Friday, March 31, 2023

Things we mispronounce: Professional edition

Yesterday I hosted a webinar for our graduate student organization. Because I've also been serving on this committee (in addition to working and taking classes and writing my thesis and homeschooling the children). Anyway, I had to introduce our speaker, which was fine...except I hate public speaking and this professor was at Notre Dame. 

On the first note, it was a zoom call with five other people—a rather intimate, forgiving environment—so there wasn't too much pressure to perform well.

On the second note, I had to say Notre Dame three times, out loud. 

You've heard of tongue twisters, I'm sure, but have you ever heard of the mental confusion that occurs when you grew up saying a word one way, but you know that it's pronounced a different way where you live now, but when you try to speak out loud your mind turns to mush and you can't remember which way is what way and what way is which? 

Notre Dame. 

My instinct is to pronounce this /nɔ.tʁə dam/ completely with the lovely voiced uvular fricative /r/ found in French. No-truh Daam.

It's not me being pretentious. It's legitimately how I grew up saying Notre Dame.

Just as I grew up saying /kʁwasã/ and not /krə'sant/ (or the even "crescent roll," depending on where you're from).

Again, I'm not trying to be pretentious by say /kʁwasã/ when I say croissant. It's simply legitimately how I grew up saying that word. To be fair, I'm a lot more comfortable saying "kruh-SAHNT" these days because it's a word that is used more often, I think, than Notre Dame (which lives in my head as No-truh Daam). I've heard people say "kruh-SAHNT" a billion times. I can—and do—say "kruh-SAHNT." 

Now, I have friends who attended Notre Dame (Patrick Q. Mason, that is). I've heard him and his wife speak of this place (though I honestly had no idea initially that they were talking about, well, Notre Dame, though I did eventually figure it out). But I haven't actively visited with these friends in over a decade. And I'm not a sports fan or anything so after we stopped hanging out with the Masons (due to...they moved away from Cairo...and then we moved away from Cairo...and the world is a big place), I haven't really heard anyone say Notre Dame regularly. 

But I know that the way that Americans pronounce it differs from the way I pronounce it, so I spend a while looking up pronunciation videos and practicing...No-der Daym. 

No-der Daym.

No-der Daym.

No-der Daym.

I can do this. I can remember to say No-der Daym.

The first time I read Notre Dame I...hesitated a bit, but I think I managed to say No-der Daym. The second time I said it I'm pretty sure I said No-der Daam. The third time I said it I said something like, "No-truh Daam. No-truh Daym. No-der Daam. No-truh. Ahhh! I seriously practiced this beforehand so I wouldn't do this!"

And then! And then! Well, friends, and then I got to St. Louis. Because not only does this professor teach at Notre Dame...they went and got their PhD at Saint Louis University. 

Want to guess how Saint Louis came out of my mouth?

Let's just say I did not say "Saint Lewis."

It was all thoroughly embarrassing, but it was okay because the professor I was introducing was super nice. The UGA professor helping host the meeting is on my thesis committee and kindly explained that I was not from around here. And all the graduate students present weren't native English speakers so they were also very understanding. 

It all worked out fine in the end. 


  1. I am enjoying these pronunciation editions! I hope there will be more as y'all mispronounce stuff! ;)

    I think of "Noder Daym" as the university in the US, but I do think more like "No-truh Daam" for that place in Paris.

  2. 5555555! I am so sorry and so glad you had a forgiving audience! Also Br. Ostlund taught at Notre Dame, commuting there and back from their home in Orem. I had no clue where he taught, because what even is No-der Daym?