You say oh-micron, I say ah-micron, let’s call the whole thing off.

This post has a soundtrack.

It happens at least once a semester. A student will be reading something aloud or making a point in a class discussion when they need to say a Greek name. They suddenly stop. Sometimes they stumble through, sometimes they will get a pained look on their face as they struggle with where to begin.

I gently offer a pronunciation if they look at me for relief, though I encourage them to repeat it rather than simply saying, “yeah, that.” 

Sometimes a student will simply power through.

Nobody likes to seem stupid. My mother like to tell a story about how I spoke early but then stopped — possibly because I thought that people were laughing at me — and then didn’t speak again until quite late developmentally. When I finally returned to the world of the vocal, I spoke in complete sentences. 

Some of those details might be off, but I have great sympathy for that version of my infant self.

I still struggle with these feelings. I don’t like not knowing things. I am chagrined when I learn that I am mispronouncing a word, which is a particular issue when there are any number of vocabulary terms I learned by reading them in books.

It is for this reason that I tell almost every one of my classes that I pronounce Greek like a hillbilly who rolled up from the forest. The last part is true, but I actually don’t know how I speak Greek, just that whatever it is isn’t “right.” I still don’t like speaking Greek in public because I am self-conscious about screwing it up. The same applies double to meter. I just do my best, and that is what I ask of my students.

Frankly, this is a microcosm of a larger issue. Students are not able to learn when they believe they are supposed to already have the answers. I blame standardized tests, personally, but it is probably more complicated.

The national crash-course on the Greek alphabet during the COVID pandemic naturally caused a panic over the pronunciation of “omicron.” It would be the height of embarrassment to say ah-micron when the right pronunciation is oh-micron.

Put bluntly: who gives a damn?

Seriously.

When a friend asked me, I had to say omicron aloud several times to determine what I say, at which point I realized that I usually say “ah,” but also sometimes “oh.” But even that level of investment misses the point. This is a virus that has killed millions of people world-wide and left untold numbers of others with lingering conditions. Billions of people are unvaccinated and early returns suggest that infants might be particularly vulnerable to the omicron variant.

Getting hung up on pronunciation, whether to use it as an elitist bludgeon because it makes you feel smart or out of fear that what you say will be wrong, just means getting distracted by superficial crap.

One thought on “You say oh-micron, I say ah-micron, let’s call the whole thing off.

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