Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Coyote and Cheese

Posted by Neal on January 31, 2005

And yet one more thread that I’m finally getting around to commenting on. Bill Poser of Language Log, Justin Busch of Semantic Compositions, and Q. Pheevr of A Roguish Chrestomathy each wrote about strange strange spellings or typographical gimmicks in people’s names.

This discussion took place at about the time that there was an inservice day at Doug and Adam’s school, and a classmate’s mother suggested that we bring the kids to Chuck E. Cheese. At one point during our time there, Mr. Cheese himself made an appearance, to dance the Hokey Pokey and give away prize tickets. Of course, the announcer didn’t call him Mr. Cheese. She didn’t call him just plain Chuck, either. She called him Chuckie.

Now, it’s hypothetically possible that the announcer, and all the kids who were there, and all the people who say his name on the TV commercials, just happen to be adding the –ie suffix to indicate that Mr. Charles Cheese is a close friend of theirs, but I doubt it. They call him Chuckie because they are sloppily turning the middle initial E., which should bear a primary stress of its own, into a destressed syllable, attached to Chuck to form a single phonological word. Understand that I don’t have anything against the name Chuckie, but if the inventors of this character want everyone to refer to him as Chuckie consistently, then they should just name him Chuckie! They shouldn’t name him Chuck, give him middle initial E., and expect everyone to go along with their own sloppy pronunciation!

It’s the same reaction I have when I hear people refer to the Looney Tunes character as “Wiley Coyote.” His name’s not Wiley! It’s Wile! True, it could be that Wile itself is pronounced “Wylie,” just like actor Noah Wyle’s name is. But if that’s so, then howcome in 30-plus years I’ve never heard anyone refer to “Wiley E. Coyote”?

And while I’m on the subject, parents who name their daughters Nata Lee or Kimber Lee shouldn’t expect people to call them Natalie and Kimberly. They should expect people to call them Nata and Kimber (no matter how goofy these names sound), and only put in the (carefully stressed) Lee when addressing these girls by their full names.

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