POIEM.

Conrad asks, “have you come across the US pronunciation of poem as ‘poiem’ (an approximation of course)? It’s a subtle difference, with a ‘y’ glide from the o to the e, rather than a ‘w’. [Such people] don’t pronounce ‘poet’ in this way, curiously.” I have heard it, but I had never thought to wonder about it, so I put it to the Varied Reader: do you use this pronunciation, and/or are you familiar with it?

Comments

  1. Not being American, can’t say I’ve heard of it. On the other hand, I’ve heard the pronunciation ‘pome’. Is this just a regionalism or is it a fairly common pronunciation?

  2. marie-lucie says:

    I too have occasionally heard “pome”, but not “poiem” (not “pote” or “poiet” either).

  3. I’m American and have not heard poiem before. I’ve heard pome and pōtry particularly in the Southern American Midwest.

  4. I’ve heard “poiem”; my mom, an educated speaker with a master’s degree, uses it, and I’ve noticed it in other southern American speakers. I’ve never heard anyone say “pote” or “poiet.”

  5. I’ve heard poiem. Somewhere in the Southwest.

  6. The spelling poitry appears in Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers, but I don’t know what pronunciation is meant.

  7. I’ve never heard “poiem” (or “pome”) in California.

  8. I live in an area where /pin/ and /pen/ are often homophones, so it certainly seems like the sort of thing people around me might say, but I find that I rarely notice weird Ohio Valley/Hoosier pronunciations anymore.
    (Via an old post on Making Light, I learned that you can find marvelous examples of vernacular poetry by searching for “peom,” but that’s an orthography issue and quite separate.)

  9. From the best of my knowledge, the word ‘poiem’ does not exist in any language in the world. I guess sometimes ago, people misspelled the word ‘poem’ then circulated around so it became a “word” even though it was never recognized by any language.

  10. John Emerson says:

    I’ve heard it, in the Misdwest, and thought of it as an affectation.

  11. John, I still wonder if it isn’t an artifact of /PIN/-/PEN/ homophony. Which, if I’m not mistaken, is found in parts of the Southwest as well as Indiana and the lower Ohio Valley. (Basically, you’ll find /PIN/-/PEN/ wherever you find biscuits and gravy.)
    “Ink pen” is ubiquitous in mein heimatland, so I can see where “poetry”–>”poietry.” But I can’t say as I’ve heard it, because I automatically account for dialect differences when I listen to speech. And most of the vernacular speakers I know rarely discuss poetry.

  12. From the best of my knowledge, the word ‘poiem’ does not exist in any language in the world
    Except in the original Greek, of course. Poietai made poiemata back then. It’s true that the Greeks occasionally left out the i, and the Romans generally left it out, and everybody else has followed their lead.
    It’s possible as was pointed out, that poiem as heard is a non-pin-pen-merger’s interpretation of a merger’s pronunciation, so thst the ie exists only in the hearer’s ear, but not in the speakers mouth.

  13. The only person I’ve encountered with this pronunciation was an educated Southerner. She was originally from Clemson, South Carolina but had spent her adult life largely outside the Southeast. I too thought it was an affectation, but apparently not?

  14. I recently moved to Colorado and heard “poiem” for the first time – from an Irish professor in my department.

  15. Only time I’ve ever heard it: Ernie said it on a Sesame Street LP with songs for all letters of the alphabet, when Bert made a machine that detected the letter “r”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QC5f1fKrrTw

  16. I used it growing up in southern Virginia, though I think if was more “poim” than “poiem”. But like “kewpon” for “coupon” and “onvelope” for “envelope”, that pronunciation disappeared some time after I moved to northern Virginia in my teens.

  17. @KCinDC: “Poim” — yes, absolutely! I was reading “poiem” as two syllables (“poy-ehm”), but “poim,” with a dipthong — yes, I hear that all the time. US, Southern, mid-Atlantic, southeast, deep south; Poe, Dickey, Faulkner, et al. Great poits, all.

  18. I’m from just outside of Bridgeport, CT, where my whole family is from (2 generations on average), and grew up saying “pome” and “po-ett.” I don’t bat an eye at the pronuncation “po-em” (although I wouldn’t spontaneously use that pronunciation), but “poiem” is not something I’ve ever heard and it would catch my attention if I were to hear it in common speech.

  19. I’m from the Pacific Northwest, and I say ‘pome’ unless I’m speaking carefully. I’ve never heard ‘poiem’ as far as I can recall.

  20. It’s common in Scotland – also poitry. I associate it with less educated people, possibly because i was born in England and didn’t hear it much growing up.

  21. I know someone from Glasgow who says “po-yem.” Maybe it’s a Scottish thing?

  22. Jim Tucker says:

    Gary – I’m not sure when the meaning “poet/poetry” for “poietes/poiema” came into Greek, but I don’t know of this usage in Ancient texts, where “creator”/ “maker” is the literal, and standard meaning. I’m happy to be corrected here.
    But your point of course remains valid: that the vowel sequence exists in the original Gr form of the word.
    (Have a look at Howard Nemerov’s great little poem “The Makers”, which never uses the word “poet” but describes the first users of language who “worded the world” in a distinctly poetico-magical vein.)
    As for “poiem”, I have always viewed it as a largely middle-class affectation much more frequently found in female speech than in male. Anyone? Büler?

  23. Jim T Again says:

    Here’s the Nemerov:
    The Makers
    Who can remember back to the first poets,
    The greatest ones, greater even than Orpheus?
    No one has remembered that far back
    Or now considers, among the artifacts,
    And bones and cantilevered inference
    The past is made of, those first and greatest poets,
    So lofty and disdainful of renown
    They left us not a name to know them by.
    They were the ones that in whatever tongue
    Worded the world, that were the first to say
    Star, water, stone, that said the visible
    And made it bring invisibles to view
    In wind and time and change, and in the mind
    Itself that minded the hitherto idiot world
    And spoke the speechless world and sang the towers
    Of the city into the astonished sky.
    They were the first great listeners, attuned
    To interval, relationship, and scale,
    The first to say above, beneath, beyond,
    Conjurors with love, death, sleep, with bread and wine,
    Who having uttered vanished from the world
    Leaving no memory but the marvelous
    Magical elements, the breathing shapes
    And stops of breath we build our Babels of.

  24. My high school English teacher in Kansas pronounced it this way. I loved her, so I always liked that pronunciation. She was from a military family that moved a lot, so I can’t speculate much about where she acquired that pronunciation, but I do know she spent at least some of her formative years in the South. I seem to recall that the actress Andie MacDowell also pronounces it this way.

  25. On a related note, here is another phonetic dicsussion on American English (in Russian and from the Russian viewpoint):
    http://dyak.livejournal.com/457160.html

  26. karpasking says:

    Born and raised in southern California. Southern California parents, with Illinois emigrants further back. Never heard this variant.

  27. I was born and raised in Florida. I have heard ‘pome’ and say ‘po-im,’ but never heard ‘poiem.’
    I would write more, but my “biscuits and gravy” are getting cold.

  28. From New England, traveled widely in the US, and I’ve never heard “poiem”. What region of the US is it associated with? I assume this is not meant to be the dipthong that HP is referring to, but two syllables – “po-yem”?

  29. @Jim Tucker: When did ποίημα in Greek start meaning “poem” instead of “creation”? See Liddell–Scott–Jones entry. Pretty damn early: Cratinus, Plato, Isocrates. And Plato does still count as canonical Ancient Greek. :-)
    Plato, Phaedo 60d: “Several others have asked about the poems you have composed, the metrical versions of Aesop’s fables and the hymn to Apollo”
    Plato, Lysis 221d: “while our earlier statement about friends was all mere drivel, like a poem strung out for mere length?”
    This would have been one of the many newfangled sophists’ words—like “sentence” and “word”—that Aristophanes derided in the Frogs and Clouds.

  30. I used to say it. I’m from San Antonio.

  31. It’s the pronunciation I grew up with in Scotland (where even BBC newsreaders use it), and I’ve heard it in Ireland too.
    When authors are being self-consciously dialectal, it’s often written as “poyum”.

  32. j. del col says:

    A long deceased colleague of mine always used that pronunciation. She was from Virginia.

  33. J.W. Brewer says:

    The old Scots word for “poet” is “makar” (= “maker”), which I first came across in Dunbar’s oft-anthologized “Lament for the Makaris” (written just after 1500) with its “timor mortis conturbat me” refrain. I don’t know whether this was an learned calque from the Greek, although that seems plausible. The wiki article says that the current Scottish legislature has set up a rival Poet Laureateship whose 21st century incumbent is called “The Scots Makar.”

  34. One of my elementary school teachers, in Maine, pronounced the word “poiem.” I think this was my fifth grade teacher, who also liked to tell us to “keep it [not the poem] at a dull roar.”

  35. In Texas, from older native Texan speakers, I’ve heard /pōm/ or /powm/ more often than /poiem/. On the other hand, my father, who speaks English as a second language, says /poiem/ as well as /poiet/. I don’t know where he could have picked up that pronunciation, maybe in England or Scotland?

  36. I’m from Connecticut, and I grew up saying “pome” and “po-et”. “Po-em” sounds a little pretentious to me, like you’re trying too hard… like saying “com-for-ta-ble” like it’s spelled instead of “comf-ter-ble”.
    I’ve never heard “poy-em” here, but it sounds like a southern thing to me. I have a co-worker who grew up in Florida and always says “mi-un” instead of “mine” (As in, “This is mine.”). Sounds like the same thing.

  37. Keri: I think what you are hearing is this from the Wikipedia article on Southern Accents:
    The “Southern Drawl”, breaking of the short front vowels in the words “pat”, “pet”, and “pit”: these develop a glide up from their original starting position to IPA| [j] , and then in some cases back down to schwa: /æ/ → [æjə]; /ɛ/ → [ɛjə]; /ɪ/ → [ɪjə].

  38. T. S. Eliot did it all the time; there was a BBC radio documentary the other day which had a clip of him discussing ‘Journey of the Magi’, he kept talking about ‘poyms’.

  39. The ‘pome’ pronunciation sounds like the way my surname, Doyle, used to get mangled by Southerners (in the Army) as “Dole” giving rise top all the predictable half-witted nicknames. ‘Oil’ is the other word I remember getting this pronunciation – “Hey Dole, go get you a can of ole for the truck.”
    It is not Scotch-Irish, so it tracks more with grits and sweet potatoe pies than with biscuits and gravy.
    That ‘poyem’ stuff – given the distribution in the the Birtish Isles that people have mentioned here it sounds like it may have something to do with Gaelic phonology – the palatal/velar distintion – ‘o’ being a “thick” vowel and ‘e’ being “slender, it may be that a ‘y’ glide is considered necessary.
    So that would maybe cause it to track with the distibution of Scotch-Irish influences rather than lowland Southern. IOW, the two aren’t really connected.

  40. michael farris says:

    At first I was going to say ‘No, I’ve never heard that’ because the spelling ‘poiem’ made my think of two syllables. However when I imagine it as poim (with maybe elongated i) I’m pretty sure I have heard it but I can’t say when or where or from who.

  41. My mother says poym. She is well educated, grew up mostly in far upstate NY, child of Vermont Yankee mom and Pennsylvania “Dutch” dad. I think of it as a shortened form of poh-eem. I think of the latter as a genteelism. It feels akin to the British pronunciation of Kenya as Keenya, but not to the US pronunciation of illegal as eelegal.

  42. mollymooly says:

    I’ve never noticed hearing poym or poy-m, in Ireland or out. Is it specific to this lexical item or is there an accent where GOAT before /(ə)m/ sounds close to CHOICE?

  43. David Eddyshaw says:

    It is indeed common in Scotland as various people have said – enough so, that as a child in Glasgow I certainly regarded it as the normal Scots pronunciation.

  44. Empty, I remember being told that the Ken-ya pronunciation only started during Jomo Kenyatta’s presidency (1964-78), the shift making the two names sound more similar. I don’t know whether it’s true. I do know that British pronunciation mostly changed to Ken-ya during that time, though I still say Keenya & wear baggy khaki shorts given half a chance.
    Tom Morello, Harvard-educated famous guitarist in Rage Against The Machine, is the great-nephew of Jomo Kenyatta.

  45. I realized recently that I say ‘pome’ almost exclusively. It’s a strange day when you realize that you actually use a widely parodied basilectal form (‘Those shure are some good pomes, Jim-Bob’) without having ever traced the parody to yourself. Po-it, Pome. New Yorker.

  46. I mean, to be fair, the schwa in the standard pronunciation of ‘poem’ is so ripe for assimilation into the diphthong of ‘po’ that I’m not actually sure if I can hear it in anybody’s speech, at this point.

  47. Originally from Southeastern Louisiana, and /poiem/ is common if not dominant. Furthermore, my New England-born wife constantly mocks by /pin/-/pen/ homophony …

  48. 40 year old male, born and raised in North Central Texas to dirt-poor Southern parents. I use Ernie’s pronunciation that @scazon posted. The “regular” pronunciation sounds far too short and lack-luster to these ears, but not as bad as pome.
    Interesting about the number of Scottish references here, when I get excited or drunk I develop a brogue, I often thought there were great similarities between the accents.
    But I somehow developed a freaky non-native accent that no one can place where ever I go, people usually guess Australian, Scottish, or South African…er…so yeah, I’m probably not the best exemplar for a Texan accent.

  49. Charles Perry says:

    In “Groundhog Day,” Andie MacDowell says “poitry.” Born in South Carolina.

  50. j. del col says:

    OK, it wasn’t “poym,” but I heard the opening lines of the Eurhythmics. “Sweet Dreams are Made of This” yesterday morning, and Annie Lennox definitely has a ‘y’ glide on “this.”

  51. marie-lucie says:

    With many songs, the melody distorts the natural rhythm of a sentence, and if words with a short vowel, like “this”, occur on a long note, the vowel can become long, like “thees”, hence the introduced glide as at the end of “thee”, followed by “s”.

  52. Annie Lennox definitely has a ‘y’ glide on “this.”
    You really can’t trust singing, though. She was probably trying to sound American, it’s pretty common in African American-based music (90% of anglo-US music since 1950, in other words).

  53. I’m (also) from upstate NY and recall a teacher or two saying poiem. I think I (also) associated it with “genteel” pronunciation.
    BTW, I recall being astonished in my late 20s when I heard someone who articulated “wh” to clearly distinguish it from plain old “w.” Her “what” was a pleasure to hear. She was from an old New England family, probably DAR. How many of you distinguish “when” and “wen”? (I don’t.)

  54. All my North Texas relatives say it that way.

  55. distinguish “when” and “wen”
    My father did, but I don’t. He grew up in the Chicago area. I’ve met others who do; the only specific case I can recall is someone who grew up in some rural part of the western US.
    Then there are those who only give “wh” the special treatment when they are being emphatic or dramatic. And those who go overboard with this and sometimes pronounce a “w” word as if it’s “wh”. (Can’t think of a good example.)

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