A couple of years ago I posted about a South African fish called snoek, the subject of a New Yorker article by Calvin Trillin about a man’s obsession with it. That snoek is the Afrikaans descendent of Dutch snoek, which is the source of the English fish name snook, and oddly enough, the Oct. 30 New Yorker has an article (not online) by Ian Frazier on American snook and a man’s obsession with it. Frazier writes well, but I care little or nothing about fish and fishing, so I suspect the reason I kept reading was the word snook itself, so odd and such fun to say. But I was taken aback when I got to this, on page 59: “This time when seeking a guide, I asked around for one with credentials for snook (which people there [in Everglades City, Florida] pronounce to rhyme with ‘fluke’).” Well, how else would you pronounce it? Then it occurred to me it could perfectly well be rhymed with cook, and sure enough, when I checked my trusty Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate that was the first pronunciation given, though the one favored by me and Everglades City, Florida is also accepted—and is, indeed, the only one given in the OED. I suspect my assumed pronunciation (for I’ve never had any contact with the fish or those who love it) was based on the etymology; the Dutch say /snuk/, so I did too. My question, of course, is: if you are actually familiar with this denizen of the deep, how do you say it (and where do you hail from)? Fluke or cook?
Incidentally, his snook guy mentions catching a twelve-pound jewfish, then adds “You ain’t allowed to keep jewfish anymore, anywhere in the state of Florida… You’re not supposed to call ‘em jewfish no more, neither. Their new name is the Goliath grouper. I don’t want to offend nobody, so I try to remember. But I’m sixty years old and I been callin’ ‘em jewfish all my life, and I imagine I’ll continue to.” FishBase calls ‘em itajara (which I presume is it-uh-JAR-uh, though it’s not in any of my dictionaries and, as always, I welcome correction) and adds “Territorial near its refuge cave or wreck where it may show a threat display with open mouth and quivering body. Larger individuals have been known to stalk and attempt to eat divers.” Yikes.