I’m currently in a long-term relationship with words. We’re ridiculously happy together — it’s disgusting, really. When we’re alone snuggled inside delicious-smelling pages, I’m oblivious to the world outside my window.
But like any relationship, we’ve hit the occasional rough patch. And to my great shame, we often quarrel publicly, as was the case earlier this week.
“What’s the name of that local theatre company,” a colleague asked those of us gathered around a boardroom table during a routine meeting.
I knew what was about to happen as soon as I opened my mouth. I knew it, because it’s happened so many times before. This is one mistake I will never learn from.
“Shim-ear-ah,” I answered, the last syllable of the gibberish nonsense word fading away.
My colleague looked up from her laptop, and caught my eye; the woman to her left simultaneously glanced up from her phone and grinned; the millennial to my immediate right put down her mason jar/water bottle and choked on an ill-timed sip.
“You mean Chimera (kai-mira), right,” the question-asker responded with a smirk. We all laughed; I laughed loudest of all.
For someone who calls herself a writer, I manage to mess up my mother tongue regularly. I can see the word perfectly in my mind. I can spell it. I can even give you the definition and provide you with a passable sketch. But until this day, I’d managed to avoid saying chimera out loud.
Unlike pedagogy — a word I didn’t encounter much until I began poking my nose into academia. Pedagogy, you’ll note, doesn’t rhyme with ‘doggy,’ which is something I discovered on my first or second day on campus.
I’ve been involved in this tumultuous relationship with words my whole life. We fight, we make up.
There I was, 11 years old, out for a fancy dinner with my family and dressed to the nines in my red and white polka dot dress with the shoulder pads. It was my mom’s birthday, and I was on my best behavior when I looked up and asked her if I could please order “whores-de-voors?”
The answer was no, we weren’t made of money, and also, we call them “hors d’oeuvres.”
Many dates that start with hors d’oeuvres, end with lingerie, which I correctly supposed meant fancy underpants based on the sassily attired mannequins in the shop window, but I always thought it sounded more like a tasty pasta dish, especially since I pronounced it “ling-gear-ee.”
Proper names have also been known to trip me up, and I apologize in advance to any of my Irish friends.
I had a mild crush on Sean (Seen) Astin as a child; he was cute in the Goonies. Then there are the fictional characters I encountered, the Seamus’s (Seemus’s), Yvonne’s (Why-vown-ee), any random colonel (there is no r in this word!), and, of course Hermione (Her-mee-own). I even managed to screw up Reggie’s name, you know, Archie’s friend? I pronounced it with soft gs, similar to how I mispronounced digest (dig-est).
The letter G is tough to navigate — take paradigm and prodigal for example. The safest option is to avoid these words altogether by using 15 other words to describe their meaning. This is advice I wish I had taken earlier this week, thereby avoiding the whole chimera debacle.
I’ve been subdued since chimera, trying my best to learn from my mistake, and move on. Words and I have been a bit distant — we need a bit of space, perhaps, a little breathing room, and some Netflix.