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The "r" mysteryPosted Sunday, February 8, 2009, at 6:36 PM
Why the extra r?
Time for another linguistic blog, fellow English teachers and other lovers of our beautiful language!
This morning, as I began my first full week back in the glorious electrical world of the living, I received my daily dose of online vocabulary trivia from the Word-a-Day program sent to me by a former student.
I've always wondered why the British add an "r" to words like "sofa(r)" and "Cuba(r"" and "Obama(r)."
Well, my Wordsmith.org program sent me a link to The Toronto Star, where guest writer Jack Chambers, a linguistics professor at the University of Toronto, explained this "r" mystery! I feel ever so much more brilliant as a result! Dr. Grauel would be proud of me!
Says Dr. Chambers: "It is called the intrusive 'r,' and shows up frequently when English people (not all British - not the Scots) say 'Obama' before a word that starts with a vowel."
Example: "Obama(r) is...", "Obama(r) appeared, "Obama(r) ended..."
It never shows up before a consonant, like "Obama signed..." or "Obama refused..."
Dr. Chambers explains that English in England is "r-less," meaning that words like "car" and "cart" sound like "cah" and "caht." He says that in r-less accents, the "r" shows up again when the word precedes a vowel, as in "the car is old." Strange, huh??
My family loved to tease my Australian Aunt Clarie by tricking her into saying, "Four door car," which always became "Foe doe cah." Aunt Clarie was a war bride, brought home by Uncle Charles to delight his family for forty years! I won't tell you where she told them to go, when they teased her...
I've noticed that some American accents are r-less, as well - particularly Ted Kennedy's Boston accent and Rosie O'Donnell with her New York accent.
I guess the mystery is more or less explained, but it still doesn't tell us WHY!!
As a side note, I used Explorer to make sure of the spelling of Dr. Grauel's name, and I found a WEALTH of his writings! Yippee!! I must check into that. In my "Got Power?" blog, one of my former high school classmates' sisters and I have been reminiscing about terroristic teachers (Dale Teachout in particular), and I'll tell you what - Dr. Grauel could prompt a few stories himself! Oh, my, he was what I would call a "benevolent tyrant"! Example: We were reading Chaucer in the original Middle English, and I came across the word "victuals," which I pronounced like it LOOKS. He sat on his stool and stared at me in disbelief, and then he screeeeeeeched, "No, No, No! Mrs. Da-Jour-nay!!! It's 'VIT-tils'! 'VIT-tils!' 'VIT-tils"!" His voice got higher with each repetition, until everyone in the class was STARING at me, thinking, "You idiot! You idiot! You idiot!!" I was mortified! (I was very easily mortified back in my younger years...)
Well, for Pete's sake, I had heard the Clampetts (of Beverly Hills) say "vittles," but how was I to know that it was RIGHT??? I doubt that Dr. H.O. Grauel ever watched a minute of "The Beverly Hillbillies," so there was no need for me to try to explain my way out of it...
From the electrified hills of rural Tillman, this is your considerably warmer rural reporter Madeline, glad that she can say her R's and signing off for a pleasant winter weekend.
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at email@example.com.