Monday, February 06, 2012

Pronunciation Evolves, People

I had a linguistics professor who talked about how English is littered with all these silent letters that early documenters stuck in as sort of a hat tip to the derivation of a word, and that with the advance of the printing press, English had sort of frozen itself.  Now obviously words have changed and evolved since the invention of the printing press, but the overall point, that words naturally evolve and sometimes we get stuck on the original, remains.
Now, don't get me wrong, it is my intention to rescue the word literally (as a word that means something that happened) from the fate of really (which I do love for its multi-purposeness but there needs to be one word left that means it did in fact occur.) But, I accept that there are places all over this country where the pronunciation has shifted.  There is a Thames River in Connecticut that rhymes with James.  There is an Edinburg (actually, I just checked there's quite a few) in Virginia, where sure, the spelling more correctly reflects the pronunciation. I had read once that Cabin John was originally John's Cabin (although their website indicates another story for the name, so grain of salt.)
So, then I read this story in DCist that there was actually some discussion of whether McPherson, as in square, should be pronounced mcfearson (spoiler - Yes!) or mcfurson, I immediately went of course it's mcfearson. 
So, here's the thing.  (By the way, I have had that debate about Bowie, Maryland. Hee.) I appreciate and respect WAMU's intention to pronounce the word the way it was intended.  (Apparently the dude on the statue called himself mcFURson.)  But, while the place was named for him, it still gets to evolve and change (and, really, the dude himself is not here to disagree.) And saying mcfurson in reference to the square, well, it's like calling it Warshington.