My eye skidded to a halt. I knew it was wrong, I was 99% sure the correct spelling was “synecdoche,” but I looked it up anyway in Merriam-Webster’s Online. I was right: “synecdoche” it is.
Aside: Back in my newspaper days, I was frequently asked why I usually worked with a dictionary on my lap. “You spell better than any of us!” my colleagues would say. And I’d smile sagely or smugly depending on my mood and say, “This is why I spell better than any of you.” This was before and then in the earliest years of the World Wide Web: online dictionaries were not yet A Thing. Now I generally work with two or three dictionaries open in my browser at all times.
Then I clicked the little speaker symbol. I was stunned. Good thing I’ve rarely if ever had occasion to say “synecdoche” out loud, because I would have screwed it up. As a friend later pointed out, it’s like “Schenectady”: the stress falls on the second syllable. In my mind’s ear I’d been thinking something like “syn-ek-DOE-key.”
To this day I remember the moment when my first college roommate realized that the word she pronounced “epiTOME” and the word she spelled “epitome” were one and the same. It was the very epitome of an epiphany. I was grateful to be having my synecdoche epiphany in the privacy of my apartment.
However, once I was secure in my new knowledge, I immediately blurted it out on Facebook: “Lucky me, I was never called upon to pronounce ‘synecdoche.'”
I’m pretty shaky on my figures of speech, but I did remember that during April’s A to Z Challenge, blogger Eva Blasovic’s S had stood for “synecdoche,” so I hastened to her Beyond the Precipice blog to read up on it: “A figure of speech in which the part is made to represent the whole, or vice-versa.” Eva provides several good examples and also compares it to “metonymy” — which you’ll have no trouble pronouncing once you get the hang of “synecdoche” and “Schenectady.”
Applying my new knowledge, I immediately recognized my author’s use of “white-coats” as an example of synecdoche: he uses it to refer to research scientists who spend a lot of time in laboratories.
Moral of story: Look things up, even when you know the answer. Check the pronunciation as well as the spelling. It may save you from making a fool of yourself in public.
5 thoughts on “Say It Loud”
I smiled the entire time I read this post – both in its lighthearted tone and in empathy (my heart lurched back to the days when I could put two coherent sentences together and I was made fun of for using “big words” all the time lol). Thanks for this!
This manuscript I’m copyediting has sent me to the dictionary many times, in part because it deals with subjects I know very little about, like agronomy and physics. Yesterday I had to look up “ramose” — “consisting of or having branches.” Now I’m looking for a way to slip it into conversation. 🙂
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When cold reading it I imagined the ‘r’ rolled and only saying it with a dramatic body language. The dictionary’s pronunciation left me so disappointed lol. I will try to use it today with my kids, though, just for fun. 😉
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mis-pronouncing words is an ongoing discussion for my husband and me. We have some real classics (difficult to portray in writing, but this made me laugh–great post.
I constantly double check my dictionary! You’ve no idea. I won’t comment on the pronunciation. A continuous work-in-progress.
By the way I learned a new word with you today:)