Monday, March 30, 2009

The Graves of Academe.

“…and then he tried to convince me that it’s pronounced ‘ver-sai,’ when it’s clearly ‘versallies!’ I mean, what kind of dumbasses do they hire to teach here, anyways? There’s, like, L’s in the middle of the freaking WORD!”
I am daily reminded that a bachelor's degree these days doesn't even certify the ability to color inside the lines.

At some point in the history of this great nation it was decided that a college degree was the birthright of every American. As a consequence, people who have a hard time mastering the intricacies of the No. 2 pencil, much less the watered-down SAT they use it to answer, wind up going for a BA in order to prove their worthiness to be the night shift manager at the local Domino's.

In the meantime, the internet is full of blatherskite that has been hunt-'n'-pecked by people who have allegedly gained a postgraduate degree without ever successfully remaining awake through a single English class. This has got to stop before we get to the point that a meaningless PhD is required for a job operating the slicer at Blimpie's.


Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

I've felt that way about these assembly-line MBAs that have exploded on the market in the past 10 years.

A bachelor's today, though, is the high school diploma of yesteryear. And in fact, if you read old textbooks, you'll find that it's really worth about what an old grammar school (8th grade) education was in those days -- and maybe not that.

But what am I thinking? The academy has become an indoctrination center for left-wing politics. It's not a center of learning anymore. Why study the classics when Alinsky's Rules for Radicals is your organizing principle?

Some of the smartest people I've ever known didn't spend a day in college.

Anonymous said...

American students do start with the disadvantage that some US towns are named after foreign cities, but the pronunciation didn't carry over:

Cairo (Karo), IL
Buena Vista, VA
Havre de Grace, MD

among many others.

from Dr Weevil's bro Steevil

Crustyrusty said...

LOL we have Ver-sails Kentucky (and IL), Mar-sails IL, Dez-Planes IL, etc.

To be fair, I've heard the Brits mangle French names worse than Americans....

Rustmeister said...

I'm confused. Do I pronounce the "ll" as a "y" like in quesadilla, or is it silent, like in Versailles? How do I pronounce Illinois now?

While I understand foreign words usually retain their original pronunciation, and someone with a degree should know this, there that part of me that agrees with the quotee. It's english, dammit.

Of course, I've always secretly wanted to pronounce the J in jalapeno, like my ma did back in the day.

Crustyrusty said...

The best way for me to pronounce Illinois is "The hell-hole I don't live in anymore."

JoeKujo said...

Too late

alath said...

I saw a great talk by a guy critical of our educational system. One of his points was that the system has an underlying assumption that the end point of education is to become a college professor.

When I was in high school in the 70s, the education establishment collectively decided that non-academic career paths meant you were "giving up" on those kids. Seems to me that in order to function, some folks will have to pursue non-academic skills. Otherwise, the roads will not be paved and the plumbing isn't going to work.

It really amounts to the arrogance of the education establishment to assume that they're some kind of superior life form and everyone should aspire to be like them.

Echoes of this nonsense in the Annointed One's "state of the economy" speech where he advocated that every American go to college. So, what, we can't compete with the Chinese in manufacturing because we lack sufficient numbers of people with degrees in Radical Feminist Poetry?

Frank W. James said...

Although politically there is way too much 'noise' coming out of Illinois, there just is no 'noise' in the word "Illinois" when you pronounce it.

It's "Il-li-noi" as if it were a 'singular' and not a 'plural' as my high school English teacher taught me.

All The Best,
Frank W. James

CastoCreations said...

Hubby and I have already agreed that our kid will not be forced to go to college. There are SO many other worthy paths to take and college is not the be all, end all. It is a giant sucking waste of money. My degree has done diddly squat for me. Although hubby's helped him qualify for a small raise. :)

perlhaqr said...

I like pronouncing "Illinois" "Eee-yeh-nwah". Just to be silly.

WV: "prewar" - Why yes, yes we are.

Sevesteen said...

In my local area we have Ver-sails, Bell-fountain, Hows-ton (spelled Houston) and Ru-she (spelled Russia).

Joe Huffman said...

I know this admitted Marxist, Chicago (surprise!) professor of business who says with a straight face that since people with college degrees, on the average, earn more money and have better lives than non-degreed people the government should do what it can to make sure everyone gets college degrees.

Pointing out that correlation does not mean causation gets agreement but it doesn't seem possible to get him to connect the dots from that to the degree and "higher pay" claims.

I have lots of stories of frustrating interaction with this guy but it's not good for my blood pressure to think about it for more than a couple minutes.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, there's several different rants going on here. Let's discuss Theaetetus and Meno another day; I have a lot to say on that. "I went to college, but I can still speak English if the job depends on it."

On the pronunciation of place names, I don't think there's a Euro-named town in Indiana or Ohio that's said the same way as the original. Some of this must have been deliberate, as there clearly were well-read people there at their founding. "Read" may have a bit to do with it. I knew a lot of "GI intellectuals," people who read a great deal in their (enforced) spare time, and had wide vocabularies, but never heard big words used in conversation. Their learning wasn't bad; their speech, to the twooly erudite, comical.

The absolute worst pronunciations in North America are of Indian words, transliterated into French and thence into English (there's no "n" in KET-tuk-kee; to his dying day, Henry Luce said "O-hee-ho"). If faux-Indian Ward Churchill would take up this cause, he could, one day, make himself into a real scholar.

Anonymous said...

I'll note that the Versailles they were discussing was the one actually located in cheese-eating surrendermonkeyville; it was a "You're a'peein' History" seminar.

The prof is a stickler for pronouncing the names correctly in their original language because he's a bit of a butt-head.

Tam said...

Anon 10:01 et al.,

Yes, we have a "Ver-sales", Indiana, but unless the course in question was on the "Patriarchal Hegemony's Control of the Miss Soybean Festival", I'm guessing that the prof in question was referring to the "Ver-sigh" in Frogland of "Apres mois, le deluge" fame. I can't be sure, though, since I only have a semester of college myownself.

Still, "Tamara's Rules Of Grammar and Pronunciation" say that an automobile race in Belgium is referred to as "Lay Mawhn" and a discontinued Pontiac sedan is a "Lee Manz", and never the twain shall meet.

Brad K. said...


The intent of college is to *change the way you think*. Provide insight, history - understanding of the underlying principles of society, engineering, medicine, science, and art.

Engineering degrees usually result in better paying jobs - the work requires the background of an engineering degree.

There are lots of jobs, some paying fairly well, that won't accept a college grad. Go back and watch "Secret of My Success" again - note the hostility in the mail room to a "college puke". I have been turned down for certain manufacturing and craft jobs, because I got a 4-year Bachelor's degree.

A few non-degreed supervisors are intimidated by the difference in education. But many companies find that college people tend to take lower-paying jobs as stepping stones - they don't care for the work, question assumptions and authority, think about interactions and principles instead of keeping their mind on their work. Many college people have a bad habit of being careless about punctuality.

Unless your degree is in music, art, history, or literature, your degree might *keep* you from that job flipping burgers.

staghounds said...

Traveller from away is on the Texas- Mexican border, and stops for a snack in Falfurrias. He's been making faux pas all week, what with his Anglo background and pronouncing quesedillas with the Ls, Juarez with a hard J, and so forth.

So now he's careful, and as he orders he asks the counter girl, "How do you pronounce the name of this place?"

"Um, McDonald's, just like I said."

Anonymous said...

"You're velcome."

OA said...

Brad K. said...

The intent of college is to *change the way you think*.

You got that right.

Anonymous said...

The Futurama bit where Gunther the monkey puts on the damaged intelligence cap and declares that having a desire to be a monkey of average intelligence who wears a suit, that he is going to business school, kills me.

As for education, why bother with four years of classrooms, when you can make six figures installing satellite dishes?


Laughingdog said...

"Cairo (Karo), IL
Buena Vista, VA
Havre de Grace, MD"

SW Virginia is notorious for "rednecking" their town names.

Buena Vista, VA (B-yew-nah Vista)
Staunton, VA (Stan-ton)
Botetourt County (Baw-teh-tot)

But my all time favorite is the town where my parents live now that they've retired.

Phenix, VA (no, that's not a typo)

They finally say a name properly, and then they mess up the spelling instead.

Somerled said...

I gather my doctorate in Klingon Cultural Studies from University of Phoenix Online wouldn't garner me a free cup of coffee at the cottage.

Hunsdon said...

TO: Crustyrusty at 10:07

When the English mispronounce "Frog" words, it's on purpose. There's still probably one or two crusty old farts who can tell you what it was like to fight at Wipers. (Ypres.)

Joanna said...

My grandfather spent a good chunk of his twilight years telling anyone who'd listen (which was mostly me, my dad and my siblings) about his time in the South Pacific in WWII. For about the last two years of his life, you couldn't visit him without getting a lecture on letters of the Hawaiian language and the proper pronunciations of "Hava-ee-ee" and "Ho-no-lu-lu".

Anonymous said...

Perhaps my family is weird, but most of those quotes provided by crankylitprof sound like things we might have said as jokes. We enjoy twisting language, and making statements using non sequitur just to see if the other person can follow, and falsely connecting bits of (mostly) unconnected history. Its a game to us. Just this AM my son and I engaged in an intentionally stupid argument concerning the pronunciation of tortilla and flotilla.

Maybe some of those folks quoted were not stupid, but taken out of context.


alcibiades said...

Blatherskite? More like Blathering Blatherskite!

Hmm, I wonder about Porto Rico vs. Puerto Rico.

Anonymous said...

English mispornunciation:

Several hundred thousand young Englishmen had a very bad day at Amiens (ay-mee-enz). In legend the place quickly became "Bloody A."

"Bloody" being then a very rude word, and the lower classes being what they were, this devolved to "Fucking A," and that's where that comes from.

Matt G said...

I was noting the other day, that many of my online pals are "uneducated"*; Marko, Tamara, LawDog. Funny thing, though: these folks Know Things. Hmm. How did that happen?

Perhaps we should put together a college all our own...

*I.E.: have no degree from a degree mill.

butch_s said...

Louisville - Lou-A-Vul

Tam said...

...and I can't believe my subconscious keeps parking the 24 Heures in the hills outside Spa instead of in France where it belongs.

I was driving to the store and thought "Oh, jeez, I did it again, didn't I?"

Oh, well, I are a kollij dropowt, after all...

Windy Wilson said...

Alath, was that speaker the late Karl Hess, John Taylor Gatto, or Cliff Stoll, the author of "The Kookoo's Egg"? Each has criticized the apparent goal of education , but to my knowledge only Karl Hess specifically said that it seems to be directed at producing English Professors.

Even California is not immune to this pronunciation problem. The County in which Crescent City is located is called "Del Norte", which the locals refer to as "Del Nort", like in the "Honeymooners".
The Port of Los Angeles is located in a neighborhood that is called San Pedro. Paydro lives in San PEEdro. Even the ostensibly Hispanic-descended news presenters say it that way.
The mountain by Palm Springs, San Jacinto is pronounced, not with the Hispanic "H" but with the Germanic "Y", so it's San Yasintro".
Lancaster, north east of Los Angeles is pronounced like the bomber, three syllables, not like the district in England, Lancashire.

Makes you wonder how phonics was ever going to supplant whole language, doesn't it?

Windy Wilson said...

Oh, and as to Degree Inflation, I recall back when Dinosaurs walked the earth and Gasoline was only 32 cents per gallon, it was generally agreed that the degree signified nothing more than your ability to put up with guff to accomplish something. That PhD will be required if you want to be the counterman at the deli because the person hiring has no clue how to read a resume for real skills and needs the useless requirement of a PhD to cut the list of candidates down to three or four.
That the three or four will all have similar bad habits and outlooks towards menial labor is the unintended consequence, particularly if the PhD is in some radical leftist field of ///study/// indoctrination that did not exist before 1965.

TJP said...

This reminds me of an old Steve Martin stand up routine about visiting France: "It's like those French have a different word for everything!"

Anonymous said...

Yes, undertaking a university course to get a job is quite a bit like having sex to get pregnant. You want to get your money's worth the first time, because you're never going to do this again.

I served on a curriculum committee in the mid-70's with some senior department heads, who held forth on the terrible cheapening of the core and the creeping grade inflation that had taken place--in the 1960's. Thankfully, they said, we've taken care of that once and for all. As a graduate student, of course, it was like the two Marines at Tun's--"In the Old Corps, things were different." I have a feeling that many opinions on the value and purity of educational endeavors are formed in much the same way.

Ed Foster said...

I gather the theory behind it all is that, since prospective employers aren't allowed by Uncle to actually use tests that tell bright from dull, those with aptitude from those who are clueless, indeed total wankers, at least a kid with a B.A. in creative finger painting had the work ethic to stick it out for four years and stay between the lines.

I had the usual problem as an engineering "Doofus" at a liberal school.

For reference, the University of Hartford, where lazy or second string Jewish kids go to learn how to play piano, as compared to Wesleyan, where lazy or second string WASP's go to...

The Catholic equivalent goes to Holy Cross, but at least they get to cheer for Notre Dame.

Anyway, the campus joke was the engineering school, filled with "grinds", or perhaps "mindless grinds", who supposedly wore pocket protectors to bed and picked their noses in public.

We were mostly a few years older, working evening jobs off campus, and going to school on the G.I. bill, so we might as well have had horns.

There was a veteran's counciling service on campus, to help us over the mindless shock of military service.

I think I only knew one guy who actually hanged around there. He'd been drafted, and drove a truck around Ft. Sill for 2years, but what the hell, it got him laid. Simpathy equalled nooky in those days.

What was it P.J. O'Roarke said about why he spent time with the anti-war types back then? "It was where all the good looking easy women were".

To make it all the more interesting, most engineering types come from blue collar backgrounds. Your typical M.E. or E.E. at UHa back then was the son of an immigrant Polish or Lithuanian machinist, with a few hillbillies thrown in. We went to college, but were somehow part of the great unwashed from flyover country. Guess what, I still have a job:-) Do you believe the word verification is sinestr, and I'm left handed? Cool!

Joseph said...

Wait till you hear Hoosiers pronounce Brazil (actual town in Indiana)


BTW, I've always heard the euro car guys pronounce it Leh-Mah.

Anonymous said...

Nah, Joseph. It's Fron-kor-SHOMP.

Ed: counciling. simpathy. O'Roarke.

I've never seen you misspell a word before. You talkin' down?

And it's gnocchi.

Anonymous said...

OK, this just made me laugh out loud: "I am daily reminded that a bachelor's degree these days doesn't even certify the ability to color inside the lines."

I live in North Idaho near a huge body of water (so deep in fact the Navy has a submarine research station here). Anyway -- a big lake, who's name is Pend Orielle (pronounced ponderay). So the local town (which houses the acme of culture -- Walmart) is named, what? Ponderay.

Hey, we got a Moscow Idaho too but you can't call it Moss-cow like the ruskies. It's Moss-co. Figure

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

Laughingdog beat me to it:

"Buena Vista, VA (B-yew-nah Vista)"

I've lived in southwest Virginia for 18 years now, and it still drives me nuts when I hear people say it that way.

I've never actually been able to make myself say it. I default to the original Spanish pronunciation, even if I think about it before I say it.

Tam said...

"And it's gnocchi."

I LOL'ed. :D

rickn8or said...

One thing though; never attempt to correct a local's (mis)-pronunciation of anything. It provokes them.

(Although I did pronounce it "Cam-uh-rilla" to annoy the Ventura Countians.)

Ed Foster said...

Anonymous: apologies, juggling babysitting for nephew and trying to wiggle a deal intermittently on the blower. Damn, that kid is fast!

fast richard said...

After reading all these comments I had to look up Zoilo Versalles, just to see how his name fit the discussion. Turns out, the sources on the web don't even agree on the spelling. I do remember how Halsey Hall pronounced the name on the radio though. That was back when I still followed baseball.

alath said...

Windy, it was Ken Robinson in his TED talk, "How Schools Kill Creativity."

Anonymous said...

I must admit i teach in a college. i must admit, while I love my subject, i hate the job. i must admit I can't stand most of the people that are academics......
It is worse than any night mare you can imagine....
Just thought you'd like to know!

Home on the Range said...

Granted, with several years of college, my use of punctuation can still sometimes use some help. But I recently had a new college grad provided as an "assistant" in a project. He was not employed by my department, but by another firm involved in the work. For starters, he thought Afghanistan was in South America, and his spelling was so bad in the notes of the meeting he was to record into a word document, that we ended up coaching him through anything with more than two syllables. The word "abrogated" made him flee the room.

Do they not even require English and History and Math to get a BA any more?

rickn8or said...


BTDT, got paperwork that says I don't have / won't be allowed to anymore.

O Happy Day!

TJP said...

"Do they not even require English and History and Math to get a BA any more?"

Yes they do, but it's use it or lose it. Most folks just don't write much, and when they do, it's proofread by people who can't spell.

Anonymous said...

Arithmetic, music, geometry, astronomy, grammar, rhetoric, and logic were the original university subjects. The titles of bachelor, master and doctor do indicate a hierarchy ("end point to become a professor"), but there is a similar hierarchy among other guilds, and I've only worked with one Master plumber. It was the British who thought a person needed a broad educational background for managerial work, and made it an entry requirement for a Civil Service that deserved capitalization, and sent its Civilians around the world, often never to come home.

American universities abandoned traditional core curricula in stages, first when the Unitarians took over Harvard, then in the Modern Language/Great Books movement, and finally in the post-WWII period. When you complain about ideological indoctrination, oddly enough your bitch is with the first wave, the original "liberals," not the Puritans who preceded them.

Modern state colleges are, by popular demand, professional and trade schools, not actual universities. By careful use of the catalogue, you still can get a liberal education at one. You would need to learn to read Latin, Greek, and one modern language, take a year of courses in world history and another in American history, a "teaching minor" in a physical science, two courses in other sciences, two (of the 3)survey courses in English literature, two courses in composition and one in speech or drama, one course each in poetry and fiction of a historical period, one each in the techniques of poetry and prose writing, at least one on Shakespeare, two courses in higher mathematics or symbolic logic, and a nodding acquaintance with the poetry and prose of a foreign culture, in its language. You would be expected to be part of a seminar or colloquium once in each term in which you demonstrated ability to discuss, criticize and defend concepts, and at least once would be called on to defend a dissertation, as a doctoral candidate does.

Does this look like light-hearted fun? Which part of that is comical, or seems like it would not be a good starting point for a career as a manager, administrator, or scientist? Who would trust the work of an artist, policy proponent, or writer of commentary who did not have such a background? You certainly can learn these things through other means, bit by bit, but without a rigorous program of self-testing, you'd never know if you'd mastered them to anyone's satisfaction but your own. You'd talk about things with people you happened to know, but you'd never know whether they understood it--only whether they agreed with you, or (sometimes) whether you "won the argument." Proving that you knew and could do, in the company of proven experts, was the reason for universities.

These are the things you need to know before you go to learn other things. They are not meant to provide you your living.

The suggestion that modern schools are not doing their job, or that some current students are not serious, does not detract from what an education would be if you could get one.

George said...

This has been great fun.

It reminds me of a day trip out of Charleston some time ago. On the ICW, in both of the Carolinas, you can find identically named towns. Ask a North Carolinian and a South Carolinian how they pronounce "Beaufort".

As for crankyprof's mouth breather, I wonder how he pronounces La Jolla.

I'm sure there's more.


John B said...


Life's too short

There's more fun things to argue about!

And yes, I went to college. I didn't have Tam's educational opportunities.

PW= Subra Subaru maybe!

markm said...

“…political parties use to hold caucuses to choose their candidate for the presidential election…”
“Ew! You mean, like a dead body?”
“… No that’s a carcass.”

The ancient Romans used to make important decisions by examining the entrails of a freshly killed carcass. Look up "augur" sometime. (That's divination, not a hand tool).

This method could hardly give worse results than the system that gave us George HW Bush's drunken bum son versus a half-wit who inherited his Senate seat, the same ex-drunk versus a gigolo who was friends with the Kennedys, or a RINO with the disposition of a rhinoceros versus a nice-looking guy with the ethics of a Chicago machine politician and the instincts of a radical leftist. Especially if you picked the carcasses-to-be from Congress by seniority.

Larry said...

And yet Des Moines, Iowa is still pronounced De-Moin.