Friday, April 4, 2008

Covert Is Pronounced Kuh-Vert

You know you're in academia when you hear someone say "Kuh-vert." In your entire life, you'll probably never hear anyone say kuh-vert. They'll say "co-vert operations," or "co-vert investigation." It's covert. The word is covert, but the correct pronunciation is kuh-vert. Look it up in the dictionary.

This will happen to you. You'll spend hours searching for a pronunciation key to tell you how to speak Althusser. Gayatri. Or Anatoli Profulonkew. Frank Kermode is not what it seems.

I'll always remember the proper nouns I got wrong. Whether anyone knew it is a different question. These were names that I'd rehearsed endlessly, trying to pick up on foreign vowel sounds. Kwakiutl Indians. Not even close. Wetaskiwin. I got Cixous, but I had to listen for Bataille. Was it Eck-o or E-co. Barth, Bart, Barr. Scholes or Skoals. Suleiman? Schleuter. Gramsci took awhile.

In the end, you just pick the sound you like, pronounce it in the accent of its origin, and get it out fast. Unless anyone in the room's actually met Anais Nin, no one really knows for sure what the hell it sounds like, and many are prepared to be wrong.

If you can find the word in the dictionary, look it up. Nothing causes more existential pain than an idyll that's an i-dole, or a bier that's a buy-er and not a beer.

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