Monday, August 13, 2007

Word musings

Did you realize we say the word "the" in two different ways? We say "thuh" before a consonant and "thee" before a vowel. Try it out on these two sentences.

"I would like the other one."

"In the place I told you about."

See? You automatically pronounce the word in two different ways. It's funny, you probably didn't notice you did that. Students find this frustrating and illogical. (Quebecers often say, "I would like "thuh udder one".)

I wonder where the expression "It's the pits," came from. Is it a pit like a depression in the ground (or under the arm) or is it like the nut in the middle of a peach?

Or what about "down in the dumps"? We take old junk to the dump. Also, every morning I take dumps. This gives new possible interpretation to "Don't dump on me!"

Nowadays, I here the people proclaim, "It's the shit!" I haven't ever been particularly pleased with any kind of shit and yet, this is some kind of accolade. Crazy youngsters.

25 comments:

Lemuel said...

I love how slang can turn word meanings on their head. A bit ago if you were "bad", you were good.

Snooze said...

Good points all.

Ed said...

Here in thuh midwest we always pronounce it thuh. That's thuh truth. The only time growing up I heard it pronounced thee was in Sunday School Bible readings.
In one of my favorite movies made in England, "Beautiful Thing" They pronounce shit as shite and the short form of Steven they call ste. It is funny how much our language has changed over the years.

Maggie said...

Actually, the different pronunciations we use for "the" are indeed logical, and they're based on a functional distinction.

Notice that we pronounce "the" with a long 'e' only when it precedes a vowel (as in your examples).

We do that because it's clumsier (in the mouth) to have to articulate two short vowel sounds in a row. If we don't say "thee" before the next word's initial short vowel, we have to make that guttural break (like a little stutter) to distinguish the end of the word "the" from the beginning of the next word's short vowel sound. Clunky to do.

Of course, in casual conversations when we let our diction slip, we make liaisons between the two short vowels and say "th'other" or "th'entry." But when speaking more formally, we say "thee other" and "thee entry" as we comfortably articulate that double-vowel situation.

David said...

My mother impressed upon me at an early age the distinction between "thuh" and "thee." She also made sure we learned to make "a" into "an" before words starting with a vowel.

I used to have a book that outlined the origins of various slang terms. I'm sure something like that exists on line if you are truly curious.

This blog is mad clever.

Timmy said...

what about the shiznit?

Lacey said...

what about "here" and "hear"

dirk.mancuso said...

I've never understood "it's the shit" or "s/he thinks they are shit on a stick." Young people are a mystery to me.

I was recently pronounced a "hot mess" and am still not sure whether to feel complimented or insulted...

Rebekah said...

I'm with Maggie, but not as lecture-y about it. When I teach the students, I remind them it's like the words "A" and "An". The same rule applies.

For a while, if something was "sick" it was totally cool. I was looking for something on Ebay the first time I came across that term.
"This quilt is sick!" is how it was described.

I was trying to figure out what was wrong with the thing.

Erica said...

*chuckling @ Lacey*

Patricia said...

when i think of "the pits" i think of fruit, as in cherries. as in, sometimes life is a bowl of cherries and sometimes it's just the pits." but then michigan is huge in cherries so maybe i've just been brainwashed.

GayProf said...

I haven't ever been particularly pleased with any kind of shit

But you sure love stories involving shit.

Rebekah: Maybe the quilt was infected with Smallpox. It's been known to happen...

Devo said...

I totally chuckled at your claim that you are not particularly pleased with any kind of shit. Is it poop, or turds, that you prefer?? heehee. Of course there is a big difference between looking, smelling, or touching, and making funny songs about it. Which is one of my favorite things to do really. :)

Mark in DE said...

You are quite correct about some words that have two completely opposite meanings.

If someone is pleasantly amazed they might say with excitement "That's cool!" Yet, they may also say "That's hot!" and mean the same thing.

I've always been interested in the origins of well-known phrases. If you are too, perhaps you can research some and include them in your future posts. They might really make this blog the shit... in the good way.

Mark

Lacey said...

erica..
apparently we're the only ones...I'm just sayin'...
the other one that drives me crazy....then, rather than than...or should I say then, rather then than...
don't you love words?

This Boy Elroy said...

I like "It's the cat's ass." Makes no sense but it sounds sassy.

Polt said...

Apparently, South Central Pennsylvanians speak just like Quebecers. We say "thuh" all the time. in fact, if we get lazy, or are from way up in the hills, it's pronounced "da". "I want da udder one" (would like? Pffft, not around here, bud)

HUGS..

David said...

And if you watch Venture Bros. on CN, Dean's fav is "It's tits!"

Scottsdale Girl said...

I always say "thuh"

But I am lazy.

Scotty said...

I never really thought about the pronunciation of the but you are exactly right...me thinks YOU think WAY too much!

dawn said...

How anyone learns English is beyond me. People who come to America as adults and learn English are pretty much Mensa members, in my opinion. I barely know the language and I've been speaking for 30 years. Well 28, I guess.

Joe McIntyre said...

Down in the dumps origin.

The Wisdom of Wislon said...

Good ole English, so many variations on a variety of themes!

Your post brought tefl days back in a flash, oh how I found learning grammar hard, let alone try and teach it !

Cooper said...

It's interesting watching language development in a small human. In a couple weeks I start evening French classes because I want to be able to assist my son who is enrolled in a French immersion elementary school and begins kindergarten shortly. As I only have highschool French (never used and mostly forgotten), I will be the one stumbling along trying to learn the whys and whyfors of grammar in another language.

P.Brownsey said...

It's quite common in Scotland to say "thuh" before a vowel: "thuh academy".

Paul Brownsey