Secretory.

Even in my sixties, even as an inveterate logophile, I still on occasion discover I have been mispronouncing a word (or rather pronouncing it in a way that turns out to be unhistorical) and have to retrain myself. This just happened, for instance, with duodenum, which I have all my life pronounced /dyu-ˈä-də-nəm/ (dyoo-AH-dənəm) but which has the traditional pronunciation /ˌdü-ə-ˈdē-nəm/ (dyoo-ə-DEE-nəm), based on the Latin duodēnum digitōrum “of twelve digits, inches, or finger’s breadths” (to quote the OED; note that the Russian equivalent of duodenum is двенадцатиперстная кишка ‘twelve-finger gut’); the Latin long ē makes the syllable stressed in English, and since I like to preserve such bits of linguistic history, I choose to say it the traditional way despite the fact that my previous pronunciation is listed as an alternate in both Merriam-Webster and AHD.

But what am I to do about secretory (which I have been encountering in my editing work)? I’ve never actually said the word, as far as I know, and I had no strong intuitions about how to say it, so naturally I turned to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate which is always at my elbow and found “\ˈsē-krə-ˌtȯr-ē, especially British si-ˈkrē-t(ə-)rē\.” Fine, I thought, Americans say SEE-krətoree, I’m an American, I’ll say SEE-krətoree. But then I opened AHD and found only sĭ-krē′-tə-rē (si-KREE-təree)! Well, dammit, let me check the New Oxford American Dictionary (3rd ed.). Same story: only si-KREE-təree. So I turn to the Varied Reader and ask: if you are familiar with this word, how do you say it? And if you happen to know how American doctors and others who use the word professionally say it, that would be especially appreciated. I hate not knowing how to pronounce things.

Comments

  1. I work with dentists and basic scientists who work on teeth. They definitely stress the first syllable but it’s with an epsilon, not [i].

  2. I remember, in the my-father-the-radiologists years of my youth in El Paso, hearing duodenum pronounced two different ways by different radiologists: doo-ah-DEE-num and doo-AH-deh-num. There was no “dyoo” in there, but there was a bit of inflammation from time to time.

    What I can’t remember precisely is their pronunciation of secretory – but I bet there were two versions: SEE-creh-tory and see-CREE-tory. I’m pretty sure the word came up, probably around the time I vowed never to use it (and I never have or will) – because the first pronunciation sounds like “secret”, and the second one sounds la-di-da.

    Please spare me the question of why those are reasons not to use the word.

  3. Under duress, I would go for the la-di-da version.

  4. marie-lucie says:

    secretory

    I could not make sense of LH’s comments at first because I had the impression that the post was going to be about a typo for secretary. Fortunately some of the Hatters have medical connections! Now I remember having read things like secretory glands. It relates to secretions rather than to secrets. But I am not sure how I would pronounce the word without hearing it from a medical professional.

    But what about the two verbs to secrete : ‘to produce a secretion’ and ‘to hide in a secret place’: are they pronounced the same or differently?

  5. The same. And I’m leaning toward si-KREE-təree (Stu’s la-di-da version), because, as m-l says, it’s related to secretion.

  6. I’m Irish, and not medically versed, but I have always used si-KREE-teree for this word, since SEE-kreteree would be too similar to secret, and too far from secretion.

  7. Si-KREE-teree it’s always been.

  8. THE COBRA

    This creature fills its mouth with venom
    And walks upon its duodenum.
    He who attempts to tease the cobra
    Is soon a sadder he, and sobra.
    —Ogden Nash

    But I myself say du-ODD-enum. And se-KREE-to-ry.

  9. I work with dentists and basic scientists who work on teeth

    my-father-the-radiologist

    With the greatest respect they may know what it is but why should I pronounce it their way rather than the way I always have, which is duo-DEAN-um? When I was a child, every second adult had a duo-DEAN-al ulcer.

  10. With the greatest respect they may know what it is but why should I pronounce it their way rather than the way I always have, which is duo-DEAN-um?

    The “I work with dentists and basic scientists who work on teeth” comment was about secretory, not duodenum. And you should by all means go on pronouncing it your way (which is now mine as well).

  11. Sky Onosson says:

    Intuitively, I’d produce them both with a stressed epsilon, duodenum on the third syllable, secretory on the first.

  12. Funny… I used to say doo-ah-DEE-num, until I heard my father (who’s a doctor) talking with some colleagues. They all said doo-AH-deh-num, so I switched.

  13. The analogue for “secretory” that sprang to my mind was “excretory”, which I remember from school biology. Onelook’s dictionaries suggest a similar US-UK pronunciation divide there.

    Hippocrates tanked up on laudanum,
    Dropped his patient’s intestines and trod in ‘em.
    The chorus was calling
    “Woe! Ilium is falling!
    And colon, jejunum, duodenum!”

  14. Greg Lee says:

    I have no native pronunciation of secretory. By analogy with other such words, I’d expect primary stress on the first syllable and secondary stress on the third in American English — s1ecret2ory — and the two stresses would prevent those vowels from reducing. If the secondary stress were lost, as it might be in British English, that would be a problem, because with no stress on or, the vowel would reduce, and the word would sound like secretary (with no stress on ar).

  15. I don’t believe I’ve ever run into the word “secretory”. Now that I am aware of it, it enters the realm of those words for which both pronunciations sound suspect to me. Damned if you do the one, and damned if you do the other.

    Also, Although I’d like to mentally make a sharp divide between secretions and secrets — when you hide something away, don’t you se-CREET it?

  16. marie-lucie says:

    Ø : when you hide something away, don’t you se-CREET it?

    That was my question, and LH responded in the affirmative. But the two homophonous verbs must have a different origin in Latin. Usually there is no ambiguity about their meanings because they are used in such completely different contexts (physiologically produced substances vs. intentional concealment).

  17. In fact, secret and secrete have a common source in the perfect participle secretus of Latin secernere ‘divide, separate’. What is secret is separated from what is known or made public: it is put into a different compartment, as it were. Per contra, secretions such as milk or sweat are separated from the general fluids of the body by the secretory organs.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    JC, Very interesting!

  19. It seems “excrete”, “secrete”, “excretory”, “secretory” and also “secretary” are related. The “genes” of these last three words could lead to pronounce them similarly. According to some dictionaries, “cernere” is also the root of “crime”.

  20. AmEng Medical School physiology teacher here. I say and hear SEEcretory. Those that say seCREEtory stand out to me as BrEng speakers. They also say caPILLary.

    Duodenum is more mixed both in my speech and hearing. I say and hear secretory much more than duodenum. We have many secretory glands and only one duodenum.

  21. Well, dammit, now I’m confused again!

  22. BrEng speakers . . . say caPILLary.

    Born-and-bred Torontonian here: Any other way seems weird. I’ve probably heard duodenum a number of ways but always say dyoo-ah-DEE-num (and have ample occasion to do so).

  23. Ø : when you hide something away, don’t you se-CREET it?

    Websters gives this as deriving from and alternation on secret the adjective. Can anyone find someone using this verb in recorded speech? I only started pronouncing it from written words, and I have been pronouncing it with SEE-cret, or does it alternate back for you too in SEE-creted? I also think I settled on this pronunciation because it helped listeners pick up on what I was saying, not thinking I was talking about jewels being secreted from the thief’s sweat glands or whatnot.

  24. Also, as someone who researched my former pyloric stenosis in middle school I had to start pronouncing duodenum from written word as well. The Minnesotan in me settled on DWɑ-də-nɜm

  25. Gassalasca says:

    For what it’s worth, the LPD provides only /sɪˈkriːt‿əri/ (for both RP and GA).

  26. Here you can listen to some Britons (I imagine) singing “duo’dene” (1:32), in Latin of course:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCaWBxfc4dY

  27. Hat: What’s to be confused about? If a technical community uses two pronunciations of a technical term, people outside the community should use whichever one suits them. Byte is pronounced to rhyme with site so as to avoid confusion with bit[*], but GIF can be either ghiff or jiff. The inventor of the latter term said jiff, but I and many others make it ghiff.

    [*]A byte is eight bits. Half a byte, or four bits, is a nybble. Two bits is 25 cents. Windows 95 was a 32-bit shell on top of a 16-bit operating system designed for an 8-bit computer based on a 4-bit chip, designed by a two-bit company that doesn’t care one bit about its users.

  28. What is the semantic content of the Latin formative “se-”?

    I can’t pull the sense I get of it into focus from “separate”, “seduce”, secrete” other than something like “away”.

    Bravo, John.

  29. >Jim
    “Se-“: collateral form of “sed-“, without, apart, aside, on one’s own.

  30. Bathrobe says:

    I would say ‘seCREtory’ and ‘duoDENum’, but I’m Australian.

    I’ve got the duodenum wrong because I’d say DEN not DEEN — probably a spelling pronunciation.

    SEcretory sounds funny to me, since the obvious pronunciation is to relate the adjective to the verb (as for exCREtory), but then it’s not a word I would use much.

  31. Bathrobe says:

    Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese are obviously calqued:
    十二指腸, 十二指肠, thập nhị chỉ trường, all ‘twelve-finger gut’.

  32. Thank you, Jesus!

    So it’s related to “sens” or whatever the Latin form of that is.

  33. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @Jim:

    So it’s related to “sens” or whatever the Latin form of that is.

    If you mean French sans ‘without’, not really. Sans goes back to Latin sine, from PIE *snh₁i (says de Vaan in his Etymological Dictionary of Latin). The closest English cognate would be sundry (< OE syndriġ < PGmc *sundraz).

    Latin se(d)-, on the other hand, goes back to PIE *sweh₁- ‘one’s own’. The closest English cognates include swain, so and such.

    To go back to the original topic, I would have spontaneously said something like /sɪˈkɹiːt.ɹɪ/ (on the basis of secretion /sɪˈˈkɹiːʃn̩/, which is a much more familiar word), but then I live among rightpondians.

  34. Rodger C says:

    Any takers for seCRETTery? Then it’d match inviTATTery.

  35. Alon,
    “Latin se(d)-, on the other hand, goes back to PIE *sweh₁- ‘one’s own’. The closest English cognates include swain, so and such.

    Ah. Now the term “svabhava” makes snese.

  36. marie-lucie says:

    Sans goes back to Latin sine, from PIE *snh₁i … . The closest English cognate would be sundry (< OE syndriġ < PGmc *sundraz).

    Then it is also related to sunder ‘to separate’ and asunder.

  37. Greg Lee says:

    Two of the pronunciations mentioned, SEE-creh-tory and see-CREE-tory, would be exceptions to the trisyllabic laxing rule in the Wikipedia formulation:

    Trisyllabic laxing or trisyllabic shortening is any of three processes in English whereby tense vowels (which are long vowels or diphthongs) become lax (i.e. short monophthongs (lax) in word formation) when followed by two syllables, of which the first syllable is unstressed: … Later in Middle English this process was expanded, and applied to all vowels when two or more syllables followed. … [which] is still a mostly productive process in Modern English. [I've omitted here the Old English version.]

    That is not to say these “EE”s couldn’t occur, but the violation of this somewhat archaic rule might make them sound peculiar to some.

  38. “Productive” in a Sound Pattern of English context has to do with the SPE dogma that Modern English speakers have the Great Vowel Shift in our heads still: that the underlying form of English bite is /bite/, which becomes /bi:t/, which becomes /baɪt/ when we actually express it — in short, that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Trisyllabic laxing is not, I think, productive in the usual sense: when new words come into the language it does not necessarily apply to them.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    JC: ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny

    Actually, the treatment of morphophonemics through Chomsky&Halle’s “generative phonology”, which SPE was presented as a model of, was not meant to recapitulate historical development (which was not supposed to be considered) but to be due to a series of synchronic rules, as if the language had just been discovered and nothing was known of its history or its linguistic relatives. In fact, the best, most economical treatment usually turned out to recapitulate historical development. For English, because of its peculiar history, words had to be “flagged” as belonging to different groups, which of course corresponded to native (inherited) words as opposed to borrowings, mostly from French and Latin, and some rules only applied to one or the other of those groups.

  40. “For English, because of its peculiar history, words had to be “flagged” as belonging to different groups, which of course corresponded to native (inherited) words as opposed to borrowings, mostly from French and Latin, and some rules only applied to one or the other of those groups.”

    Covetrt categories. sounds reasonable. And I bet it’;s not hard to show they are valid. I can’t think of even one Latin-origin verb, however short, that has an abluting paradigm of “principle parts”.

    There can be a valid hisotrical explanation for all kinds of things that speakers are completely unaware of and cannot be shown to be acting on in any way. Ablauting plurals or past tenses in English, initial mutations in Irish – where we know people have no awareness that anything is conditioning anything because of the way the mutations can vary from one text to another – and probably in French too, where the doublets of mots savants versus, what’s the expression for their natively inherited counterparts? Anyway, do people really see at a glance that they are related, or care? What operational difference would that make to a speaker?

  41. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @marie-lucia:

    Then it is also related to sunder ‘to separate’ and asunder.

    Yes, you’re right. Those seemed to me transparently related to sundry, though.

  42. One of the first jokes I learned as a child (that I remember):

    Q: Why does a duck go under the water?
    A: For diverse [diver's] reasons.
    Q: Why does the duck come back up?
    A: For sundry [sun-dry] reasons.

    Jim: Mots populaires.

  43. marie-lucie says:

    Alon, yes, sunder, asunder, sundry are all closely related. That’s why I used “then” in my comment. I didn’t know their origin though.

    Jim, my point was not that different rules are needed to link word pairs (or different forms of the same words) according to their separate groups, but that the rules discovered through observation of current pronunciations turn out to be the same as known historical developments, even though the method was not supposed to be based on those developments.

    As for the difference between French mots savants ‘learned words’ and mots populaires (yes JC), literally ‘common people’s words’, I have not seen a generative treatment, but I have not looked for one either. (The same distinction is made in Spanish between palabras cultas ‘learned words’ and the other kind (I forget their name).

    The difference in both languages is not of the same nature as in English, where native words (of Germanic origin) contrast with borrowings not only from a different language family but from different time periods in that family (Old/Norman French vs both Classical Latin and Modern French). In Romance languages, the difference is between words which have evolved from the everyday spoken form of Late Latin and words which have been borrowed with very little change from written, scholarly or literary Classical Latin. This means that English native and learned words with the same approximate meaning are quite different from each other, while the corresponding Romance words usually share some basic phonology, as in French roue ‘wheel’, rotatif ‘able to turn like a wheel’ (both from Latin rota ‘wheel’), vs English wheel but to rotate. However, in French I don’t think that the average person thinks very much about the common origin of words which only share an initial consonant.

  44. corresponding Romance words usually share some basic phonology, as in French roue ‘wheel’, rotatif ‘able to turn like a wheel’ (both from Latin rota ‘wheel’), vs English wheel but to rotate. However, in French I don’t think that the average person thinks very much about the common origin of words which only share an initial consonant.

    Similar to French roue, English has roll, with Latin rota as its ultimate source — which also yielded English rotate. Not likely the average English speaker connects those dots either.

  45. Stefan Holm says:

    FWIW when it comes to sunder – here is the entry of ‘sönder’ in the Swedish Academy’s Wordbook (translated and edited by me to meet a non native audience):

    Old Swedish. sunder, synder, söndir …old Danish. sundær , syndær (Danish. sønder ), Old West Norse. sundr , Norw. sund(er), Osax. sundar, Middle Low German sunder, sonder, adjective.: separate, alone, special, particular, and. prep.: without, Old High German suntar: separated from, remote; Middle High German sunder, OE sundor and on sundran , from which Eng. asunder ; cf. got. sundro, alone, remote; problably. from an ieur. root meaning ’remote, away’ as in Greek. ἄτεϱ, remote, without, and. (with a separate ablaut stage) in Sanskr. sanutár ,remote, away, Lat. sine , without, Old Irish. Sain, different, special, Tocharian. A sne , Tocharian. B snai.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    SH: So that’s what German besonders ‘especially’ comes from!

  47. marie-lucie says:

    PO: Similar to French roue, English has roll

    I guess that (to) roll comes from the French verb rouler, from Latin rotolare ‘to roll’, which has the root rot- of rota ‘wheel’.

  48. I hung out with digestive physiologists for years when I was doing research on the history of digestion. Americans and British both, almost always, said SEE-cretory.

  49. Bathrobe says:

    @Daniel: Where were you doing your research?

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