September 2012 (B)

Linguistic relativism or, Losing my obsession

College and Bathurst
Does anybody have a photo of the facade of the old KOS (just around the corner from this streetcar)? I'd be most gratified to use it here.

September 14, 2012, OTTAWA — As one of maternally Finnish origin, I for many years insisted that the word, sauna, is properly (Correctly! I would insist) pronounced SOW-A-NA, not "SAWN-A" as is the flat and nasal fashion among Anglo-Canadians.

I knew it was a losing battle, yet I kept up the fight; in life, as it would be on the internet, I could not easily let anyone just get away with Being Wrong.

I must have been in my late 20s or early 30s when, having a drink at the restaurant, KOS, in Toronto, I had a similar argument with my friend John.

John, who is of paternally Greek background, corrected me when I uttered the restaurant's name as COSS. The word, he insisted, is pronounced KHOCSH, not COSS. "It's a Greek word," he said, "and I know."

"Oh come on," said I, "we're in Toronto and it's become an English word now. So let it go."

We argued about it for a while, until the parallel with John's obsessive need for me to pronounce Kos "correctly" and my own to correct others in their pronunciation of sauna finally dawned upon me, a slow-motion intellectual sunrise.

And so, upon reflection, did I give up my fight. Languages evolve, and there is little to be gained in raging against the tides of pronunciation, or even (usually) of definition.

Let's let XKDC plays us out ..., since Randall Munroe's latest cartoon inspired this in the first place.

Cautionary Ghost
Cartoon is reproduced under the Creative Commons Licence 2.5. The original lives at http://xkcd.com/1108/.

Spread the word!