Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Mavrelous Favre

Posted by Neal on August 5, 2008

I’ve been learning some interesting things about Brett Favre during the past week or two. For example, I learned that there’s a guy named Brett Favre. I also learned that he is (or has been) a quarterback for Green Bay Packers since 1992. I’ve learned that there are conflicting statements of why (or even whether) he is retiring from football, the latest being that he’s not. And I’ve learned that his name is not pronounced [feIvr̩ ], i.e. like favor, nor [favr̩ ] (which would rhyme with bother if you replaced the th with a v), nor even [favrə], with a little “uh” sound on the end. It is, in fact, pronounced [farv], rhyming with Harv, Marv, and starve.

It’s tricky for English speakers to figure out what to do with -re at the end of French loan words. I’ve heard them pronounced as syllabic [r], as in cadre (rhyming with otter); pronounced as [rə], as in Sartre, the two-syllable pronunciation of genre, or the three-syllable pronunciation of macabre; and simply dropped, as in the one-syllable pronunciation of genre and the [məkab] pronunciation of macabre. But with the [r] and preceding consonant metathesized? That was a new one to me.

Or so I thought at first. Then I remembered hors d’oeuvre, which I, like everyone else I knew, pronounced as [ɔrdr̩vz] “or-durves” — until I took French in high school, and learned that ordurves, which I’d heard pronounced but never seen spelled, and hors d’oeuvres, which I’d seen spelled but never heard pronounced, were one and the same. (Kind of like when I learned that a rendezzvuss and a rendezvous were the same thing, or that Tuckson and Tucson were the same place.) Since then, I’ve never been able to bring myself to say the word. I can no longer pronounce it [ɔrdr̩vz], but don’t wish to put up with the questioning looks, chuckles, or rolled eyes if I pronounce it [ɔrdʎvrəz]. Until horse doovers becomes standard, I’ll just have to make do with appetizers.

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19 Responses to “Mavrelous Favre”

  1. Bridget said

    There’s a gag having to do with the pronunciation of Favre’s name in There’s Something About Mary, in which he has a cameo.

  2. viola said

    Well, I suppose appetizers would be a relatively safe way of handling the hors d’oeuvre conundrum. Or…suppose we go against the grain, create a linguistic womb ripe for the birth of change, and somehow have hors d’oeuvre slowly evolve to horse doovers. Oh, how I’m fond of that idea. After all, should 3 vowels really ever be sandwiched like that in a word? It hurts me just to type it out–took me 5 minutes to scroll up and down just to copy it correctly, and I think I might have had a miniature seizure whilst doing it.
    We should start a revolution.

  3. hjælmer said

    The man is a linguistic focus this week! A couple of days ago I heard a radio news reporter say that he’d unretired.

  4. david said

    of course, if you really wanted to sound posh, you would pronounce it [ɔrdʎvrə] (without a [z] even as a plural form) and then put a [z] before the next word if it starts with a vowel.

  5. michael said

    his name was *one* of the topics of one of my early long rambling and ultimately not very helpful posts. i’m embarrassed that the post is also one of the two most widely read ones i’ve written. it’s probably up there with the post on “x like a banshee.”

    whenever I look at my stats I can tell if mr favre is in the news. there’s always a spike in the search terms.

  6. Dan said

    I’ve read (possibly in that post Wishydig mentioned) that most of his relatives pronounce it to rhyme with “mauve” or “suave,” but that he essentially gave up trying to correct people and embraced the Farve.

  7. hjælmer said

    So, which is it, Dan, Fauve or Fuave?

    I think I’m going to go with Fuave. Except that I never discuss sports, so will have no opportunity to use it. And, of course, if I were discussing him I’d have to save Farve.

    Never mind.

  8. Metathesis in English seems to especially happen with words of foreign origin (leaving aside the fact that most of English vocabulary is borrowed). There’s also the Pedernales River in Texas, which is pronounced by locals as PER-da-na-lez.

  9. Glen said

    You pronounce cadre to rhyme with otter? I pronounce it to rhyme with madre (as Sierra or chinga tu). Merriam-Webster backs me up.

  10. Neal said

    Somehow I missed Michael’s post when he wrote it, but here it is.

    Glen: Actually, I don’t use the word cadre, precisely because I don’t know how to pronounce it. I was just going by what *my* M-W told me. I know Richard Dawson pronounced it your way in The Running Man, but he’s the only person I’ve actually heard say it.

  11. The Ridger said

    I use cadre all the time, and so do the people I work with. We all rhyme it with madre; I’ve never heard any other pronunciation for it.

  12. Dan said

    So apparently not everyone pronounces “mauve” like “suave”, which is news to me… “suave” is the word cited by his distant cousin in this article.

  13. Ellen K. said

    What’s an M-W?

  14. dgm said

    I’m of the cadre-rhymes-with-madre persuasion. I had never heard it rhyme with otter (or, better yet, “odder”). As for Favre, it makes no sense to me to pronounce the “r” before the “v” when the sequence of letters does not call for that. I’m surprised you don’t pronounce “cadre” like “card.” :-)

  15. Neal said

    Ellen: M-W was my abbreviation for Merriam-Webster.

    Glen, the Ridger, DGM: What do you know? I re-checked my dictionary, and someone seems to have come along and seamlessly removed the rhymes-with-otter pronunciation since I wrote this post, and replaced it with your rhymes-with-madre pronunciation, as well as one with a long E sound at the end.

    DGM again: I didn’t say it made sense. Although I don’t pronounce cadre as “card” (or, I wouldn’t if I ever pronounced the word at all), I do pronounce comfortable as “comfterble” and Wednesday as “wen(d)sday”. Don’t you? (Dad claims not to metathesize the R and T in comfortable, but when he tried to convince us of this by pronouncing it carefully, he ended up saying something like “curmfitable”.)

  16. RB said

    Neal: I believe “wensday” is “correct” pronunciation because the D is silent. At least that is how I hear it, being biased by having the last name of Barndt which also has a silent D. I do say “comfterble.”

    I wonder if the reversed “r” in Brett Favre happened something like this:
    1) The family treats the “re” as silent, pronouncing it “fahv.”
    2) He becomes famous and is interviewed by reporters natively from New England (and particularly Boston). Their accent commonly leaves the “r” out of words (like car=caah) only to stockpile the missing “r” to show up later in unexpected places (like idea=ide-er or wash=warsh). So “fahv” becomes “Farv” and the rest is history.

  17. Neal said

    RB: I strongly suspect my pronunciation is sometimes “wendsday” and sometimes “wensday” (hence the parentheses around the first d). To get from an [n] to a [z] sound, two things have to happen: 1) your nasal passage has to be closed off; 2) your tongue-tip has to lower from the roof of the mouth behind the teeth enough to allow air for the [z] sound to pass over it. If 1) and 2) happen simultaneously, you get “wensday”. If 1) happens slightly before 2), you end up with a [d] sound between the [n] and the [z], for “wendsday”.

  18. Glen said

    The online M-W seems to have both the rhymes-with-madre and rhymes-with-otter pronunciation, with the latter denoted as “especially British.”

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cadre

  19. jim kelly said

    Regarding Favre’s last name and the mispronunciation of same, you all might want to check-out a very humorous new book titled: “It’s FaVre Not FaRv You Bobbleheads” [How Bradd Favre, the NFL & the Media let America go to Hell in a jockstrap],available at Amazon.com

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