Friday, September 21, 2007

Almer mater

If you know me even a little bit, you may know that I find Steven Pinker's books extremely provoking, but I cannot resist linking to Oliver Burkmann's interview in the Guardian. It's a good interview, but it was a misspelling that caught my eye:
Pinker graduated from Montreal's McGill University in 1976, reading experimental psychology, then completed a PhD in that field at Harvard, in 1979. (He has spent the rest of his professional life in the neighbourhood of Harvard, moving to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then back to his almer mater.)

Funny, eh?!?

Miscellaneous thoughts:

1. I really don't like the phrase alma mater, I would never use it myself unless perhaps mildly satirically...

2. This is conceptually the mistake--i.e. the mistaken interpolation of an "r"--my brothers and I made when we were little, due to our mother's English accent! I think I made it less, because I learned how to read sooner; but really we all thought that the long yellow fruit that you peel from the top was called a "bernarner," and for many a year I believed that there was a mud-colored tint mysteriously known as "car key" (khaki).

3. This is also related to the notorious question of "cockney rhymes". On which note, I offer up Andrew Lang's poem on the topic (these are the first three stanzas):
Though Keats rhymed "ear" to "Cytherea,"
And Morris "dawn" to "morn,"
A worse example, it is clear,
By Oxford Dons is "shorn."
G-y, of Magdalen, goes beyond
These puny Cockneys far,
And to "Magrath" rhymes--Muse despond! -
"Magrath" he rhymes to "star"!

Another poet, X. Y. Z.,
Employs the word "researcher,"
And then,--his blood be on his head, -
He makes it rhyme to "nurture."
Ah, never was the English tongue
So flayed, and racked, and tortured,
Since one I love (who should be hung)
Made "tortured" rhyme to "orchard."

Unkindly G-y's raging pen
Next craves a rhyme to "sooner;"
Rejecting "Spooner," (best of men,)
He fastens on LACUNA(R).
Nay, worse, in his infatuate mind
He ends a line "explainer,"
Nor any rhyme can G-y find
Until he reaches Jena(r).


  1. 1. Do you have a more parsimonious expression than "alma mater"?
    2. I'm sure that "car key" is the correct pronunciation. Let's settle it by a survey of my local pub.
    3. The cockney rhymes with which I am familiar are all just cockney rhyming slang!

  2. 1. No, unfortunately not...
    2. Indeed!
    3. Someone (not me) needs to write a wikipedia entry for "Cockney rhymes." Meanwhile, here's the relevant extract, if you're interested:

    The irony being that the rhymes Lockwood disparaged as "Cockney" (i.e. fawn/thorn) would become a very conspicuous feature of RP a hundred and fifty years later...

    This is the review that Shelley and Byron thought responsible for Keats's death. Byron in Don Juan: "'Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle, / Should let itself be snuffed out by an Article."

  3. 3. Per _Educating Rita_, assonance "means getting the rhyme wrong!"

  4. I spent the first few months in nyc being asked: "Marine-err! Are you going to Yo-gerr?" by Lucia, who would then collapse into giggles.
    I just can't hear that, in my accent - but I'm told it's there!