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THE IDLE AMERICAN
Wednesday, October 21, 2009 • Posted October 21, 2009

How’s That Again?...

It is entirely possible—perhaps even likely—that I am too easily “bugged;” it’s heaps worse than being merely bothered.

My propensity dates back 65 years to a sleepy afternoon of third-grade spelling.

We were jarred awake when our teacher challenged us to spell “milk (sic) cow.” Springing to my feet, with a strong voice that boomed across the room, I belted out my sure-fire response, enunciating each letter: “M-I-L-K C-O-W.”

“Wrong, Sherlock,” she responded. “It is ‘M-I-L-C-H C-O-W’.”…

  • * * * *

She proceeded to say how much it “bugged” her that nobody gets it right, and that we could look it up if we doubted her.

Crimson-faced and accustomed to getting answers wrong mostly during arithmetic, I raced to the big dictionary atop a tall rolling pedestal that was seldom disturbed.

Sure enough: The preferred spelling was “perzactly” as she had claimed. From then on, I was easily “bugged.”…

  • * * * *

Here’s one more “blame game” card. My high school math teacher must have grown weary of an admonition directed to me daily during algebra: “Don’t try to change it; try to understand it.”

Sadly, I always “gee’d” when I should have “hawed,” algebraically speaking. A vague memory lingers about the formula “pi R square,” and this because of the old joke repeated by a bumpkin. “Pie aren’t square,” he argued, “Pie are round; cornbread are square.”

Still, my penchant for being “bugged” was strengthened, thanks to our ever-gracious superintendent/teacher/counselor, O. B. Chambers. “I am bugged,” he admitted, “When people who ought to know better mention a range, then cite only half enough figures.”…

  • * * * *

We who share this misery of “buggedness” welcome others to our fraternity. If our beloved educational leader also held membership, could it be all bad?

Mr. Chambers went on to illustrate, citing “salaries in the $10,000 range, temperatures in the 70-degree range, or corn stalks in the six-foot range.” A light went on when he explained that $10,000-$15,000, 70-75 degrees or 6-8 foot stalks would make range references acceptable.

Sure enough, across the years TV weathermen, news anchors and well-known journalists continue to “get it half right,” and I’m “bugged” like Mr. Chambers was….

  • * * * *

About a hundred times annually, I stand behind lecterns, committing speeches around the country, and sometimes even in town.

“Buggedness” sets in when fellow speakers mention, “standing behind” or “gripping” the podium.

I am tempted to say, “Wrong Sherlock; you can look it up. The podium is the platform on which we stand. We stand behind—and grip—lecterns.”…

  • * * * *

And what about career accountants, who ply their trades for decades, wondering if they’ll be remembered as “COMP-trollers” or “CON-trollers?”

Not too long after numbers were discovered, lexicologists agreed on the spelling for the profession of folks best able to keep up with ‘em: “c-o-m-p-t-r-o-l-l-e-r.” For a time, “controller” was the preferred pronunciation.

In recent years, however, usage has “conned” us into pronouncing the word “comptroller.” This is, I suppose, as it should be. Word pronunciation may be the lone arena in which confusion is lessening…..

  • * * * *

The late Gene Hendryx, former state representative who owned and operated Alpine Radio Station KVLF, never lived down an innocent on-the-air “goof.” In a livestock market report, he called sheep offspring “e-wees.”

Guffaws thundered across the Big Bend area; his “agricultural cover” was blown.

Old nesters ribbed him for decades, one saying he was plumb shocked at Hendryx’s “proNOUNciation.”…

  • * * * *

Let us pots (we pots?) who call kettles black consider my friend, Dr. Robert Smith, a respected minister/educator. Years ago, he spoke about “The Tower of Babel” at a meeting of Baptist college presidents.

At the risk of opening a “can of theological worms” (or should it be a “theological can of worms?”), I do so anyway….

  • * * * *

A prior speaker who was assigned the same topic repeatedly called it “BAY-bel.” Dr. Smith squirmed, feeling strongly that most scholars favor the pronunciation that rhymes with “babble.” He knew, too, that it was the capital of Babylonia, and that “babble” originated there.

Not wanting to embarrass his colleague or create any divisiveness among the presidents (who regularly argued over less), he parroted his predecessor. “BAY-bel,” he said, emphasizing the long “a” with the clarity of an Alps yodeler.

There, friends, was a “class act” by a man who might be “unbuggable.” Ethelyn, his bride of 63 years, might not agree. And I see no reason to ask her how she pronounces “Babel.”…

  • * * * *

Dr. Newbury is a speaker and author in the Metroplex. Send inquiries/comments to newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

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