Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Saying the words

Robert Perret made a confession on Twitter yesterday that a lot of us can relate to these days:

"Contributing to a Watsonian podcast has made me acutely aware of how many words I know but don't know how to pronounce."

Sherlock Holmes fans have always had an issue with pronunciation, give that our Sacred Texts of Sherlock are a.) Over a hundred years old, b.) For Americans, from another country, and c.) Full of both smarty-pants words and goofy slang. And even the familiar words get odd when you bring Sherlock Holmes into the picture.

For example, when quoting Sherlock Holmes, how do you pronounce "advertisement?"

Ad-ver-TIZE-ment or ad-VERT-iz-ment? Most veteran Sherlockians are familiar with the debates over Irene and Lestrayd, but the issues we have with those names apply to so many other words as well. Do we say them how we say them, or as fancy Victorian folk of our imaginations do?

In working out an audio adaptation of "The Blue Carbuncle" this week, my friends and I have been put through the wringer on pronouncing Watson-words. If you've never had to say the word "fiver" before, you might just come out with "fivver," just as a non-Sherlockian helper starts wondering about how a goose has a crop right in the middle of recording. It's actually part of the fun of Sherlock Holmes, I think, as that element of strangeness is part of the allure once you get over your initial reaction to it.

And it never ends. Having read and re-read "Blue Carbuncle" so many times over forty years, I was amazed at how natural a lot of the cadence and word-flow came to me . . . but those pronunciations? There's always some word in that sixty story Canon that you've never said out loud before, and they can take you by surprise. The thing is, where once your surprises were limited to small scion society meetings or conversations with other Sherlockians, now we can learn of them as we record and publish to the internet, where it has the potential to haunt us for a very long time.

But that's okay. As those who came before us often had a personal preference on "Lestrayd," some future listener might just take it as "early 2020s accent" or an affectation for fun. (Take a listen to some of the pronunciations in the movie Holmes and Watson if you think that doesn't happen.)

In any case, it's great that we have such words that we love enough to speak aloud. So we might as well do it, however they come out.

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