Word of the Day

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pronunciation of error

I ran into a problem while translating something that I heard (and was later confirmed twice) as air from a professor from Nebraska when he was describing something related to cattle. First I thought he was referring to some kind of flatulence that the cattle could have, but that didn't make any sense in the context, and thanks God I asked for clarification and he "translated" the word as "mistake". I confirmed with him whether he was saying error (two syllables) and he said yeah, air, one syllable (he even joked that I could understand the Texan professor better than him). As it turns out, I'm not the only one who finds fault with this pronunciation. Here's what Charles Harrington Elster, author of The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations, says about this:

error - ER-uur or AIR-ur. Do not say AIR.

Sportscasters, particularly those who cover baseball, are notoriously careless pronouncers of this words. Many say it in one syllable instead of two, compressing error into air. Affected speakers, on the other hand, overpronounce the terminal -or by giving it full OR sound, like oar. Both of these pronunciations are, in dictionary lingo, "nonstandard", which in this book means beastly. A third variant, ER-uh, with the final r silent, is not listed in dictionaries but is acceptable from speakers who normally drop their r's (e.g., some New Englanders, New Yorkers, and Southerners) and pronounce, for example, carrier as KAR-ee-uh and father as FAH-thuh. The pronunciation ER-ur, with e as in pet, is chiefly Eastern and Southern; the pronunciation AIR-ur (AIR- as in pair), chiefly Midwestern and Western. Use the one you are comfortable with. Just remember to pronounce the word in two syllables (my bold).

One has to be careful when addressing a foreign audience and must make an effort to deliver the message as clearly as possible so that no errors are conveyed by the interpreter and that the audience reaches an incorrect conclusion.

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