1) The Discouraging Word recounts the experience of listening to the letters-from-listeners section of All Things Considered concerning the pronunciation of “schism,” which I myself also heard. Like the good folks at TDW, I was pleased that ATC stood up for their use of skizem and justified it with the relevant usage note at the American Heritage Dictionary. I myself unthinkingly said skizem until I read somewhere that it was a grave solecism to say anything but sizem; I adopted that ecclesiastico-British version until I realized it was false to current American usage, and am now trying to reprogram myself. It’s damnably hard to know how to say words that are not in common use.
2) Last night, Geoffrey Nunberg‘s language segment of Fresh Air was on dictionary illustrations (a subject recently covered here). Mr. Nunberg came out in favor of the photographs used in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, while admitting his parti pris as a contributor to the dictionary. The odd thing is that when he said “Julia Cameron did photographic illustrations for Tennyson’s ‘Idylls of the King,’” he pronounced “idyll” the old British way, IDD-l, whereas the only pronunciation given in the AHD entry is the American one, EYE-dl. I can only surmise that he was influenced by a Brit at a tender age.
3) On the other hand, I was appalled, when viewing last night’s PBS special on the Spartans, to find that the host, Bettany Hughes, a “specialist in classical and ancient history,” couldn’t pronounce any of the proper names properly. As a linguist, I believe in the native pronunciation of native speakers, but that doesn’t apply in the case of ancient Greek names, which are not normally spoken except in classics departments, where there is a long tradition that everyone who deals in these matters is used to and depends on. This tradition Ms. Hughes was apparently ignorant of; she said “YOU-ro-tas” for the river Eurotas (you-ROW-tas) and me-SEH-nian for Messenian (me-SEE-nian) and tha-NAH-tos for thanatos ‘death’ (THA-natos) and os-TRAH-ka for ostraka ‘potsherds (used in ostracism)’ (OS-traka) and (this was particularly aggravating) TER-tee-us for the poet Tyrtaeus (ter-TEE-us)—I was racking my brains trying to figure out how a Spartan poet could have had a Latin name (Tertius). Sometimes there is a right way and a wrong way, dammit.