As you know, there is a comedy program on television called "Monty Python's Flying Circus," and each program begins with that title spoken, so you can hear it in the kitchen or the hall or the john and come dashing in.
But the hearty local announcer, who is terrified we will not know how to spell python if he calls it PIE-thun, bursts forth just before the show begins to tell us the Monty PIE -- thahn show comes next. He hears, no doubt, that he pronounces python differently from the sound track of the show itself, but that does not bother him, because he wants us to know the word is spelled with an O.
I have always liked pythons. Sacred to Apollo and all that. Pythons to me are like cats, dogs and wows. I already know how to spell all those and do not need an announcer or any other speaker to hammer it home.
I go along just fine with "pylon" pronounced pie-lahn, but am much discouraged at what is happening to most words ending in "on."
Everybody knows Oregon is pronounced AHR-uh-gun, but I increasingly hear Oar-e-GAHN, with a heavy beat on the last syllable.
So far, Solomon is still SAHL-uh-mun but any day now I expect Sahl-uh-MAHN, and of course I am already braced for LEB-uh-nahn.
Already the dumb dictionary I find on my desk authorizes PIE-thahn for python, though until recently I never heard anybody say anything but PIE-thun.
Some will argue that English words should be pronounced the way they are spelled, but that stupid argument overlooks the fact that even such a syllable as "on" may be pronounced a number of ways (as in lone, wagon, micron) and nobody says Leb-a-NOAN to rhyme with telephone. Yet.
These strange half-accented terminal "on's" come about, I suspect, through an increasing illiteracy among us. If we don't read, we don't know many words, and when we come to a real blockbuster such as Lebanon we naturally take it slow on the curves, sounding out each letter cautiously, and by the time we get to the last syllable we lay down our burden with relief and a heavy accent. Whew.
But you never hear anybody mispronounce cat, dog or wow. Of course some people say dog with the same o sound you find in otter or ocelot. The word is pronounced dawg, not dahg, but the people who say dahg for dawg are few and tend to come from places where there are no dogs. And cat, at least, is secure for the foreseeable future. Nobody says caht or cawt or cate yet.
Why? Because these words (cat, dog, wow) are known to all.
You might ask why anybody uses a word unfamiliar to him, the pronunciation of which is therefore chancy, and sure enough, the steady American sticks pretty much to gee, wow, my God, damn and Friday. The only trouble is that these words do not fit every situation of life or discourse (though God, damn and wow are making considerable progress here) and when Cousin Will acquires a python for a pet you have to learn this exotic new word. It's not as long as Lebanon, thank God, but it's still pretty strange, so you go slow and come up with PIE-thahn.
I used to blame this on Bulgarians, Basques and Albanians, whose languages are said to be difficult, which means they will find English difficult. But the more I think of it, the more I see there cannot really be 200 million Albanians among us, still speaking their native tongue.
In general, words of the English language should be pronounced just sufficiently to make the word clear in its context, and the accent should be pushed as far backward, to the beginning of the word, as possible. As Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
There are different notions in Greek, where any number of short words end in a long vowel or diphthong and bear an accent. Translated into English, the accent moves back toward the beginning and the long vowels become short and are commonly dismissed.
The theory, in English, is that you don't have to know how to spell it. If you need to know, ask somebody. But spoken English does not exist in order to give spelling lessons to people.
The primmer, prissier and more ignorant people are, the more they are determined to accent syllables that are not properly accented, and the more determined they become to distinguish every unaccented vowel from other vowels.
My own name is pronounced MITCH'l. You either know how to spell it or you don't (Webster's Collegiate Dictionary lists it as one of the commonest names of the language) and there is no need to pronounce it Mitch-ELL just to show off the fact that you know it has an E in it. Showing off your knowledge of spelling commonly results in showing off one's ignorance of, and full indifference to, the way things are spoken.
I have never heard anybody mispronounce the names of my dogs over the years -- Jack, Teddy, Fritz, Dinah, Inky, Spot, Luke, Bass, Max and Lucy. But I am braced, mind you, so that my face will not register amazement when I hear somebody -- probably a television person -- sooner or later say Mawks, Makes, Mahks or Lewchey. I resolve for the New Year to give no ground whatever on these. Or python, either, dammit.