I Rack and I Ran

There seems to be a lot of confusion about where this war that preoccupies our hearts and heads is taking place. I’d have thought that by now–four years later–we’d at least know the name of the place.

Early into it, CNN and war correspondent Christiane Amanpour tried to set us, and the record, straight. For weeks–or was it months?–what was essentially a PSA (Public Service Announcement) ran on CNN with Christiane giving a pronunciation lesson complete with body parts, directly stating that there was no “Eye” in Iraq—but, there was, however, an “Ear.” So, it’s “Ear-rock,” not “Eye-rack,” said Christiane, and I believed her, and thought the rest of the world would too.

But either the world wasn’t watching CNN, or the world was having a crisis of faith, and they just didn’t believe. Few seemed to have gotten the pronunciation lesson.

When I have encountered uniformed servicemen on flights I’ve taken around the country–several times being seated next to them–as they were on their ways home for leave, I’ve noticed that they had not not gotten Christiane’s message either. Given what they are having to go through in fighting for their very lives on a daily basis, I was hardly going to correct their pronunciation of a place they have been to and I haven’t. To a man (and they were all men), they have said “Eye-rack.”

Christiane didn’t specifically address the problem of “rack” vs. “rock,” but immediately you see the complications mounting when you do, although I’ve never heard anyone, serviceman, or otherwise say “Eye-rock.”

Iran faces the same pronunciation disorder–“Eye-ran” vs. “Ear-ron” vs. “Ear-ran.” I’ve started to hear some newscasters say “Eh-ron” (maybe a derivative of Enron).

In fact, the English language has more pronunciation problems than any language should be allowed to have and still be in use. There are few rules, and many of the ones there are have so many exceptions that they really have to be considered as imposters inm the rules department.

In languages like French or Spanish, the same letter combinations have the same pronunciation wherever they appear. That’s logical as well as predictable. Not so with English. There can be as many pronunciations for the same letter grouping as there are roses in the rose Parade. Don’t believe me? Take the combination of “ough” as it appears in cough, rough, through, though, and thought. No logic or predictability there.

In thinking of other English words that get manhandled by the native speakers, vehicle stands out. The ‘h’ is silent, but few seem to know that–and to be honest, how would anyone know that by the looks of it?

We’ve all heard the variations on this one, including the differing ideas on which syllable to accent: ve-HIGH-cul, vee-HICK-ul, VEE-high-cul, and VEE-hick-ul. Removing the pronounced ‘h’ solves part of the problem, but not all. The dictionary is calm about it-there is no hype-and no ‘h’ in the correct pronunciation, which is simply, “VEE-i-cle” (the ‘i’ sounding as it does in ‘if’ and ‘is’).

Given all of the problems we have with English words, no wonder we have problems with ones from other places.

Just the other day I heard NPR presenting a somewhat united front on the Iraq/Iran pronunciation issue–and with yet a new twist too. Three announcers in the same hour all said “E-rock” and “E-ran.” An e-mail effect?

But here’s the real thing. In this case, the confusion over how to pronounce the name of the place that we are, in theory, trying to save from itself may be a tell-tale sign of the bigger problem.

Should we really be sending our military forces to makeover a place whose name we can’t even figure out how to pronounce? Perhaps that is a minor point in the scheme of things–or is it?

Internet Explorer 6 or older browser detected. This website is functional only in Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer 7+ and other internet standards compliant browsers. Please visit this site using a current browser.