I've been thinking the word ornery wrong for thirty-plus years. I've misspelled it in a couple of my blogs recently: "honery" with a silent "h". Since none of my regular readers told me, I'm assuming you didn't know I was mangling that word; you didn't care; or you thought it was useless to interfere with my special way of viewing the universe. That last part, sadly, is true. It's quite useless.
The word did trouble me. I thought it may be missing something, so I looked in my "floor dictionary", a huge dictionary that my husband purchased for my birthday present years ago because he noticed I had an unusual way with language. I keep it by my desk in the bedroom to use as a door prop and occasional spelling tool, and it's starting to lose its pages to the foot traffic and the baby's mouth. Anyway, I could not find honery in that dang dictionary even when I took off the silent "h". So my husband came in.
"I think this word is spelled wrong," I told him. "But I can't find it in the dictionary."
Matthew promptly opened a word document, typed "honery", and hit spellcheck. The poor computer was completely confused, offering me everything from honey to honker. It's really laughable the way these stupid machines can't read a human's mind.
"Take off the h, " I told Matthew, and then it hit target: ornery.
When you say "ornery", it sounds like you're speaking with a southern accent, or imitating John Wayne. Some words are just not pronounced the way they should be, and it's a cruel thing, because I have a chronic problem with pronunciation.
For example, until I was in fifth grade, I pronounced eager with a hard "g" like giraffe - "eajer". I really liked it that way, so I said it a lot after I acquired it in...oh, third grade or so. My fifth grade teacher heard me use it passionately in some sentence that was probably along the lines of, "I am so eajer to go out to recess!" She laughed, and without further ado advised me to start pronouncing it properly. After all, I was one of her top students; I should speak english.
And, then, would you believe it? In sixth grade there was another incident of word-mangling that garnered me officious attention. I created a spectacle without meaning to, and my teacher about had a fit that drove her to permanent silliness because of it.
It happened like this. I was a great reader. Really. I got called upon often to read aloud in my history teacher's class. Her name was Mrs. Arrington, and I loved her. I believe we were reading something from The Arabian Nights when it happened. I was called on to take up the next paragraph.
I was doing an awesome job with articulation and taking pride in far outshining whoever had gone before. Then I came to that tricky word. Sesame. Okay, so it was one I should have known for simply cultural reasons, but I read it like I thought it should be.
"Open SEA-SAM!" I said in a loud clear voice.
The laughter was immediate, it increased rapidly and within a few seconds my teacher was giggling so hard she could barely breath. My classmates...my friends....apparently they were all some kind of pronunciation geniuses, because not one mouth was silent, not one face was averted to spare me embarrassment. I just glared back haughtily, but especially at my teacher who was leaning on a table at the front of the class, spitting out my name each time her giggles subsided, and then laughing anew when she looked my way.
Finally, with flushed cheeks and streaming face, she finally got out what she had wanted to say since my impromptu inauguration as the new class clown.
"Hillary..." she gasped. "Hillary...it's 'open ses-ah-me' !" Then she laughed again.
History class was pretty much in the can for the rest of the hour.
I thank the sweet goodness that the moment was much more private when years later I was caught saying another more delicate word incorrectly.
I was talking to my folks at home. I was a junior in high school. I was speaking about women's figures.
Here's what I said, "Marilyn Monroe was really very volumptuous. She wasn't a skinny-minny at all."
My dad got an all too familiar twinkle in his eye and sat forward in his chair.
"What'd you say, Hoo-doo?"
"I said that it's..."
"No, did you say vo-lump-tuous?"
"Yeah, what's wrong with that?"
Dad bent forward chuckling and said, "Oh, yeah! She was very lumpy!"
My mom was giggling, too, with that sweet little giggle that makes you feel loved and foolish.
"Well, what is it then?" I demanded indignantly. I mean, crying out loud, I was seventeen. How long had I been getting it wrong?
"It's voluptuous!" roared Dad.