On passive vocabulary (aka ennui about chaos)

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/06/01 10:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2008/06/01/8567307.aspx


I used to read a lot.

Well, technically I still do. But these days I read specs and standards and blogs; what I used to read was books.

It gave me lots of things, but the thing I'm thinking about here is the huge passive vocabulary I ended up with.

All of those words I learned either by

Now in both of the above cases there are risks with the self-directed nature of the activity -- I could look up the wrong word, I could pick the wrong definition, I could misunderstand the meaning, or the meaning I accept might be wrong.

But on the whole these risks are obviated by the fact that a lot of imperfect knowledge is right more often then ignorance can be, and also by the fact that in many cases a passive vocabulary remains passive -- so that the words don't find themselves used by me as often as they might be heard when said by others. which gives me the chance to correct misunderstandings internally....

A great example of this came up in a recent appearance of Christina Ricci on Late Night with Conan O'Brien:

Ricci: My sister wanted to be a school teacher so she taught me how to read when I was really young. There were four kids, my parents were kind of busy and we read to ourselves a lot, so I would look up words and not hear them read to me so I would think that they're pronounced other ways and like stick with that pronunciation so like every time someone says chaos [kay-oss] I think chaos [chowss], because that was... and I really thought it was chaos [chowss] until I was like 11 or 12 and my mother was picking me up from school and there were like kids everywhere and buses and I said God it's other chaos [chowss] out here and my mother just cracked up hysterically and was like did you mean chaos [kay-oss]?

O'Brien:The big way out is "I've heard it both ways"

I could tell my own personal story of ennui (and the related [en-you-eye] vs. [on-wee] snafu), which I thought was funnier. But it was also much more embarrassing for me personally.

So I'll give Christina this one, as

Besides, the really important people who know me have already heard the story anyway. :-)

This blog brought to you by(U+31a5, aka BOPOMOFO LETTER ENN)


Tina Marie on 2 Jun 2008 7:45 PM:

I went to schools where you learned everything from books - the teachers didn't teach anything aloud (curriculum was called Accelerated Christian Education, if you want to google).  

As a result, I ended up with many weird pronunciation problems.  The most memorable was being in my teens before I found out that the opposite of "Catholic" was not "Pro-test-tant".

John Cowan on 4 Jun 2008 2:15 PM:

Ken: Spelling reform duzn't actually have to be phonetically based.  Just remooving the *completely* irregular spellings from the system, so that each spelling has oenly wun or too sounds associated with it (but not vice versa), makes aul the difference in the wurld.  (This is Regularized Inglish, invented by Axel Wijk; it probably makes more distinctions than yoor dialect duz, so sum spellings may seem a bit unnatural.)

Ikk's -omb words become combe, bomb, and toombe respectively, extending the "silent final e" convention to make vowels long.

I doen't think Noah Webster's chainges (or rather his standardization of chainges that were aulreddy in the air at the time) had nearly the impact on Inglish of the Norman Conquest, tho.


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