A little-known rule for arguing

When you disagree with something, don’t ever say “I happen to believe that…[the opposite of whatever it is you’re disagreeing with].” Just say “I think” instead. Saying you “happen to” doesn’t add anything (what would it add?) and it sounds pompous. It sounds pompous because it doesn’t add anything. We know you “happen to” believe whatever it is; how else would you believe it, destiny? We all “happen to” believe what we believe; there’s no need to announce it.

It’s just affectation. Avoid affectation. By the same token avoid affectations like “well played, sir” as if you were Samuel Johnson at a game of rounders. (And speaking of Johnson, don’t call him “Doctor” Johnson.) (And speaking of not calling people “Doctor” for no good reason, don’t call Martin Luther King “Doctor” either.) Avoid pseudo-archaic epithets and courtesies, avoid labored jokes, avoid strained metaphors. Unless you’re really good at them, which is unlikely. Don’t try to sound like Christopher Hitchens, or P G Wodehouse, or Lord Chesterfield, or (above all) Julian Fellowes. Don’t try to sound as if you got a gentleman’s C at Harvard in 1922. Just skip all that; leave it right out.

You’re welcome.


  1. Shatterface says

    Another rule:

    You can either say ‘methinks’ or you can have the internet.

    You can’t do both.

  2. says

    Yeah, “methinks”; that’s a good one. Good in the sense of bad.

    Cuttlefish, note the exception – “Unless you’re really good at them.” You get to do whatever you like.

  3. Randomfactor says

    I never say “I think” in an argument. I don’t think chocolate is delicious.

    Chocolate IS delicious.

  4. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    So if I happen to believe that the daytime sky is usually blue or 3 + 1 + 1 equals five or Earth is an oblate spheroid then using such affectations makes one’s gentlemanly argument for such facts invalid or wrong? Would that not be raahtherrr well played madam? Methinks so! 😉

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

    Seriously though, I think this stylistic rule is a matter of subjective taste and not logically relevant to whether or not any argument is god or otherwise.

    It also occurs to me (is that another one?) that this little known is something akin to tone trolling. because ‘pompous’ after all is a tone as is pedantic etc .. (Mea culpa on both counts on occassion I ‘spose.)

    This may be a good rhetorical rule for making a more appealing case sometimes but it isn’t actually one that wins arguments when you get down to the logic or reason or evidence which I think is what most counts in deciding whether or not an argument is valid.

  5. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    One nit:

    The consistent dismissal of Black expertise, even when backed up by qualification, led to traditions in US Black communities of calling MLK “Dr. King”.

    I’m honoring that regardless of what you say about using “doctor” generally.

  6. Silentbob says

    Well said, dear lady. I happen to believe you are on the verge of – nay! have succeeded in – distilling the fine art of pretentiousness down to it’s very essence, as it were.

  7. Hatchetfish says

    Unless there’s a particular need for softening the message “I think” is just as empty. If it weren’t what one thought, why say it? If it’s a guess or hypothesis with little to back it, there are better ways to say so.

  8. alqpr says

    Never say never.
    It’s February and I’m in Vancouver but it happens not to be raining. Similarly, “I happen to believe X” is appropriate in a context where there is good reason for one to be surprised by that belief.
    But why are you advising twits not to sound like twits? Wouldn’t it be better if they continued to self-identify?

  9. Bob says

    A pet hate of mine is people who rhetorically demand definitions in a smug way as if the mere demanding of them is a sign of their great wisdom. “Ahh, that depends; define ‘x’, my good sir.” “I think this all hinges on our definition of ‘x’ does it not?” Well yes, every sentence you ever say hinges of definition of every single fucking word in it!

    There can be occasions when it’s useful, life if someone seems to be using a word in am idiosyncratic way, or it’s technical and unfamiliar, or has more than one common meaning. But it’s often done as something like a delaying tactic.
    Tip: if someone demands a definition of common words (like religion, or love, or democracy, which yes are a bit blurry but ordinary people use them regularly without massive problems most of the time) then they’re probably just stuck in a corner and want to change the subject by quibbling over the absolute limits of a term. It’s even worse if they introduce a word, you use it back them, and then they start demanding a definition.

  10. Maureen Brian says

    Also, I confess I just put a comment on PZ’s Marcia McNutt thread – as a single sentence which runs to almost 120 words.

    I was going to stop doing that. Sorry!

  11. Al Dente says

    As it happens I believe that Ophelia has explained the situation rather well, or so it appears.

  12. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    “I happen to believe that…” instead of “I think that…” is irritating enough, but whether you happen to believe or you think, say <b<why. Your opinion in itself is much less important than your reasons for holding it.

  13. Shatterface says

    Unless there’s a particular need for softening the message “I think” is just as empty. If it weren’t what one thought, why say it? If it’s a guess or hypothesis with little to back it, there are better ways to say so.

    ‘I think’ is redundant when stating a personal preference (‘I think chocolate is nice’ adds nothing to the sentence ‘chocolate is nice’ because the latter is clearly a subjective opinion) but is a marker for statements which may or may not be true (‘I think chocolate contains milk’ suggests the speaker is unsure while ‘chocolate contains milk’ suggests definitive knowledge).

    ‘I think that’ or ‘as I understand’ or ‘I am lead to believe’ are evidential markers: they indicate how certain the speaker is of a statement and why they believe it is true. Languages employ evidential markers to indicate how certain the speaker is of statements or the source of their knowledge. An evidential marker indicating whether the speaker has first hand knowledge of something or whether it is hearsay (or whether they experienced something in a dream) is clearly useful.

    Some languages require evidential markers for all statements but in English it is optional and rather cumbersome: some languages get by with simple prefixes or suffixes.


  14. latsot says

    I’m always suspicious when people say “it turns out that…..”

    More often than not they’re about to pull something completely made-up out of their arses and pass it off as established fact without giving their audience chance to demand a ctation. But that’s not even the part I dislike the most. It’s just so lazy. You’re supposed to be trying convince someone that your blithering opinion is reasonable, at least have the courtesy of actually making an argument instead of blithely pretending that it’s just true and everyone knows it.

    “When people say “I happen to think…..” it gives me the impression that they feel their opinion is more important than anyone else’s, even if they don’t stress the “I”. It’s as if they’re dismissing the other opinions solely on the grounds that it’s they who hold a different one. It’s as if they’re dismissing their need to back up what they say with evidence while very likely insisting that others need extraordinary levels of evidence.

    I’m sure that’s not always the intention, but that’s the impression I get.

  15. Brian E says

    Ye gads! Methinks the bothersome shrew doth protest too much! For sooth! Now where layeth my blunderbuss? those Cangarou will noust shoot thineselves.

  16. latsot says

    @Brian E:

    Mentioning blunderbusses is always appreciated.

    You reminded me of another thing that annoys me: affected pronunciations, even if the one used is technically correct (whatever that means) but absolutely nobody else says it that way. Perhaps even especially if it’s technically the correct pronunciation. Could there possibly be a more worthless way to make yourself feel worthy?

    And, at least in my case, it’s especially not worth the effort because I’m not listening. I’m only paying attention to the huge sign flashing on and off in my head reading “TWAT”.

  17. Charful says

    I’m confused. I agree with everything *except* this issue of, “Doctor.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. obtained his Ph.D in 1955. That entitles him to be referred to as Doctor in most places of the world. It’s an honorific marking academic achievement, not an affectation. The fact that most people don’t insist on it is because they don’t want to be asked to restart somebody’s heart or deliver a baby on a plane. I appreciate that M.D. is what most people mean by, “Doctor” in the US today, but that’s certainly not how I grew up understanding it in the UK..

  18. latsot says

    Hi Ophelia, examples of affected pronunciation?

    Hm. It’s quite hard to think of any, now. One is partly grammatical rather than solely pronunciation: why do some people insist on saying “an ‘otel” instead of “a hotel”? I understand that this is (arbitrary) grammatical convention but who – other than BBC newsreaders – uses it? People who want to sound clever or fancy, that’s who. I know those people are regarding me with withering scorn when I tell them I checked into a hotel. I’ve seen exactly the same sneer on the faces of people who complain about the Star Trek split infinitive.

    Another is “guacamole”. There are people over here who pronounce the ‘mole’ as in a fuzzy black digging thing rather than the variety of sauce it is presumably based on. They do this because they think it makes them sound cosmopolitan, as far as I can tell, but in this case they are just plain wrong.

    Ooh, ooh, “Porsche”. Yes I *know* it’s ‘supposed’ to be pronounced porsh-ah but the only person who does this in real life is Jeremy Clarkson, which should in itself be reason enough to say “porsh”. Saying “porsh-ah” is clearly not done from a desire for accuracy, it’s because you want to seem more knowledgeable-than-thou about cars. It’s passive-aggressive is what it is.

    I can’t think of any others off the top of my head, frustratingly, but I’ll post them if I think of them.

    But now you’ve been and gone and reminded me of yet another thing that elevates my rage to hulk-level. Words and phrases that have been incorrectly heard and understood but trotted out without thinking.


    doggy-dog world (dog-eat-dog world)
    wallah (voilà)
    for all intensive purposes (for all intents and purposes)

    Again, what bothers me is not that people have misheard the words, but they haven’t thought about what it is they are saying. Lazy.

    I once (yes, I’m that sad) had a surprisingly long list of misunderstood phrases like this. I expect it’s in a backup somewhere, I’ll see if I can find it when my next wave of procrastination sets in (to mix metaphors. Hey, it’s pretty pretentious to announce mixed metaphors, probably).

    I also tried and completely failed to come up with a decent name for this sort of thing. If anyone can think of one, you’d be surprised at how grateful I’d be.

  19. says

    Examples of affected pronunciation that are in fact correct but still irritating.

    Thank you for thinking of some! Did you notice that they cancel each other out?

    You’re irritated by “guacamole” pronounced wrong but “Porsche” pronounced correctly. Hmm.

    I probably react that way merely because I say “Porsche” the German way as opposed to the non-German way, and scowl a bit when I hear it pronounced the non-German way. I don’t think that’s because I’m being pretentious (but then I wouldn’t, would I), I think it’s because I think we should all try to get foreign names and words right, because it’s insular not to.

    I think that’s why I get annoyed by the systematic British mispronunciation of ALL French words and names by putting a heavy accent on the first syllable which is just where it doesn’t go. CAfe, RENoir, MAnet, POIrot, DEgas, etc etc etc. It seems rude when they’re so near by.

  20. latsot says


    I’ve spoken to lots of people about this before and nobody could even think of a good set of search terms.

    I feel like a weight has been lifted.

  21. Tessa says

    Unless there’s a particular need for softening the message “I think” is just as empty. If it weren’t what one thought, why say it? If it’s a guess or hypothesis with little to back it, there are better ways to say so.

    It’s the exact opposite for me. Using something like “i think” should be the default, and stating opinions as fact should only be used for strong opinions.
    I loathe having a conversation with somebody who speaks only (or even mostly) in absolutes like that. It always seems like some big dominance ploy. “This is the way it is!” So tiring. I lose interest in speaking to them pretty fast.

    And yeah, I also hate “I happen to think” It’s so passive. “I had no choice but to believe this! It was thrust upon me!”

  22. says

    Oh, I know one, maybe – chaise longue.

    My solution to that is just not to say it at all. It’s a silly word anyway – it sounds affected to use a French word for an ordinary piece of furniture, so I just don’t.

    But that doesn’t mean I don’t scowl a bit when I hear chaise lounge.

    But you know what’s worse? Americans who say “armwah.” Ugh. They also say “memwah.” Ugh ugh. It’s neither French nor American, so why do they say it?

  23. latsot says

    I think I’ve mentioned this story here before, but when I was at primary school in England, we had to sing hymns every morning. The older kids – who already knew the hymns – were allowed hymn books with the words written in them. The younger kids – who could not possibly know the hymns – were not.

    I interpreted (and sang, for several years) a hymn with the following chorus:

    Dance, dance, wherever you may be
    For I am the lord of the dance, said he
    And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
    And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he


    Dance, dance, wherever you may be
    For I am the lord of your dad’s settee
    And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
    And I’ll lead you all in your dad’s settee.

    (Note: I’m not sure how well ‘settee’ translates. It means sofa, couch. My family didn’t particularly use this word, which might be why I thought it might be the proper word for the hymn, even though it plainly made no sense)

  24. latsot says

    You’re irritated by “guacamole” pronounced wrong but “Porsche” pronounced correctly. Hmm.

    Yes. I think it’s because of the apparent intent of the person saying it. They’re (at least in my mind) trying to seem fancy or knowledgeable by pronouncing words differently to everyone else (or at least everyone else at hand), which makes it an affectation.

    I think it’s because I think we should all try to get foreign names and words right, because it’s insular not to.

    I agree with that. I cringe at the (possibly not happening any more) American pronunciation of “Moscow” is a kind of cow. You’d think that the people who lived there would have some say in how it ought to be pronounced. Actually, there’s a similar example from one of my old home towns: Newcastle. Almost nobody pronounces it how actual Geordies do. Wensleydale is another example. People from Wensleydale use an ‘s’ and everyone else on the planet uses a ‘z’. So that’s annoying and by all means yes, let’s try to get the thing right. But it’s the intent that bothers me. Jeremy Clarkson, for example, has absolutely no interest all in getting anything right. He uses the German pronunciation for the sole purpose of telling everyone that he knows more about cars than them.

    It’s not the pronunciation that annoys me, it’s the (apparent) intent. It’s the affectation. These people are doing it because they think it makes them stand out as superior. I wouldn’t think the same thing of, say, the CEO of Porsche saying “porsh-ah”.

    I think that’s why I get annoyed by the systematic British mispronunciation of ALL French words and names by putting a heavy accent on the first syllable which is just where it doesn’t go. CAfe, RENoir, MAnet, POIrot, DEgas, etc etc etc. It seems rude when they’re so near by.

    I actually thought about “cafe” immediately after I posted my comment. There are possibly cultural reasons why we used to get that word wrong in the 70s. We were a bit suspicious of foreign words and – lets face it – things back then anyway. And we were still – perhaps – recovering from the war. That, I think, is part of why British food has such a bad reputation throughout the world. It really was pretty bad in the 70s. Not that I ate out much then. Nobody did. Nobody could afford it, which was another issue. So when words with fancy accents on their letters turned up, people were slightly suspicious. When cafes turned out to be restaurants that didn’t open at night, I’m not sure people understood them. Who could afford to go to a restaurant during the day?

    Where I was born, a cafe opened in, oh let’s say about 1978. It was universally called a “cayfe”. People eventually learned the still incorrect British pronunciation in the late 80s, shortly after it closed.

    This is sheer. blind speculation, but I occasionally wonder if common mispronunciations of other French words by we British is partly due to ‘cafe’ being the only French word most people knew for decades and obviously some misunderstanding of what the accent on the e was for.

    I’ve known British people who speak French fluently but still pronounce those words in the British way when they’re talking to Brits. There’s something interesting to be dug out of this.

  25. latsot says

    Another point about ‘cafe’ that just occurred to me is that a lot of cafes in the early 70s were run by Italian immigrants and I remember them distinctly saying things like “never ever, whatever you do ever come in my CAFFey ever again”.

    Clearly that was a cultural rather than a latsot issue.

  26. says

    I know, about fluent Francophone Brits who do it – I’ve heard it on the Beeb many times. Someone will say something in flawless French one minute then do the wrong-syllable thing in an otherwise-English sentence the next. Well ok I haven’t heard that many times, but I have heard it.

    Moscow? Uh oh, I say it wrong. In Russian it’s like Mokva, isn’t it? What’s the righter way of saying Moscow?

    I knew that about Newcastle & carefully say it that way but I DID NOT KNOW THAT ABOUT WENSLEYDALE so thank you. I say it a fair bit, as it happens, because that’s possibly my favorite cheese in the world.

  27. latsot says

    In my comment at 37 I meant to imply that we Brits should have learned how better to pronounce French words and somehow haven’t.

  28. latsot says

    Moscow? Uh oh, I say it wrong. In Russian it’s like Mokva, isn’t it? What’s the righter way of saying Moscow?

    Oh dear. Yes, I take your point, you’re right. Parisians call their city “paree” but there’s a sort of arbitrary internationally accepted version: Paris. MosCOW is definitely wrong, but mosCOE is more or less right, even though it’s wrong. It’s the internationally accepted pronunciation, I don’t know why and it’s stupid, yes.

    I’d prefer it if we used the names the inhabitants use for their own cities, I’ve no idea why we don’t.

    My intention wasn’t to take anyone to task for using a particular incorrect pronunciation. I thought my intent was clear in the post, sorry if it wasn’t.

  29. latsot says

    A chaise longue is a very particular piece of furniture, isn’t it? Do people use the word to refer to something else?

  30. latsot says

    By the way, Ophelia, I lived in Newcastle for more than a decade and was born nearby. People have still criticized my pronunciation of “Newcastle”. It’s not about whether it’s “NEWcastle” or “newCASTLE”, it’s about whether it’s “Newcastle” or “Newcastle”.

  31. says

    Oh I see. Right. I guess I’ve heard cow much more than coe so picked up the former and never bothered to check.

    A friend of mine always pulls out the Paris card in these discussions, and yes I do have them that often, why do you ask?

    Hahaha. I think I’ll start calling it Nicksle, just to fuck with them.

  32. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    I’m having a terrible time with chaise longue, because I’ve been looking for one avidly. What to say in stores? Invariably, the clerk will say in broadest Americanese, “Oh, a chase lounger!.” Which makes me want to kill.

  33. latsot says

    Hahaha. I think I’ll start calling it Nicksle, just to fuck with them.

    You should. But the trick is the cadence rather than the emphasis. Actually it’s a sort of interaction of the two. don’t know of a notation that can describe it.

    We can say the same things, can’t we, about the way people pronounce words like “Durham” and “Carlisle” but I suspect Newcastle is the only place in the region where cadence matters more than pronunciation. I find this interesting.

  34. latsot says


    You know me to be a person – more or less – of my word. So believe me when I say that there is nothing – NOTHING – more comfortabler than a chaise longue as I define the thing. And I define it as the sort of thing you’d be fed grapes on.

    You aren’t a kid any more. You’ve got all those aches and pains. You know the ones. A chaise longue.won’t cure those but it will put them in a place where you won’t care about them any more. For a while.

    I honestly don’t know why all furniture is not chaise longues.

  35. hoary puccoon says

    As long as you’re on geographical terms, please, dear friends across the sea, there is no American National Park called Yo-Se-MITE. It’s spelled Yosemite and pronounced Yo-SEM-it-tee.

    My husband grew up in California, within sight of the Sierra Nevada peaks of Yosemite National Park. His closest childhood friends were the sons of a Yosemite Park ranger. The boys went off on pack trips in the park for days at a time. And more than one British citizen has helpfully corrected my husband for “mispronouncing” the park’s name! Because obviously, an American who spent much of his childhood in Yosemite couldn’t possibly know as much about it as the product of a British education.

    I’m afraid when one’s arrogance reaches that level, switching to “I think” from “I happen to believe” doesn’t help.

  36. Sili says

    It’s more eggcorns than mondegreens, and they’re pretty interesting views into how people process language, rather than “lazy”.

    Why is that otherwise intelligent people always go off the rails when it comes to language?

  37. says

    Probably because such people are intelligent enough to get passionate about language but not intelligent enough to avoid prescriptivism.

    Or to put it another way…you can’t have good writing without strong attention to the aesthetics of it. Concern with the aesthetics is bound to tend toward being prescriptive.

    Plus you need some prescriptivism for the sake of clarity and mutual comprehensibility.

  38. says

    I’m torn here. I don’t think I’ve been guilty of the precise affectation mentioned in the OP, but as a non-native English speaker, I find myself often tempted to err on the side of emphasis, formality or overcorrection. I guess it comes from learning the language in school? Anyway, this wasn’t to complain but only to remind the gentle blogger and her kind commentators that sometimes, what looks like a supercilious affectation can come from not being as comfortable in English as a native speaker.

  39. Al Dente says

    I remember the prayer from my childhood: “Our father who art in heaven, Harold be thy name.”

  40. Stacy says

    As someone who reads a lot my pronunciation is pretty dodgy. I often say words with a questioning inflection (“am I saying that right?”) which is probably more annoying than any mispronunciation could be.

    I confess to liking olde timey jokey affectations like “well played, sir.” Sometimes. Within reason. Somebody doing it all the time would just be annoying.

    I actually had a chaise longue, once upon a time, and I just called the damn thing my “sofa” because I have no idea how to pronounce it.

    They are super comfy, though. Good luck, Josh, I hope you find a nice one.

  41. wannabe says

    I dislike the modern trend of pronouncing the T in “often” (harking back to its root “oft”) but I fear that battle is lost.

    “I of-ten mois-ten until I glis-ten.”

    I recommend Language Log for all things language-y. Posts before 8 April 2008 are here, including the definitive post on SIWOTI.

  42. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    we Brits should have learned how better to pronounce French words and somehow haven’t.

    That’s because we speak English. If we didn’t mispronounce French words we’d be speaking French. Originally the rulers spoke French, the subjects English, which was a Germanic language. Mispronouncing French words was a kind of “dumb insolence”- implicit mutiny- and a refusal to speak “their” language and we’ve never got out of the habit. English emphasis makes it more likely- we automatically stress the first syllable of a word. People who speak French will change the stress in French, but when they speak English it comes back and there’s nothing deliberate about either.

  43. says

    Irène – well that’s a point. In live conversation, of course, it’s usually apparent when someone isn’t a native speaker, but I also had the Internet in mind when saying all this, where it isn’t apparent.

  44. chigau (違う) says

    I am currently, actively studying Japanese language.
    I (and my classmates) correct pronunciation for everyone within ear-shot.
    We are very annoying.
    But we are Correct™.
    Therefore Superior™.

  45. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    You say to-mah- to, I say Tom-ay- to. Meh.

    People have different styles and use different figures of speech and think of these indifferent ways.

    “Happen to think” might sound pompous to you but just sounds conversational to me. Most of my comments here I use conversational casual style, sometimes I try to be more logical or put on an accent for the purposes of humour or whatever.

    I’m not sure why its such a big deal. (Shrug)

    The main thing has to be what is said /typed / argued not how that is said / typed / argued usually right?

  46. latsot says


    latsot did you ever find out what the actual word was that you heard as settee?

    I parsed “dance, said he” as “dad’s settee”.

    I knew it didn’t make any sense, but once it was in my brain I couldn’t seem to figure out the real words, even though all the clues were there.

  47. says


    Well, one, it’s not really “such a big deal.” My outrage is itself stylistic; I’m pretending; I exaggerated a little for effect. Or to put it another way, the outrage is real but I know perfectly well it’s silly.

    But two…no. No, how it’s said does matter. It has to. If it’s said too badly it’s not even comprehensible. If it’s said a little badly it’s less persuasive than it could be. Plus better is better, including in writing.

  48. says

    I think the answer to the Clarkson problem above is as follows: How does he pronounce ‘Škoda’? If he says it ‘Skoda’, then he is revealing a preference for saying the name of a posh fancy car right, but not bothering with a modestly-priced one. If he says it ‘Shkoda’, since it has the flicky thing on the ‘s’, then he is just generally trying to pronounce foreign brand names accurately, and I don’t think he can reasonably be faulted for that.

    But I am not about to go trawling through Top Gear episodes right now to find out…

  49. iasasai says

    Once upon a time, I went to a German elementary school – not a school in Germany, but an american school centered around the German language and culture. [A public school, for the record.] I ended up learning the majority of my European geography in German. Still to this day I CRINGE whenever someone says Munich – it’s München damn it! The same thing plays out for Cologne and Danube and others I’m sure will spring to mind later.

    Since I had an early start on languages, I’ve dabbled in them ever since, taking classical Latin in high school and college and Attic Greek in college. Not to mention dabbling in Japanese for years due to my preference for animation over live-action entertainment. The Latin background leads me to cringe when people use Latin phrases and pronounce them as though they were English or, worse, Italian. I’m probably just being a pedant when I have that reaction, though. Probably. “Cs are always hard in Latin! It sounds like ‘et ketera’!”

    On the note of ‘often’… An English teacher tried to give me detention once for daring to contradict her on the pronunciation of it – I had left the t sound out and when she corrected me, I told HER to look it up. [I had just won a very nice dictionary earlier for winning a spelling bee.]

    Having learned ancient Greek, I totally get the unaspirated h and have for a long time now gone the route of “an (h)otel” or “an (h)ysterical overreaction”. It seems more natural and fluid to me, though I get strange looks from the majority of my midwesterner peers.

    In general I try to pronounce things as they would be pronounced in whatever language they were borrowed from. Except for French. I care not one jot for precision of Frenchiness. If I had to pick one language which could go quietly screw itself into death and oblivion behind the shed, it would be French. Mainly because SO MANY make a big deal out of pronouncing French loan words accurately and then completely disregard the notion of accuracy for any other loanwords.

  50. hoary puccoon says


    Well, excuuuse me. How ignorant of the French to speak their own language as they see fit, without getting your permission.

    I spend a lot of time in France, and I’ve heard, over and over and OVER, British citizens put the accent on the first syllable of French words, in the context of speaking French to French citizens. At best, it slows down the conversation, as the French listener has to do a mental double-take to understand what’s being said. Often, it leads to a complete breakdown in communication. And then, quite often, the British citizen decides the poor French person is just being deliberately obtuse, instead of realizing he or she really couldn’t understand the Brit’s garbled pronunciation. (I know for a fact that when British citizens have thrown in mispronounced French words or place names in a conversation in English with me, it’s been difficult to follow what they’re saying. And I’m a native speaker of American English, as well as being fairly fluent in French.)

    Expecting people to understand you if you say Munchen when the usual English pronunciation of that city is Munich, and then expecting French speakers to make up some garbled version of the names of the French towns, because you think the correct pronunciation sounds affected, strikes me as exactly the type of snobbery this post was addressing.

  51. says

    And note that I’m not saying people should do a French R or anything like that. Putting the emphasis on the right syllable doesn’t require any unfamiliar uses of the vocal equipment. It’s EASY.

    (Irrelevant side point. I too change Cologne to Köln in my head, and think of Donau when I hear Danube…but I’ve never liked to say München. Something about the n next to the ch-sound grates on me.) (Of course I also go Vienna/Wien. Also in my head say Salzburg in German not English, just because I like it.)

  52. iasasai says

    hoary puccoon, I didn’t express any expectations for the French or other French-speaking groups. I did however express my dislike of the language and a, perhaps over the top, hope that it would wither away into obscurity. I am interested in language in general but French has always rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve never been to France or any other area where French was the primary spoken language so when I reference people insisting that I pronounce French terms properly, it’s purely from the standpoint of americans in america. I don’t give a sideways flying fuck how the French pronounce French terms among themselves. Why does it rub me the wrong way? Because a great deal of effort is put into making others, non-native speakers mind you, pronounce French terms accurately but ABSOLUTELY NO EFFORT is placed upon doing the same for other non-native languages spoken locally. Probably your situation is different, but my entire life I have been corrected when my French pronunciation is incorrect despite not being anywhere near anything particularly French [Though I guess Quebec is a day or so drive away, but I’ve never been to Canada. I have little desire to travel – mendokuse na.] yet the German, which comprises a lot of the area’s history and identity, well, that can be mangled and garbled left and right and only people like me seem to notice. [It’s not just toponyms – it’s loanwords as well, such as angst.] I don’t expect anyone to pronounce German or Latin or Greek or whatever else have you the way it should be pronounced either – I merely cringe and on occasion mention that if they’d like to be more correct they should pronounce it *insert example*. It’s not just locally either. Back when I used to peruse american television, characters would correct pronunciations of French loanwords frequently but never, to the best of my memory, for loanwords from any other language.

    Another thing is… badmouthing French really brings out the defenders of the French language. Let me defend German or Latin, though, and I’m suddenly bringing unfair expectations to the table. How …. interesting.

    Ophelia, I like the German pronunciations better too! I grew up with them and that’s a hard habit to break. That’s why I cringe when they are anglicized – they didn’t NEED to be anglicized, yet they were.

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