An essay by J. M. Tyree on “Henry Thoreau, William Gaddis, and the Buried History of an Epigraph” (found via the invaluable wood s lot) reminded me of the clever (annoyingly clever, if you will) title of Gaddis’s last novel, Agapē Agape, in which
the first word is the Hellenistic Greek term for the early Christian love-communion. The participants were to greet one another, according to St. Paul, with “an holy kiss.” Originally, this was an open-mouthed mutual breathing, in which one “inspired” the Holy Spirit from the lips of another believer… But in the fallen state that Gaddis links to modern life, one is often merely “agape” when one opens one’s mouth, whether in sexual kissing, talking, or, as Tabbi suggests, the slack-jawed response to mass-entertainment culture and mechanized art… So little, after all—a mere Greek accent—separates the false cognates agape and agape.
Now, I don’t know what the last sentence means (accent as in “accent mark”?—but there is none in English—or as in “Southern accent”?—but presumably nobody but a few first-generation Greek-Americans says the English word with a Greek accent), but that’s not what interests me. [I should have checked the actual title of the book, which has a macron over the first e to represent Greek ēta. This is still not a “Greek accent” but at least I know what he means.] What I want to know is how you pronounce the first agapē, the word for “Christian love” (or however you want to define it). I’ve always put the stress on the second syllable, ə-GAH-pay, and this is the first pronunciation given in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary; I assume the stress derives from the accented syllable in the Greek (which was a stress, not pitch, accent by New Testament times). The second pronunciation given has the stress on the first syllable: AH-gə-pay. The only pronunciation given in the OED also stresses the first syllable (which derives from the tradition of pronouncing Greek words as if they were Latin, with the stress on the antepenult if the penult is short), but it is anglicized to AG-ə-pee (first syllable rhyming with bag). So, assuming you ever use the word in speech, how do you say it (please mention which country you’re from)? And (a separate question) which do you think fits better in the title: ə-GAH-pay ə-GAYP, AH-gə-pay ə-GAYP, or AG-ə-pee ə-GAYP? (I don’t suppose anybody knows how Gaddis pronounced the word, but if you do, please share.)