Thursday, February 12, 2015

Pronunciamento, or, The Appalachian Molehill

Fred Sauceman, the newsreader at WETS and enthusiast of such regional haute cuisine as red-dyed hot dogs, has unfriended me.

I don't know Fred that well, but in the superficial ways of Facebook we were "friends." Until I did the unmentionable. I committed an anathema.

I have been shunned. Cast into the outer darkness.

I defended Alex Trebek's pronunciation of "Appalachian."

Fred complained publicly that Jeopardy host Trebek had pronounced it Appa-LAY-shun, which, as all good denizens of the southern mountain area know, is a fightin' pronunciation. If it ain't Appa-LATCH-ian you just might get a mess o' hot soup beans thrown in your face. The post received over 100 "likes" and a number of comments basically urging Fred to invade the Jeopardy studio to set Trebek straight.

I posted a comment to the thread that I knew would be regarded as scalawag, but that I also believed to be germane to the discussion, to wit, that when it comes to the adjective "Appalachian," there are two legitimate pronunciations, because there are native New Englanders living in the Appalachian mountains who say "Appa-LAY-shun." Just like, you know, Indianans pronounce "Lafayette" La-fee-YET and Georgians pronounce it La-FAY-it.

Or, as Alex Trebek might say, vive la difference.

Now, to anyone like my real (I hope) friend Rick Martin, I hasten to say that I made an exception for the noun "Appalachia." Rick has convinced me that Appalachia is a purely southern hinterland, and that therefore the only acceptable pronunciation is the LATCH one. I concede the point.

However, I maintain that the adjective "Appalachian" has two nativist pronunciations remarked more or less by the Mason-Dixon line.

Well, anyway, Fred deleted my comment. Mine alone. Nobody else's. Censored me. What can I say--I'm a librarian. We don't do censorship very well. I had been polite and to the point--not to mention germane. Fred apparently was more interested in rustling up a howling pack of yes-people than he was in having a discussion.

I posted again that New Englanders performing sweat equity on the Appalachian Trail had every right to their pronunciation all the way to Springer Mountain.

And, yeah, I also said that the people who wanted to rain Trebek with t-shirts from the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance to school him on the pronunciation were just confirming our regional reputation for being intolerant rednecks.

Ok, so that was a little harsh. But then again, I'm a librarian and I'd been censored. If you run with the bulls at Pamplona, expect to be gored.

Fred let me know privately that my comment (my initial one--the germane, unprovoked one) had been a personal assault and he was removing the entire thread. I apologized, saying that it certainly wasn't intended as an assault, the apology was accepted … and I was cast into the outer darkness. Without so much as an auto-da-fe.

Here's a little story about pronunciation. In the Appalachian mountains.

I was hiking the Appalachian Trail with my brothers. 1971? We'd had a long day--close to 20 miles--and we were footsore and tired. We plopped our packs down by a road at what we hoped was Tesnatee Gap, unsure that we wanted to tough it on to a shelter (we had little tube tents, so we didn't have to, but sleeping in these tents got you drenched in a rainstorm of condensation).

A pickup truck came along. Three guys got out and offered us some beer. Put yourself in our boots. Not yet drinking age, I'd never had more than a swallow of beer before, nor had my younger brother Charley (as far as I know), so this was an exciting prospect to start with, not to mention that a whole day of hiking in the summer heat had made us really thirsty.

We gratefully accepted the beer and then asked the men if this was Tesnatee Gap. We pronounced it Tez-NAY-tee.

The tolerant, charitable response--given in such a way as not to embarrass our furriner ignorance--was, "I think they pronounce it TEZ-nuh-tee."

That's the way it's done. Love one another … and one another's pronunciations, however much you disagree. Prejudice begets prejudice.

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