Since the beginning of our time together, Tink and I have discovered that we pronounce words differently.
Tink is a wordsmith. He pronounces words perfectly. He uses big, unusual words and knows the exact meaning to anything he says. I pronounce few things correctly. I make up words and the definitions that go with them. Most of the time, though, my made-up words (which I always insist are real words) are clever.
“That’s not a word,” he will say, laughing. “You kill me. You are so funny. But, actually, that should be a word because I know exactly what you mean.”
Usually, it’s two words blended together.
When I pronounce a word differently than he does, he’ll stop me in the middle of a sentence and say, “What did you say?”
Then, in a way that is delightful and not demeaning of me, he will say, “That’s not how you pronounce it.”
I stand my ground. If it is a word that I have grown up hearing said in a certain way, I will stand by it. Finally, Tink will whip out his phone and call the word up on audio. And, always, without fail, the audio version will give two different pronunciations. His and mine. He is often dismayed. I am always joyous.
Now, if you’re an English expert, you might can explain this (Tink never heard the phrase “might can” until he came South) but what I figure is that Tink’s people, who are descended from the aristocratic British, says things differently than my people, the earthy Scotch-Irish.
One of the words in dispute between us is “dour.” I say it in a way that rhymes with “sour.” Tink insists that it is pronounced “do-er.” [Editor’s note: The dictionary definition is “relentlessly severe, stern, or gloomy in manner or appearance: a hard, dour, humorless fanatic.”]
“That is NOT the way we say it around here,” I retorted. “If I said ‘do-er’ instead of ‘dower’, none of my people would know what I’m talking about.”
“You just ask your Grant Tinker. I’ve heard him correct one of my siblings for saying ‘dower’ instead of ‘do-er.’” Then, he launched into a story about it. This was in the good ol’ days when Grant Tinker was still among the living. Tink and I debated this word for three or four years and neither of us would yield ground on it though he would always say ‘do-er’ if I used the word ‘dower.’
One day, we were visiting with Grant Tinker, having a very nice lunch among the three of us as we sat at the solid oak table with soft sun playing through the window. Suddenly, Tink popped up – and I promise this is not like him at all – and said, “Why don’t you ask your Grant Tinker how to pronounce d-o-u-r?”
I could have murdered him. Right there in the lovely house that overlooked the eighth hole of the Bel Air country club, in between bites of potato soup. I could not believe it. I am a child of the mountains and I never dispute that. Several times I had said to my father-in-law, “I come from poor mountain people.” But still, let’s not be bringing up something that would make me look backwards.
Grant Tinker tilted his head full of silver hair and asked, “What? D-o-u-r?”
I wanted to crawl under the table then and there.
Tink nodded, a smug, confident smile covering his face. “Yes.”
His father did not hesitate. “Dow-er.”
It was such a surprising, joyous moment that I clinched my fists, raised my arms in the air and cried out, “Thank you, Jesus!”
Tink’s face looked like a balloon that had just been pricked with a pin. His smile vanished. He sat straighter in his chair. “That’s not how you pronounce it. You always say do-er.”
Tinker, Senior, shook his head firmly. “No. It’s dower.”
I jumped up and hugged his neck. “Thank you!”
Any way you say it, heart-felt gratitude sounds good.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of the new book, “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign for her free weekly newsletter.]