Thu | Sep 16, 2021

Letter of the Day | Learning new ‘Inglish’ words on radio

Published:Monday | July 26, 2021 | 12:05 AM


I write in exasperation at one radio station’s practice of misusing words while attempting to expand the vocabulary of its listeners by introducing a new word of the day each day. This is a laudable aim but, in the process, despite using a dictionary, they often miseducate the public, contributing to the general degradation of English language speech in Jamaica.

After detailing the meaning of a new word, instead of hosts using the example sentence provided by the dictionary, they insist on making up a sentence of their own on the pretext of localising the example but then thwart their own mission by using the word incorrectly or mispronouncing it. I present two recent examples. In the first, the word of the day was ‘stentorian’ which was explained to be an adjective meaning very loud or powerful in sound. The host then made up the following example: “People who experience an earthquake often speak about hearing a stentorian noise prior to the impact of the quake.” This is patently wrong as stentorian applies to the loud or powerful use of the human voice, not to any loud sound, especially from inanimate sources. Now the dictionary may not have specified this, but it’s a matter of idiomatic usage, this is why it’s important to stick to the example provided by the dictionary and not attempt to improvise a sentence on the spot.

The day before this the word of the day was ‘perambulate’. Unfortunately, by the time the announcer had finished with using it in a sentence it had become ‘preambulate’. I’m sure you’ll agree that we must uphold radio announcers to a higher degree of accuracy when speaking English.

There are many words that are routinely mispronounced by radio hosts across a range of radio stations. We are frequently told to observe COVID ‘protuckles’, to check our ‘caLENDars’ or ‘reffer’ to our dictionaries. Yet as the word itself suggests dictionaries are designed not merely to provide meanings of words, they also tell you how to pronounce them—hence the DICTION side of one’s vocabulary is also important. The word ‘refer’ should be pronounced the way ‘defer’ or ‘prefer’ is pronounced (that is, as if it were spelt ‘riffer’, it should NOT rhyme with ‘deafer’ or ‘heifer’).

Schoolchildren and others are guided by the way they hear words being used and pronounced in the media. It is crucial therefore that media announcers get it right when it is English they’re allegedly speaking. There is simply no excuse for slackness on the language front.