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Monday, November 15, 2010

An Entire Generation Brainwashed

It may have been earlier, and it may have been someone else, but I say Carl Sagan did it, on the BBC in the 80s, with Cosmos. I refer, of course, to the pernicious mispronunciation of 'Uranus'.

Sagan is one of those people to whom I can't offer high enough praise; Cosmos is truly one of the great television series, one that should be watched by everyone. His books, too, are great, and it is he we have to thank for the legendary 'pale blue dot' photograph of earth taken by Voyager 1. But there are several reasons to think that he was a little lacking in the sense of humour department; primary among these is his pronunciation of Uranus.

Before Sagan, we had "Your anus" (he alludes to this in one of his books). Well, we also had the (probably) unintentionally hilarious film Journey to the Seventh Planet, where the interplanetary voyagers go to great lengths to avoid using the planet's name. When they do, it's "Your-ah-nus". But to everyone not involved in that film, it was "your anus".

Then we got Cosmos. And we got "OO-ranus" That deadly double schwa has since infected the public consciousness, and as time goes by  fewer and fewer people are giving it the correct pronunciation, except as a joke (Hooray for Animanics).

It's always bothered me, but today I read a description of the 70s film The Groove Tube. I quote:
It also features a skit involving crude bodily functions that are part of a commercial for a mythical corporation called "The Uranus Corporation" (with the name pronounced "ur-AY-nuss" in the film, which is part of the skit).
Maybe I'm being sensitive here, but I get the impression that the poor reviewer actually believes that it's being pronounced wrong. I've since texted a couple of people, and it seems that it's a common misconception. In other words, Sagan has flim-flammed an entire generation. The bastard.

Over the years, I've been trained, Pavlov-like, to perform the dance of happiness whenever I hear the correct pronunciation. Alas, this is getting more and more infrequent. I recently listened to a lecture on Greek mythology, where the lecturer used the wrong pronunciation most of the time, but on one or two occasions got it right. To my mind, this suggests that he has tried to force himself to use the new, bowdlerised version, but slipped up. If that lecturer is reading this (unlikely, I know): You, sir, are a sellout.

It may not be too late.

If we're to save this word, we need you. And by 'we', I mean humanity at large. Irrespective of how the Greeks may have pronounced it (I honestly have no idea), in English it's always been "Your anus". And it's time it was again. Whenever you have to use the word, pronounce it thusly. Make jokes as you do so if you must, but always -- always -- pronounce it "Your anus". We must put a stop to this nonsense. A line must be drawn.

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