Monday, October 20, 2008

This is how Johnny 5 learned too

On a stupid stupid sitcom a character named Sheldon (with all the rights and responsibilities that go with that name) used two pronunciations that caught my attention.

"novice" pronounced ˈnoʊ.vɪs | NO-viss

"plebeian" pronounced pləˈbi.ən | ple-BEE-en

Sheldon's pronunciation of novice isn't attested anywhere. I've only ever heard the first vowel ɑ (as in father) except maaaybe from a highschooler reading the word aloud for the first time. Sheldon's an arrogant genius who's utterly socially inept so maybe it's a part of his character to overdo a pronunciation. Did the actor (Jim Parsons) put that in or did the writers? We may never know.

On the other hand, his pronunciation of plebeian is attested everywhere. In fact I couldn't find my pronunciation (ˈən | PLEE-bee-en) anywhere. I'm an arrogant 'smart' guy who's wondering how orthoepically inept he (I) is (am). I'm guessing I've based my pronunciation on a preservation of the stress on monosyllabic plebe.

You don't have to admit that you use the same pronunciation I do (tho that'd be kind). But have you at least heard it? Have you been snickering behind my back every time I say it?


  1. I used to say PLEEbian all the time. I still do, sometimes, though I've made a conscious effort to change to pliBEEan after making the same discovery as you.

  2. I still say PLEE-beian and have no plans to change.

    My theory about novice was that maybe it was a Canadian pronunciation, as they often do that to "oh" sounds in words like "progress." But the actor appears to be from Texas, and that just ain't right.

  3. I'm not sure I've ever said the word, but in my head I've always pronounced it PLEE-bian. Of course, I just learned that "biopic" doesn't rhyme with myopic...

    Can anyone else see the name Sheldon and not hear Billy Crystal saying, "Oh, Sheldon. Give it to me, Sheldon"?

  4. I used to rhyme plebeian with "weigh-in" and "geese a-layin'".

    But think of "Cry me a river":

    "...Told me love was too plebeian,
    Told me you were through with me 'n
    Now you say you're sorry..."


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