Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A verbal quibble

kw: words, pronunciation

My colleagues are all highly educated. When they consistently mispronounce a word, something is going on! It has been years since I heard this word pronounced correctly:
Decadence, noun, pronounced d-KAY-dnce (you can think of the D's as being followed by nearly unpronounced "u" sounds). The word's origin is decay. Thus the A is hard, and is given the emphasis. The word is not pronounced DECK-a-dense!
I consulted some dictionaries:
  • I have on online copy of the 1913 Webster's Unabridged Dictionary. It has only this pronunciation (which they show as de-ca'-dence, the ' meaning emphasis).
  • The 1975 edition of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary already has "dek'-ed-ents" as the primary sounding, with the other as secondary. However, it does indicate that the word's origin is "decay".
  • The 1976 Funk & Wagnall's Standard Desk Dictionary has it the "right" way: "di-kayd'ns" primary and the other secondary, but then it switches them around for the adjective "decadent"!
  • The 1979 Webster's New Twentieth Century Unabridged Dictionary (by Collins, not Merrian-Webster), and based on the 1940 edition, has things the "right" way, by my lights.
  • Alas, dictionary.com has things the other way around, though at least it offers the "correct" pronunciation as an alternative.
Languages change with time and usage. I suppose I'll eventually switch.

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