Posted by Neal on January 4, 2008
I’m used to the fact that in English spelling, doubled consonants aren’t always pronounced twice. Sometimes they are; for instance, to say top pick, you hold your [p] (oh, grow up!) for a longer time than you would to say topic. This extended pronunciation is referred to as gemination (“twinning”). But often, doubled consonants are pronounced just the same as a single consonant, and that’s what makes words like accommodate so difficult to spell if you don’t learn their Latin roots. The cc and mm were pronounced as geminates in Latin, but somewhere along the way to modern English, they got degeminated. I’m fine with all this.
But darn it, it doesn’t work in the other direction! You don’t go around pronouncing non-doubled consonants as geminates. Well, usually you don’t. The words thirteen, fourteen, and eighteen are exceptions that come to mind: Many speakers (including me) pronounce them as if they were thirt-teen, fort-teen, and eight-teen. Actually, though, eighteen is a good example of what I’m talking about. I don’t like it when people take a compound word written with a doubled consonant, remove one of them, and still expect me to pronounce the word with a geminated consonant. For example, there was that playpen we bought for Doug when he was a baby. I remember it… as if it were… about nine years ago…
It wasn’t just any playpen. It was one that the manufacturers were calling a play yard, because it was so big and spacious, you know, with plenty of room to play touch football or have a picnic. I objected enough as it was to this repositioning of playpens as play yards — this futile attempt to recast a confining device for a baby as a fun personal space. But what made it even more galling was the manufacturers’ spelling of the word: playard. Not only did they want me to abandon the word playpen in favor of this marketer’s creation; they wanted me to disobey the conventions of English spelling to do so. I refused: As far as I was concerned, playard rhymed with layered, and was a ridiculous name for a playpen. I’m not denying you could call a playpen a “playered”; you could also call it a frop, a siff, or a kluppy if everyone agreed on the meaning. But why would you?
What reminded me of all this was a sign I caught a glimpse of last week while I was driving. I’m assuming it was for a swimming pool equipment store:
But hey, who am I to say there’s no market for scatological theme parks?