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Archive for July, 2016

The Glossary of Useful Words 5: ‘captious’

A slightly judgmental or emotionally-tinged adjective meaning “quick to find fault” is the word ‘captious’, which one does not encounter these days in either speech or writing but is useful withal when intending to go beyond the simple word ‘punctilious’. Its origin (according to the OED Online) and definitions are as follows:

Etymology: < French captieux or Latin captiōsus fallacious, sophistical, < captiōn-em (see caption n.).

  1. Apt to catch or take one in; fitted to ensnare or perplex in argument; designed to entrap or entangle by subtlety; fallacious, sophistical.
  2. Apt to catch at faults or take exception to actions; disposed to find fault, cavil, or raise objections; fault-finding, cavilling, carping.

In the Age of Irrationality, perhaps it is not altogether blameworthy to be captious, when the polar alternative is never to criticize despite having good reasons to do so.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

The Mispronunciation of Wimbledon

The All England Lawn Tennis Championships are played every year around this time at Wimbledon, a district of southwest London. Since the broadcast media are constantly giving updates on the scores, the word Wimbledon is unavoidably in the air, often mispronounced by speakers of American English with a [t] instead of the correct [d] for the orthographic d. The cause of this frequent mispronunciation is as follows.

Intervocalic /d/ and /t/ in American English are typically indistinguishable, being rendered phonetically as the alveolar flap [ɾ], which makes minimal pairs like bitter and bidder sound the same. In an unstressed syllable the /d/ of Wimbledon––even though not intervocalic––can sound indistinguishable from an alveolar flap to an American ear and hence identified with [t] rather than [d] despite the clear evidence of orthography. This is the origin of the mistake.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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