Archive for January, 2012

The English Language Pronunciation Guide…. sort of

January 27, 2012

I stumbled on this little ditty this morning and thought I’d best preserve it for myself and anyone else who might be paying attention….


Linguistics 101: An Introduction to the Study of Language

Phonetics and Phonology

There are three types of the study of the sounds of language. Acoustic Phonetics is the study of the physical properties of sounds. Auditory Phonetics is the study of the way listeners perceive sounds. Articulatory Phonetics (the type this lesson is concerned with) is the study of how the vocal tracts produce the sounds.

The orthography (spelling) of words in misleading, especially in English. One sound can be represented by several different combinations of letters. For example, all of the following words contain the same vowel sound: he, believe, Lee, Caesar, key, amoeba, loudly, machine, people, and sea. The following poem illustrates this fact of English humorously (note the pronunciation of the bold words):

I take it you already know,
of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Some may stumble, but not you,
on hiccough, thorough, slough, and through?
So now you are ready, perhaps,
to learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word,
that looks like beard, but sounds like bird.
And dead, it’s said like bed, not bead;
for goodness’ sake, don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat.
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.)
A moth is not a moth in mother,
nor both in bother, broth in brother.
And here is not a match for there,
nor dear and fear, for bear and pear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose
just look them up – and goose and choose
And cork and work and card and ward
and font and front and word and sword
And do and go, then thwart and cart,
come, come! I’ve hardly made a start.
A dreadful language? Why man alive!
I’ve learned to talk it when I was five.
And yet to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn’t learned it at fifty-five.

– Author Unknown

The Straight Dope on saving pull tabs

January 6, 2012

I subscribe to “The Straight Dope” newsletter and consider it a reliable source for supplementing my education. I think Snopes and the like are excellent resources, but Cecil generally adds a bit of humor, and backs up his opinions as he gives a play-by-play on whatever research the question has required his team to make for a complete and factual answer, no matter how (sometimes) ridiculous the question. This rerun was in a recent newsletter so I thought I would save it for the benefit of those who are invited to participate in a pull tab campaign…

The Straight Dope – Fighting Ignorance Since 1973
A Straight Dope Classic
from Cecil’s Storehouse of Human Knowledge
Will saving pull tabs earn free kidney dialysis
for needy patients?

May 8, 1992
Dear Cecil:
A little over a year ago I was doing my coachly duty at a high school speech tournament when a fellow coach announced that she wanted the pull tabs from our empty soda cans. She said she was saving them for a woman who could turn them in to get cancer treatment. It sounded like an urban legend to me but I kept my mouth shut, since it’s uncool to dis one’s fellow coaches.

Not surprisingly, the story had legs. At the start of this school year my students started mentioning that we should be saving pull tabs to help someone get kidney dialysis. As it is OK to dis one’s students, I told them they were nuts and pressed them for evidence. None could name the generous hospital or even the needy kidney patient. I hoped I’d put an end to this goofy tale.

Sadly, the story has now appeared again, with the added authority endowed by the school public address system. Every day an announcement is read urging students to place their pull tabs in collection containers so they can be given to some poor nameless kidney patient. The kids are now convinced there must be some substance to this and my insistence to the contrary is losing credibility. Please, Cecil, find out what you can and restore my reputation.

— Lexy A. Green, Oakland, California

Cecil replies:
Don’t get your hopes up, teach. So-called redemption rumors have been floating around at least since the 1950s and probably earlier. Before kidney dialysis came along you typically were told to save cigarette packs to buy somebody time on an iron lung — one of your classic sick bargains.

Most such stories were false, but not all. For example, from 1948 till 1979 the makers of Vets Dog Food would make a one to two cent donation to an outfit that trained seeing-eye dogs for each Vets label redeemed. Today Heinz baby food labels can be redeemed to benefit children’s hospitals and Campbell’s soup labels can be used to buy school equipment.

The kidney dialysis legend may have started with the Betty Crocker coupon program run by General Mills. Most folks redeemed the coupons for kitchen utensils and stuff, but beginning in 1969 General Mills OK’d several fundraising campaigns in which coupons were used to purchase some 300 kidney dialysis machines. The company soon stopped dialysis drives due partly to complaints that it was “trading in human misery.”

But the idea evidently survived in the public mind, with one twist: the medium of exchange was somehow switched to pop can pull tabs.

The story was so persistent that in 1988 the kidney and pop can people decided to play along. Today if you walk into a Reynolds Aluminum recycling center with a pile of pull tabs and say they’re for “kidney dialysis,” the staff will nod knowingly, exchange winks, and send a donation equal to the salvage value of the aluminum to the National Kidney Foundation. However, the donation will not pay for dialysis, because there’s no need. Medicare picks up 80 percent of the cost of dialysis and state programs or private insurance typically cover the rest. Instead, the donation goes to kidney research, education/prevention programs, and patient services.

So saving pull tabs isn’t a complete waste of time. But let’s make one thing clear: there’s nothing special about pull tabs. You’d save yourself a heap o’ trouble and make a lot more money if you recycled the whole can. The Reynolds and kidney foundation people have tried to get that point across with a poster showing a red “Ghostbusters”-type slash through a cartoon of someone trying to detach a pull tab from a can. The headline says, “Keep Tabs on Your Cans.”

But the public hasn’t gotten the message. Supposedly responsible people — e.g., the honchoes at your school — will organize pull tab collection drives without ever bothering to get the whole story. Urban legends expert Jan Brunvand reports that in 1989 a Minneapolis VFW post organized a pull tab collection drive for the local Ronald McDonald House. When Brunvand asked the organizers why they didn’t tell people to save whole cans, they lamely replied that there were “hygiene problems” and that people liked mailing in the tabs, even though the postage often exceeded the value of the aluminum. In other words, it’s not important to DO good as long as people FEEL good. Excuse me while I grind my teeth.

— Cecil Adams