When Dale and I were kids we always called milk: muck luck or klim (milk spelled backwards). When Mom butchered a word though, it was almost always due to regional influences. She grew up between Seattle, Washington and Ottumwa, Iowa so one of those places was responsible for her saying warsh instead of wash. I grew up saying warsh too but when I hit my sullen teenage years I decided that Mom was plebeian for mispronouncing the word. So I started saying wash and announcing with great authority her error when she said warsh. According to Dad, when Mom got really mad and stormed off she would say: “I’m going to go wrench the dishes”. I don’t blame her; it’s hard to keep our city appearances when we’re peeved.
One day when my best friend Val and I were talking about nothing in particular we started ruminating about why boot was pronounced with the long uu sound but look and soot were pronounced with a short oo. So I decided, in the interest of consistency, to pronounce them all the same and of course chose the short oo for all of them. Soot, roof, boot. Toot, toot said the little engine. I enjoyed that game for a few months and then wandered off to do something else.
I’ve said Armadillo instead of Amarillo (Texas) for so long I stumble over the real name when in polite circles. And I call butterflies: flutterbys. Because they do. Flutter by I mean. The one that drove my Dad nuts was that I kept saying sufficant instead of surfactant. He was a chemical engineer and those things mattered I guess. One day I was discussing soap with Dale and said sufficant. “It’s surfactant” he said. “I know that”, he went on to say, “because I mispronounced it once in front of Dad”.
Dad, on the other hand, mispronounced a word once. Once, in all the years I knew him. Not surprising given that he used to read the dictionary for fun when he was a wee lad. We were at a Channel 8 PBS fundraiser in Houston and he said beezel instead of bezel when discussing a bracelet. I was stunned. What? Dad? I was so shocked I couldn’t even think of anything snarky to say. It was glorious, truly glorious. So he was human after all. Then one of his friends pointed out the error and Dad said: “Really? I must remember that”. The moment was gone and he escaped without me rubbing his nose in it. But I had heard him. I knew.