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June 28, 2007 | Tate Linden
I received a letter in the mail from one of my representatives yesterday. It contained a newsletter with the title "Whippletter."

As you can probably guess (since you're one of our highly intelligent readers) the esteemed Senator's last name is "Whipple" (First and middle names are Mary and Margaret.)

My question: Does this cramming together of words actually do anything positive for the Senator's brand?

My follow-up question: Since no guide is given to how to pronounce this munged word what would you think the pronunciation should be?
  1. "Whipp-Letter" - ignoring the emphasis and going with the intuitive identification of word parts.
  2. "Whipple-TER" - going with the change in emphasis as the type indicates
  3. "Whipple-Letter" - ignoring the shortening entirely and forcing the word to make audible sense.
Potential lesson in naming:

When looking for creative ways to conjoin two terms you should consider the impact to more than just the way the words look on the page. Show them to people and ask how they'd pronounce it. If people stumble (as most did when I asked around the office) then consider getting rid of the confusing bits. (This is related to a widely accepted concept - that the human brain will look for familiar patterns when trying to figure out how to pronounce something. But sometimes the model identified doesn't provide clear guidance - like the brand "Vild" - is it pronounced like "Wild" and "Mild" or like "Sild" and "Gild". Interestingly most people hit on the latter pronunciation even though the former is more common.)

What do you think?
Dr. Florence Webb June 28, 2007 2:47 PM

For the record, the default for a vowel in a word formed by consonant-vowel-consonant-consonant would always be the short sound.
west, best, down, can't, cart, wind, hint, best, cost, mint, gent, etc.
Wild and mild are irregular in their pronounciations, like most and host.

Tate Linden June 28, 2007 4:25 PM

As usual I'm not so sure:
















Wind (there are two pronunciations acceptable here)



PintSeems like there are enough words that are common that it would not be safe to pronounce a word either way.
Especially with the "-ind" or "-ild" endings. I'd suggets that the "-ang" ending is safely a long vowel sound, and unless you're in Britain or drink a lot of beer you're safe with a short vowel for "-int".

Birdiegirl June 29, 2007 4:19 PM

I would not call any of the vowels in the ang words "long" vowels. One could almost argue that the a is diphthongesque, as most people pronounce "bang" and the rest with a slight hint of an "i" before the "ng."
In any case, I was taught in a long-ago linguistics course that generally people confronted with a new word draw up the most frequently-used words in their vocabulary that fit the same pattern and try to apply that pronunciation. (That's one of the reasons people who have never seen the plural of "moose" before try to make it "meese," because they're operating off the pattern "goose - geese")

Dr. Florence Webb July 2, 2007 3:33 PM

Agreed. Theoretically, there is a pronounciation rule; and by the rule the vowel should be short. And agreed also that the a in -ang words is a short a, not a long one. And further, it is true that people try to use patterns in the absence of widely understood rules.
So do the "rules" count for anything? I've never been sure. Go ahead and use a preposition at the end of a sentence if you want to; no less an expert than William Safire has proclaimed that there never was a rule prohibiting this construction. He says that it is an invention of overeager English teachers trying to enforce stylistic preferences.
On the other hand, if there are no rules we've got Babel (a GREAT film; watch it and DO NOT turn on the subtitles. How people interpret behavior with and without language is the core of the movie.)

Nancy Friedman July 2, 2007 7:48 PM

Interesting discussion, but I have to raise one small objection: William Safire is hardly "an expert" on language or usage; he's a journalist and former speechwriter (for Nixon). Check out the fulminations against him on *real* linguistics forums like Language Log or ADS-L to get a sense of how deeply he is disrespected among scholars.
I do agree that Babel was a fine film.

Tate Linden July 3, 2007 9:43 AM

Now if Noam were to opine here we'd all have to listen...
I love the fact that the only thing you're not in agreement about is Saffire's bonafides.
Noam - are you out there?