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I pronounce you guilty...

For the past few days, every time someone talks about the volcanic eruption…and the subsequent disruption, that recently originated from Iceland, I duck...

india Updated: Apr 25, 2010 01:57 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times

For the past few days, every time someone talks about the volcanic eruption… and the subsequent disruption, that recently originated from Iceland, I duck. I don’t know what else to do; my ego doesn’t allow me to refer to it as ‘that volcano’ and my tongue, for the life of me, can’t pronounce ‘Eyjafjallajokull’. I mean seriously. With a name like that, what else will it do if not erupt. Seems like a one year old was given a free run on the keyboard to coin the name.

Anyhow, I’m saying that I am suffering from ‘pronunciation stress’. And it’s not just the poor volcano that has triggered it. For as long as I remember, terms that are pronounced differently from the way they are spelt have been the bane of my life. And it’s not just about me not being able to pronounce something; I get even more tense when someone around me mispronounces a term I know. Because then I am in the dilemma of whether to do the rude task of pointing it out.

Once, I was with a friend who was looking for an apartment on rent. ‘I prefer a dupleh,’ she told the property agent. ‘You mean duplex,’ I said. ‘It is pronounced as dupleh,’ she retorted, giving me an exasperated look. For a moment I thought of taking the argument further and telling her that it’s an American and not a French term, but chose to stay mum. But by then, the fun had gone out the window.

And then there is the horrible one — Rendezvous. Many years back, while trying to locate a banquet hall by that name, my brother and I took many rounds of the area but every time I would ask someone for ‘ron-de-vu’, they would just shrug their shoulders and give us a blank look. My brother, who was by now tired of driving in circles, rolled the window and shouted ‘ran-daaz-wus’… and voila, three people pointed out the direction. He firmly closed the window and aborted my desperate attempts at trying to educate the bystanders of the one correct pronunciation I knew.

Growing up in a quintessential Punjabi community where pleasure becomes pl-iyyer and minute sounds more like mint, knowing these fancy terms was no mean achievement, I tell you. But even I steadfastly avoided some terms where my tongue would protest… always preferring to write them. Till destiny brought me into a career which involved writing on lifestyle — a world where you have to roll your tongue and make strange noises from your mouth to pronounce practically everything — from exotic food items to fancy wines, and from foreign cosmetic labels to silly fashion designers whose parents forgot to give them simple names. And nothing, just nothing gets pronounced the way it is written. I don’t know what French or Italians had against the rest of the world, but they should have known, before churning out brands that became ‘world famous’, that they are giving such tension to some people.

Initially my whole system revolted at the very prospect of discussing Christian Louboutin (KREE-styaan Lu-bu-THAN) or Chloe (KLO-ee)… or mistakenly pronouncing Pucci as Pussy instead of Poo-chie. But I managed to overcome the stress by some persistent reading of pronunciation guides and carefully observing those who knew better.

And that’s my calmness tip of the week to you if you suffer from the same stress. Don’t feel embarrassed if you are not able to get the pronunciation right the first time —after all, most of these words, including those in English, belong to foreign languages. Just try to figure out the right way, and there’s plenty of help available online too, even as audio guides. But before that, someone please… please rename the volcano.

Sonal Kalra wonders if Chanel would be a lesser brand if pronounced as ‘Channel’ instead of ‘Sha-nel’.There’s no answer.
Mail your calmness tricks to her at

First Published: Apr 24, 2010 16:32 IST