ebonics and black slang in the evolving ENglish language? Will America's institutionalized racism prevent these pronunciations from entering the dictionary as quickly?

Jul. 20 2011 01:52 PM
Lonnie from Brooklyn!!!

on Route (Pronounced as Root)

For the Network Router -- We pronounce it 'Rauter'

But in Britain, I've heard it pronounced on the BBC as 'Rooter'

Jul. 20 2011 01:52 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

I have a tendency to say "...we'll take ROOT 9W" and then "....which ROUTE (ra-owt) should we take?". I guess the difference is whether it's a question or statement.

Jul. 20 2011 01:52 PM
Irys from Williamsburg

Why do people have such a problem with Social Security....why do they always say "sosal security?"

Jul. 20 2011 01:52 PM
Amelia from Tarrytown

Can you please address/explain when the word "primer" (as in a lesson, not paint) became "prI-mer", rhyming the first syllable with "him", instead of "prai-mer" - like a prime number?

Jul. 20 2011 01:52 PM
Melissa from Ridgewood NJ

A test of awareness for every politician and pundit out there is what to call a native of Afghanistan. Is it Afghan or Afghani? The former is correct; the latter is the name of the currency. Whenever I hear someone who should know better say "Afghani" I lose respect for that person.

Jul. 20 2011 01:52 PM
arleen from Glen Ridge, NJ

It drives me crazy when I hear people say, so frequently, " So.....he or she says to me....", why don't people say "said, " anymore when this has occurred in the past tense?

Jul. 20 2011 01:51 PM
Denise from Montclair

The confusion between the objective and nominative cases for the first person singular pronoun ("we" vs "I") comes from parents/teachers correcting children without telling them why. When a child says "Richie and me are going out" and the parent says "Richie and I", the child then uses "I" whenever the first person singular is linked with another person's name, resulting in "Are you coming out with Richie and I?"

Jul. 20 2011 01:51 PM
Robert from midtown

and on last one. I'm from Canada. I always grew up saying "the" before a consonant, such as "the number one song." Before a vowel, I pronounce the word "thee." I say "thee only thing" or "thee ultimate prize." I notice that most Americans do not make this change. The pronounce the movie title "The Others" as opposed to "Thee Others."
When i bring this up to friends, they deny it. . .

Jul. 20 2011 01:51 PM
steve from manhattan

The pervasive misuse of personal pronouns drives me nuts as well -- especially when I hear it from a news anchor or an actor in a scripted TV or film. Is no one taught English grammar anymore? ... I read somewhere that teaching English grammar in NYC public schools is actually prohibited. Can Ms. O'Conner confirm this?

Jul. 20 2011 01:51 PM
Robert from midtown

OK, here's my spoken grammar pet peeve. People often use "there's" before a plural, such as "there's two problems with that statement." It just makes me squirm like fingernails on a chalkboard. When speaking informally I automatically us "they're." Whenever I bring it up, people stare at me blankly. It is so common, that I fear it has just become acceptable.

Jul. 20 2011 01:50 PM

Did I just hear Patricia say "I had spoke...." when she was talking about meeting with a NJ Educator? This is one of my pet peeves that I hear more and more frequently. People do not seem to know how to use the past participle correctly. I am sure Pat simply misspoke, but I wish someone would point out the correct usage.

Jul. 20 2011 01:50 PM
Robert from midtown

OK, here's my spoken grammar pet peeve. People often use "there's" before a plural, such as "there's two problems with that statement." It just makes me squirm like fingernails on a chalkboard. When speaking informally I automatically us "they're." Whenever I bring it up, people stare at me blankly. It is so common, that I fear it has just become acceptable.

Jul. 20 2011 01:49 PM
steveh from b'klyn - the way

Thats because you lived on 'The Way' and Broadway was the way, typically the biggest or most utilized way in an area, and you probably had friends around "the way".

Jul. 20 2011 01:48 PM
Sven from Poughkeepsie

If we still have time, I'd love for you to circle back to the earlier caller's question concerning the pronounciation of corp. vs corps - especially since the 2 words would appear to be related.

Jul. 20 2011 01:47 PM
Robin from Manhattan

So happy to hear Patricia T, it's been awhile since I was free on a Wednesday. About- "news" - all off my originally Spanish native speaker friends say ñews. They also call my sister Syusan.

By the way I heard Patricia T. say both "pronounciation" and "pronunciation" today!

Jul. 20 2011 01:46 PM
steve from manhattan

First of all, I love Patricia T. O'Conner's once-a-month segment. Always informative and entertaining.

I guess Ella Fitzgerald must've been provided some elocution coaching prior to recording "Prelude to a Kiss." She pronounces it 'prel-yewed' which, I must admit, sounds much more musical than 'pre-lewd.'

Jul. 20 2011 01:43 PM

Please, please end this segment. It's very annoying and I cannot tell what the point is or where this is going.

Jul. 20 2011 01:42 PM
Ben from westchester, NY

Is the signage "All work done on premises" correct? If not, how come and how should it be worded?

Jul. 20 2011 01:42 PM
sher from Lower Manhattan

Since you are addressing radio announcers' habits, etc., Please ask Ms. O'Connor once more to clarify that "begs the question" does NOT mean "poses the question" but Does mean "demurs" or "hedges" an answer to a question. It may be a losing battle, but people at least should be aware. Thanks!

Jul. 20 2011 01:39 PM
Robert from midtown

in acting voice classes students are always taught to use the "liquid U" with this rhyme:

"When you say "dook" you make me want to "pook""

"Duke" comes us a lot in Shakespeare.

Jul. 20 2011 01:39 PM
JR from NYC

is correct to pronounce the contraction "won't" as "woon't"? "Longuysland" raised boyfriend says it's also correct.

Jul. 20 2011 01:38 PM
John Glenn from Brooklyn

Talking about broadcasters elucution and diction, please discuss the evolution of the Mid-Atlantic accent of, say, Cary Grant or Fred Astaire, to Bob Trout (famous CBS radio announcer) and Edward R. Murrow, to Karl Kassell, and current NPR Newscasters..

Jul. 20 2011 01:38 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Good point, Rhos. It seems that "popular usage" seems to be okay these days, because rules are so very difficult to follow when they're not first taught!

I will never accept apostrophes to indicate plurals, and modifier before "myriad", just because the NYT does it, or because they're "popular" notions. People are simply lazy.

Jul. 20 2011 01:36 PM
Ash in Chelsea

Wot? in all of my 71 years -- having lived both in the US and in the UK -- I have NEVER noticed this different pronunciation of the word 'news'.

Jul. 20 2011 01:36 PM

How did route become 'rout' in recent pronunciations? After all it wasn't 'Rout 66' many years ago.

Jul. 20 2011 01:36 PM

Is O'Conner planning to list every 'U' word in the english language? Here's one: dull.

Jul. 20 2011 01:36 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

with that rationale, we'd pronouncing the word "mews" as "mooos"; we don't, last i checked.

Jul. 20 2011 01:35 PM
RLewis from the Bowery

re: News - In college acting class we were taught that the different pronunciations were the difference between general American and standard American speech. Do you ever make such distinctions?

Jul. 20 2011 01:34 PM
Mark from Mount Vernon

Nyooz is more euphonic than hearing an annoucer say nooz.

Jul. 20 2011 01:33 PM
catherine from Red Bank

What do you think of the use of "incredible" to mean "extremely"? Most things modified by "incredible" are very credible indeed!

Jul. 20 2011 01:31 PM
Rhos from Upper East Side

Regarding pronounciations, Ms. O'Conner often says "both are correct" which contributes to the "Dumming Down of Ameria." As part of educating the public she should say "the first pronunciation is preferred."

If fort is preferred for forte, say so, Pat.
Caving to the ignorant takes away from your credibility.

Jul. 20 2011 01:04 PM

QUESTION: The English language uses the Roman script with a 'double-u' or 'w' so why do we spell "vacuum" with two separate 'u's?

Jul. 20 2011 12:16 PM
Nancy from Brooklyn

Hope Solo, the marvellous goalkeeper for the U.S. women's national soccer team, inspired a discussion among a few of my friends about the origin of the term "girl crush" and whether it's even possible to have a girl crush in any language but English. For example, there seems to be no comparable expression available in French or Spanish. Sign of greater social progress in the English-speaking world?

Jul. 20 2011 12:15 PM
Laura from UWS

I have heard Patricia T. O'Conner talk about how language changes and evolves. Can she give us some advice, therefore, on how to deal with and how to soothe the nerves of those sticklers who have fits over what sounds wrong to them?


Jul. 20 2011 11:35 AM
Steve from Bridgewater NJ

What is the proper pronunciation of Rupert Murdoch's company's name? I've mostly heard News Corp, as in "CORPorate malfeasance", but also silent-p News Cor', as in "COR blimey, that tabloid is rotten to the CORe."

I will leave it to Leonard to work in a pun involving "corps" or "corpse."

Jul. 20 2011 11:07 AM
Patrick from Bronx

Alarmist news articles in the West speak of "madrassas" as dens of Islamic extremism where terrorists are recruited. I have researched the term, and have learned that "madrassa" is simply the Arabic term for school, preferred over "kulliya". Sensitive English-language journalists show caution, and speak of "Koranic schools" rather than "madrassas" in their articles. Still, some news organizations speak of "closing the madrassas" and suggest to some that they wish to close the schools of a people. What is your opinion on this media issue? Should we use "Koranic schools" instead of "madrassas"?

Jul. 20 2011 09:52 AM

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