THE BLOG
02/16/2007 04:44 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

You Say "Eye-rack" and He Says "Eye-ran." Oh, Let's Just Start by Saying Feb-roo-ary Right?

Now don't everyone go "nucular" about this little song and dance.

"In the beginning was the word." Biblical reference and Hindi "A-U-M" aside, how you say (or spell) a word or name might not be as important as how you treat it or them. It might not even always be a direct correlation. But trying to pronounce a name correctly is the first step at R-E-S-P-E-C-Ting and learning the history of that person, place or thing.

Think about it. If your name is George, being called Junior under the shadow of your daddy, your brothers, (maybe a taunting sister) and a very overbearing matriarch, might give certain rise to your life-long Napoleon complex, and forever-after adversely affect the world.

So how do "February", "Iran" and "Iraq" give lesson to Americans of the potency of honoring pronunciation? Mr. Bush officially stated his reasons for war-coupling of the two neighboring countries, on the same day American's traditionally celebrate the Roman Cupid shooting his love arrows to unite two lovers; while the word "February" is itself, a borrowed word from the February 15th, Roman festival of "purification/fever".

Now, I didn't quite catch if W correctly says February in either of Webster's two standard options (see below), but he's pretty persistent in a purely Americanized "eye-ran" and "eye-rack" -- in his case, proof of subliminal self-confessions, e.g.: "eye-ran away from admitting my blunders" and the (i)"rack is my favorite form of torture."

Ask any Iraqi, Iranian, European, or almost anyone else, other than an American (or some Brits-- don't get me started on American media's sudden trend of transferring our "short i's" into the British mode of "long i's" between two consonants).

You'll hear most world-speakers pronounce their vowels not with a "long-i" and "short-a" but with the more international combination sound "ea/short -i" and "hard a" ---

World-speakers ---
Iran : "ea--ron"
Iraq: "ea--rok"
Not quite an American short "i", or long "e", but acceptable enough.

Remember Qatar? The first days right before the Iraq invasion, every reporter went from pronouncing, what we all though was Arabic--- "KUH-tar"--- to the more corrected native "Cutter/Gutter." AND news segments abounded on our back-slapping accomplishment of pronouncing our friendly ally's nation the same way they did.

After four years now, there is a growing number of reporters who finally follow the international pronunciation for Iraq and Iran. (Afghanistan and Pakistan still need much improvement). But there are folks at even NPR, and many top military officials-- besides all of Bush's cabinet--and many regular Americans, who persist in not giving Iran and Iraq the honor of articulating something close to their native vowels.

Back to February.

The littlest month, dwarfed among the months, like the misshaped Pluto pulling the caboose among its once fellow-planets---February packs a punch in its compact 28 days. Starting from an animal ritual predicting the rest of the winter season, to an Italian martyr and Roman cherub-god governing love (and our healthy-start hearts), it is the honored birth of presidents, of African Americans' history (and the birth month of yours truly, thank you very much).

It is the only month that makes time leap every four years.

The "br" with the "oo" combination is a little tricky for us Americans.
So, it's interesting that February, distinguished among all the months--is the only one giving Americans two standard ways for its pronunciation. The Scotch "Feb-you-wary" (with a long u) and the more international Indo-euro root "Feb-roo ary/Fe-broo-ary."

Yet listen closely on the radio or TV, this week. Even national reporters and spokesmen, lazily swallow out a "Feb-er-ary" or "Feb-rary." Can't they help the rest of us follow their lead and pick one or the other from the standard first two?

This is not about a southern drawl or a Boston brogue. Or chastising everyone into studiously employing difficult inflections. Are our American tongues (and will) so arrogant (freedom fingers over French kiss) that we are unwilling to listen closely and attempt compromise of international enunciation with our own lips--even for words adopted into our own language?

There is some beginning precedence; it has become common the past year for dual English-Spanish speakers to pronounce Spanish names natively, while the rest of their reporting is in American-English.

I'm not saying that Ahmadinejad will suddenly admit to the holocaust and stop his nuclear program, if we send him mass voice mails pronouncing our new-found love of pronouncing Iran correctly, or that the Shiites and Sunnis will break bread together after they see our heroic willingness to understand their language. But it would've been a good start for Bush to have understood their heritage and uttered a few choice words with respect, before he decided to yee-haw it over there to "pronounce" war.

On this month of purification, magical prediction, love and honor--- maybe we can fire up a little less of the "ME" and "I" in --- "a-ME-r-I-can" --- and show more of our respectful acknowledgement of the world voice.

You can still say "poe-taa-toe" (and spell it funny, too, Mr. Quayle) and I can say "too-mah-toe". But let's learn why they say it differently, and how we can agree. We can't afford our words to "just shut the whole world off."
(Fred and Ginger would agree.)