A, E, I, O, U

There’s no particular reason to review the pronunciation of words beginning with our five vowels. But why not? The happy detective work spurred by any word quest is ample justification. (If you wonder why the letter y doesn’t rate inclusion, it’s because it swings both ways, working part-time as a vowel and, at the start of a word or syllable, as a consonant.)

Eyeball – and, we hope, enjoy – this random-as-random-gets sampling.

Ayn  The given name of the late Russian-born author Ayn Rand, a woman much in the news of late, is pronounced AIHN, as in pine, line, fine, and, perhaps most aptly, mine.

In a letter reproduced in the book Letters of Ayn Rand (1995), Rand wrote, “I must say that ‘Ayn’ is both a real name and an invention. The original of it is a Finnish feminine name… Its pronunciation, spelled phonetically, would be: ‘I-na.’ I do not know what its correct spelling should be in English, but I chose to make it ‘Ayn,’ eliminating the final ‘a.’ I pronounce it as the letter ‘I’ with an ‘n’ added to it.” (Note: The phonetic “I” mentioned by Rand, pronounced ee, is not to be confused with the aihn (or ine) of “Ayn”  – “-ine as in ‘swine,” as the author herself was known to tell those who inquired.)

Erudite  Most speakers add an extra syllable to this word used to describe someone who is scholarly or learned: an ee sound after the er. But will choosing the preferred pronunciation of EHR-oo-dite over EHR-ee-oo-dite make you sound smarter? That depends on whose ear you bend, but rest assured that the three-syllable version is the no-risk choice.

Interstice  This infrequently used word is defined as 1) the space between things that are close together or 2) a short space of time between events. It is also one of those terms we’re more likely to see in print or on a laptop screen than hear – the reason most people suppose the pronunciation would be IN-tuhr-STYS. Not so. The stress goes on the second syllable, so if you have reason to speak the word, go with in-TUHR-stis.

Orator  A public speaker distinguished enough to deserve this label (along with schoolteachers and language mavens far and wide) would say to call her an OH-ruh-ter rather than an oh-RAY-ter – a declaration that should come across loud and clear.

Bonus did-you-know: Americans of every stripe pronounce the related noun oratory as OH-ruh-TOH-ree, whereas our (more lingually economical?) friends in the UK drop a syllable and say OH-ruh-tree.

Uranus  Schoolchildren and teens just can’t seem to get enough of  pronouncing the name of the seventh planet from the sun as yoor-AY-nus, the voicing used by most adults as well. Yet the traditional pronunciation is YOOR-ra-nus – still preferred, if a check of seven dictionary listings in www.onelook.com is a trustworthy guide. While five of the dictionaries choose the latter pronunciation, only two opt for the homonymic (and potentially comical) alternative.

6 Responses to A, E, I, O, U

  • Dr. Phil says:

    YOOR-ra-nus! Urine-us! I think somebody’s pissin’ on my boots an’ tellin’ me it’s rainin’!

    • Fred says:

      You’re right, Dr. Phil, and it’s hard to believe I didn’t realize “anus” was traded for “urine.” It’s unlikely Uranus will suffer the fate of Pluto and lose its planethood, but in the name stakes it just can’t win.

  • rudyrudi says:

    ran it by fred:
    a e i o u aynd sometimes y.

  • rudirudi says:

    in re Dr. Phil’s planetary iteration, “Urine-us!”
    Look, up in the sky, it’s “Your hAYNness.”
    One would kiss it’s ring….but, come to think of it, that’s SatURN… I’ll buy two vowels, Pat, an “i” and an “e..”
    Saturine!.

  • Erik Kowal says:

    The dilemma is between 1) ‘urinous’ and 2) ‘your anus’.

    So the question is, will it be number one or number two?

    • Fred DuBose says:

      Erik, I’m responsible for the rampant sexual innuendo in two of the Cool Place Names posts, but you and Dr. Phil have introduced the bathroom humor herein. :)

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