Cheap Shots #27: “You Say Toe-mah-toe . . .”

Sometimes I think American hubris knows no bounds (as an American, I can say that). Consider the matter of pronunciation. The British know that Americans don’t talk right, and so do the French. Like many Americans, I had four years of high-school French, and I still remember the basics of proper pronunciation. For example, I know that the final “nd” in a word is never fully articulated, giving way to a kind of nasal “n” and silent “d.” With its following “e,” le monde is not “le moaned,” it’s more like “le moandh” with a flattened “d” (and I would certainly like to – moan, that is – when I hear the way the average American mangles the language). I’ve heard people ask for a bottle of “Mer-LOT” at the liquor store, and even “Cah-JUNE” catfish at the fish market. The funniest one, even though it’s Italian and not French, has to be “Par-MEE-sian” cheese!

Take the situation with “Lenormand.” In person and on YouTube, I consistently hear it presented as “le-NOR-mand,” when even the least accomplished student of French knows (or should know, anyway) that a more accurate pronunciation would be “le-nor-mohn.” I have it on good authority – my native French-speaking friends on the tarot forums – that in French there is no accented syllable in Lenormand; each one is weighted equally. Just because the Americanization of Normandy accentuates the first syllable, that doesn’t mean it’s how the French pronounce it. I keep getting corrected by Americans who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. Maybe they just feel too mannered and precious trying to sound like a Frenchman in an Anglophone cultural setting. In conversation, I kind of split the difference and sanitize the accent a bit, de-emphasizing the “NOR” syllable and subtly finessing the hard “d,” and I can get by without (much) criticism. (Now if I could just stop people from dodging the question by substituting “Lennie” for Lenormand. Arrrgh!)


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