Sunday’s Safire column on the word vegan, in among the labored puns and vaguely relevant references, actually gives me a bit of useful information. I’d always wondered how to pronounce the word, having heard VAY-gan and VEE-gan more or less equally; now I know how the creator of the word, Donald Watson, intends it to be said. Safire ends his piece:
My problem with vegan, now affirmatively used as self-description by roughly two million Americans, is its pronunciation. Does the first syllable sound like the vedge in vegetable, with the soft g? Or is it pronounced like the name sci-fi writers have given the blue-skinned aliens from far-off Vega: VEE-gans or VAY-gans?
For this we turn to the word’s coiner: ”The pronunciation is VEE-gan,” Watson told Vegetarians in Paradise, a Los Angeles-based Web site, last year, ”not vay-gan, veggan or veejan.” He chooses the ee sound followed by a hard g. That’s decisive but not definitive; some lexicographers differ, and pronunciation will ultimately be determined by the majority of users.
I’ll go along with the coiner’s pronunciation of VEE-gan. He’s a charmingly crotchety geezer who began as a vegetarian. ”When my older brother and younger sister joined me as vegetarians, nonsmokers, teetotalers and conscientious objectors,” Watson says, ”my mother said she felt like a hen that had hatched a clutch of duck eggs.” He obviously inherited her feel for language. I’m a carnivore myself — an animal that delights in eating other animals — but won’t treat this guy like a fad-diet freak: Watson has a major coinage under his belt, and he’s a spry 94.
I even (miracle of miracles) agree with his conclusion: I wouldn’t follow the creator’s preferred usage if English speakers had settled on another one, but since they haven’t, it pleases me to go along with the crotchety geezer (Watson, that is, not Safire).