Like many older people, I tend to find some new ways of speaking grating. I still wince at the increasingly common use of the response “I am doing good” when someone is asked how they are. The same with “I could care less”. And the word ‘nucular’ drives me up the wall. I am not enough of a rude pedant to actually correct people when they speak like that, taking such liberties only with my own children when they pick up these ways of speaking from their friends.
At one time I did notice several people pronouncing that word ‘mischievous’ as ‘michievious’ and when a close friend of mine did so, I knew her well enough to ask her where she had picked it up. She had not even been aware that there was an alternative pronunciation and that her use was not the most common.
And that is really the issue. The written word can often be ambiguous as to how it should be spoken. Take for example the word ‘awry’. For the longest time, I used to think it was ‘aw-ree’ until I heard someone say it and it dawned on me that the strange word he was using was one that I knew. There are many other words that I knew from reading that I did not know how to pronounce because I had never heard anyone use them. In Sri Lanka, the word ‘robot’ used to be widely spoken as if the ‘t’ were silent and it took me a while to get used to hitting the ‘t’ after I came to the US.
But I have to also remind myself that what we now consider the ‘correct’ way of speaking may have once been considered wrong, and what we now seek to rectify may have been the standard. This is particularly so when it comes to pronunciation, as David Shariatmadari writes. For example:
Wasp used to be waps; bird used to be brid and horse used to be hros. Remember this when the next time you hear someone complaining about aks for ask or nucular for nuclear, or even prescription. It’s called metathesis, and it’s a very common, perfectly natural process.
There will always be a tension between those who want to preserve the usage they are familiar with and those who break the rules. That’s what makes living languages so much fun.