Sunday, August 17, 2008


The Pronunciation of Arctic and Antarctic

In a fit of dudgeon, I once wrote the following about the pronunciation of arctic and antarctic:
Modern dictionaries, which are descriptive and not prescriptive, give the pronunciation without the -c- as an acceptable alternative.

Despite the long pedigree of this offensive pronunciation (dating back to the Middle Ages) and the absolution given to it by modern laxicographers, I'll never be able to hear it without regarding the speaker as a dolt and a nincompoop, especially when the speaker is a professional who should know better. The modern spelling and correct pronunciation allow us to see and hear the root of the words, Greek arktos (bear). The slovenly pronunciation obscures the contour and the history of the words. It's like looking at a beautiful woman dressed in a shapeless burlap sack. You miss the delectation of the curves.
The pedigree is even longer than I thought. It goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks, as attested by [Aristophanes], fragment 955:
It is inarticulate, and he calls / the bear [arkton] bread [arton]...

ψελλόν ἐστι καὶ καλεῖ / τὴν ἄρκτον ἄρτον...
The pun with inarticulate is intended.

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