Recently, my daughter showed up in the kitchen with a copy of Norma Charles’s Catching a Star.
“Mommy,” she said, “the satin’s reebels in this book are SO bad!”
“The satin’s reebles.”
“The what reebels?”
By this time, she was getting a little frustrated. It turns out she was talking about the Satan’s Rebels, the motorcycle gang in the book. You’d think, as a Sunday-school attending kid, she’d know how to pronounce “Satan,” but apparently not.
And I couldn’t laugh at her too hard, because I still haven’t lived down a mistake I made when I was about her age. My parents were teasing me about something and I said, “Stop it. You’re hurting my eggo.”
This did not help with the teasing issue.
It’s a problem that all of us insatiable readers face, even as adults — though we know the word, and we know what it means, we don’t always know how to say it. Our literary vocabulary is bigger than our spoken.
If I’m going to read something aloud to an audience, even if it’s something I wrote myself, I always, always practice first. You never know what tricky pronunciations could be hiding in there.
And I’m still awed by people who can throw big words into conversation, without hesitation. My friend Joanna called her brother “recalcitrant” once. And my old boss, Robin, called a co-worker “lugubrious.” How impressive is that?