I Now Pronounce Thee … How, Exactly?

Once upon a time, I learned the word “brazier.” Sort of.

As a kid, I could write the definition in a heartbeat, enough to know it was some kind of metal bowl or container that held fire. After all, I’d read it in fantasy novels. I’d seen it listed as a treasure in Dungeons & Dragons. My folks had driven by a Dairy Queen sign that shouted it to the world. Easy, right?

Only one problem: I’d never heard it out loud.

And so, one evening, college-age Scott read a passage out loud about a “burning bra-ZEER” … and Dad almost choked himself laughing.

“Scott,” he said, after surviving the mental image of flaming lingerie suddenly appearing in a medieval fantasy scene, “the word is BRAY-zhur.”

Oh.

Hooked On Phonics, you have a lot to answer for.

I bring this up only because Reuters and others recently reported on the hard-to-pronounce words of 2021. And as someone who blundered into the realm of burning braziers/brassieres, I have to show a certain amount of sympathy.

There’s the surname of tennis star Stefanos Tsitsipas, one of the rare names out there that’s less intuitive than “Rochat.” (For the newer readers here, it’s roe-SHAY.)

Or the challenge of wrestling with “Omicron,” the virus that not only endangered lives but tripped up tongues.

Some people stumbled over “Chipotle,” others over the last names of stars like Jason Kelce and Billie Eilish. Even a long runner like the city of Glasgow, Scotland caused a few folks to sweat while it was hosting last year’s climate conference.

If you’re comfortable with all those, well done. But there’s probably another stumble spot somewhere. Most people I know have a story of awkward linguistic discovery to share. My personal favorite is my wife Heather’s sudden childhood understanding that Nancy Drew had “titian” hair – TIH-shun, a particular shade of red hair – and not “titan” hair.

“It was the ‘80s!” she told me. “I just thought she had a really big hairdo!”
It’s easy to laugh, easier to blush. And maybe easiest of all to decide “You know, I’m just going to wait for someone else to try this.”

But if you’ve been brave enough to take the plunge – even if it left you with mud on your face – you’ve got my congratulations.

As a writer and an actor, I love the taste of words. And like any kitchen experiment, not everything’s going to work the first time. Some may even be real disasters. But when you get a new one down, you add a little more flavor to your world.

That’s exciting. And not just for words or recipes.

Even in an uncertain world, there’s a lot to discover. If you’re willing to take the step into something new, however small, that’s something to cheer. (As long as you’re not causing lasting harm, of course – would-be Dexters need not apply.) Each new achievement gives a little more understanding: of a topic, of yourself, of those around you.

Sure, it may also give you some laughter at your own expense. But if it’s a laugh that invites people in and reminds us that we’re all human … well, we can use more of that, too.

So have fun. Experiment well. Read aloud. Maybe even get some burgers and ice cream afterward.

After all, I know a Dairy Queen with a great brazier.  

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