Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Weird words

When I was younger--like, ten to twelve, say--I was perfectly aware of how the word enigma was spelled and pronounced, and of what it meant, but for some reason most of the time when I saw it written I would misread it as engima, switching the g and the i, pronouncing it en-JEE-ma. In my head, without realizing it consciously, I worked up a whole definition of engima based on the contexts I thought I was seeing it in, which was almost, but (in some way I couldn't define) not quite, the same as the definition of enigma.

I've been typing up some quotes from Maria Mies' fascinating Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale on my Commonplace (I'll get around to either discussing them or putting them in a digest here sometime around 2015, at the rate I'm going, but if you want to look at them now, have at it), and as I do it I'm starting to realize that in recent years I've been doing the enigma/engima switcheroo with the real word subsistence and the word-of-my-misreading-invention substinence, which of course means almost the same thing as subsistence, and almost the same thing as sustenance, but not quite the same as either.

My point? Why, you think I should have one?


Picador said...

I had almost the exact same relationship as a child with the spoken word [fuh-sod] and the written word facade. If you'd put them both to me, I would have told you they were synonyms, but it wasn't until relatively late in my development that I came to realize they were the same word. I'm sure this was not an isolated case for me, but it's the one that first comes to mind.

This problem seems to be one of a range of misapprehensions that afflict young, shy, bookish types, alongside the even more common and closely related problem of knowing everything about a word except how it's pronounced.

Ethan said...

Who you callin' shy and bookish in his childhood, huh? Oh, me? Yeah, you're right.

knowing everything about a word except how it's pronounced

I still instinctively think debacle has the stress on the first syllable.

Anonymous said...

(rural lower midwestern roots):
All through my childhood I knew that
purtineer = approximately.

When I was 18 I realized it was "pretty near."

A friend of mine throughout her youth used the verb "misle" as a synonym for "deceive" -- and finally the light dawned when she asked herself why in print she only saw the particple: "misled."

Ethan said...



Abonilox said...

Substinence is a great word. Let's keep it.

Ethan said...

Hey, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Albeit. Pronounced I'll-bite, until a friend gently told me otherwise when I was around fifteen.

We used to razz my mom--also a big reader--for saying fax-a-mile for facsimile.

Randal Graves said...

Seh-gew was always my favorite word that I consistently mangled.

antonello said...

I was well into my teens before I stopped pronouncing the b in subtle.

Children's mispronunciations are sometimes more expressive than the words said correctly. There was a kid in my neighborhood who would say he was going to get something out of the fridge-a-frator.

When we said the Pledge of Allegiance, we would speak of "one nation, invisible." Perhaps we were being precocious.

Ethan, I'm beginning to think you're a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enjeema.

Ethan said...

Fax-a-mile and "inside an enjeema" both cracked me up. It took me a while to figure out what seh-gew was, especally because I was imaging more seh-jew, like, "said you" (or sad Jew?) or something.

Fridge-a-frator is awesome.