Kilo-meter or Kilometer?


#1

Po-tato, Po-tahto… Tomato, to-mahto… is kilometer the next word to highlight the linguistic differences that exist between the British Isles and the rebellious colonialists in the New World? That was the question Tom and Ray got this week from Pennie. (Miss the call? You can catch it right here.)



What do you think? How do you pronounce kilometer? Is there one version that should be an accepted standard? Any other linguistic malfeasances frosting your shorts? Share your thoughts right here – and we’ll be sure to inform the O.E.D of our findings!


#2

English stress rules are complicated (for reasons I won’t go into here). One principle for compound words is to preserve the stress of root of the word, here kilo-MEE-ter". However, another rule, typically applied to polysyllabic Latinate words, places the stress on the antepenult (third from the end), hence kil-AW-meter. Stress rules also differ across dialects, both within the US (cf the PO-lice of some southern and southern midwestern dialects) and around the world, as here between standard Am English and standard British English. But T&R’s answer that both pronunciations of “kilometer” are accepted is right on. (I am a now-retired professor of historical linguistics, so I kinda know what I’m writing about.


#3

I think it odd that a Brit would have a problem with our pronunciation of kilometer when they add letters to words that aren’t there.
They add an “I” before the last “u” to the word aluminum when they pronounce it say al u min i um do they not?


#4

Interesting story (maybe an urban legend) on the pronunciation of aluminium. When Charles Hall was starting the Pittsburgh Reduction Company (now ALCOA) the printer misspelled aluminum on the stationary and they could not afford to have it reprinted. So the i is missing to this day.


#5

I’m afraid that the Brits have the “right” spelling and thus pronunciation for aluminium (we linguists would rather say “historically expected”). But there is no way of predicting absolutely what forms might result when something changes. For example, the historical parts of labor + oratory produce the five-syllable laboratory. But one syllable is dropped (“syncopated,” technically speaking) in Br English (labORatry) but a different one in Am English (LABratory). ALL languages change constantly and the only standard for “correctness” is what the community of users decides is right for them at the time. So here we just have to say some folks (lots of them, in fact) stress one syllable and some others (again, lots) put it elsewhere. Both patterns follow rules in operation in the respective dialects and this rule-governed condition is what makes it “right”. Any other statement is purely prejudice and worth no more for the world at large than saying “I love/hate chocolate ice cream.”


#6

“Aluminium” is more correct because it matches the nomenclature of the other metallic elements in its group in the periodic table.


#7

“For example, the historical parts of labor + oratory produce the five-syllable laboratory.”

Dude, now you’re just making stuff up. Do you look up the words before you write about them?


#8

Did you not notice that there was already a thread about this?


#9

No. my friend, I am not making things up. I did have a typo when I wrote “-oratory” instead of what should obviously be 'atory", simply duplicating the “or” of “labor”. Most people I assume figured out that simple typo. As for the rest, however, I admit simplifing the details a bit for this forum (when they did not matter). But, for the record, the Latin form is laboratorium ‘place of work’ (NB: six syllables). The final syllable was generally lost in its passage into the European vernaculars (cf French laboratoire, Italian laboratoiro, etc.), as typically happened with Latin endings like this. (If you want me to go into the Proto-Indo-European forms, I can do that, too.) So, my apologies for the bad typing. And for simple bits of history like this, I generally do not have to “look them up” (although I have many, many references in dozens of languages when I need them) since I taught this stuff with a Ph.D.for 40 years at the university level. Finally, I ride fairly well and have raised cattle, so the term “dude” is rather inappropriate.


#10

No–when the matter came up in Saturday’s broadcast (at least it was that day on WFIU at Indiana University) the phone line was constantly busy so I signed onto the website. There was already a new link on the Car Talk splash page on this topic and I was the first poster from that link. If there was another, I didn’t search for it, so blame the web-folks at CT! T&R didn’t speak of it as if they were aware of a previous thread and I was imply responding to their discussion yesterday.


#11

Good point. I would only add that linguists as a group try not to use terms like “correct” and “proper” because they seem inappropriately evaluative. For example, “correct” implies an environment of a closed logical system (e.g., 2 + 2 = 5 is “incorrect” within 10-base, normal arithmetic, although it may not be in some other system). So I’d rather use some (admittedly more awkward) description like “semantically transparent” or “paradigmatically inclusive”. But terminology aside, your comment is very apt.


#12

It’s a good story anyway. And it is paralleled by the verified story that name of the the clothing company Lands’ End was supposed to be in the singular, Land’s End, but a similar mistake was made, and it was either too late or too expensive to fix it. I’d guess that the company’s website might confirm it, but I have read an interview with the founder in which he told the story.


#13

Somehow my original post, which started this thread, was deleted, making it hard to follow things. Here it is again.=========
English stress rules are complicated (for reasons I won’t go into here). One principle for compound words is to preserve the stress of root of the word, here kilo-MEE-ter". However, another rule, typically applied to polysyllabic Latinate words, places the stress on the antepenult (third from the end), hence kil-AW-meter. Stress rules also differ across dialects, both within the US (cf the PO-lice of some southern and southern midwestern dialects) and around the world, as here between standard Am English and standard British English. But T&R’s answer that both pronunciations of “kilometer” are accepted is right on. (I am a now-retired professor of historical linguistics, so I kinda know what I’m writing about.)


#14

Dude, I wasn’t talking to you.


#15

its “Miles” we live in america


#16

New English terminology :wink:


#17
[i] its "Miles" we live in america[/i]  

Yea, too bad about that.  You would think that a country as advanced as the US would be first with the better system, but I guess the US is not as advanced as many would think.

#18

“better” may be in the eye of the beholder


#19

my Indian parents pronounce words such as photography and geography as photo-grAphy and geo-grAphy. They also don’t understand why it is pronounced photOgraphy. And intestines rhymes with Frankenstein :slight_smile:


#20

One of the things my years in the military taught me is that people from different areas all pronouce things differently anyway…and in some cases use the terms differently. Since some of these terms aren’t for a family friendly forum, I’ll not go into detail.

In short, I thought I was pronouncing everything perfectly…but when I opened my mouth in the barracks everyone knew instantly where I was from.

It doesn’t matter how we pronounce the words. It’s what we say that counts.