Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Goin' Nucular

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

Let me direct your attention to an interesting discussion going on over at Reason's Hit and Run regarding the pronunciation of "nuclear." Jimmy Carter has long pronounced it "nucular," just as George W. Bush does, but the former president, peanut farmer and nuclear engineer is not derided for his lack of intelligence in so doing.

It's easy enough to pick on other people's pronunciation, but hard to keep yourself to the same standard. In my experience, "nucular" is the preferred pronunciation of many folks who pronounce "coupon" as "kew-pon," and it's not entirely or even mostly a function of their level of education. I interchange "coo-pon" and "kew-pon," but manage to say "nuclear" mostly because of one junior high teacher who fixated on it.

Assailing pronunciation that does not impair communication is lazy elitism. That the chattering class engages in it is unsurprising, as its members possess an inflated regard for a particular brand of book-learnin' (call it "showy but shallow," as personified by Al Gore through most of the 2000 presidential campaign; John Kerry is trying to avoid it).

Besides, if Ted Kennedy can call Castro's island "Cuber," then what's the fuss?



Blogger Rene said...

Your observations on the "nucular" and "nuclear" thing is spot on as revealing a certain intellectual arrogance. People have gotten a lot of milage out of W's ability to mangle the English language and using that as proof that somehow he is too dumb to be president.

It would seem that some folks have this notion that intelligence is the most prized virtue of leadership. To me, wisdom is more crucial and I define wisdom as the proper application of knowledge. We all know people who are "street smart" rather than "book smart" and believe me, if I had to leave a life and death decision to someone else, give me somebody who is "street smart" any day.

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