31 Comments

  1. I think Andréa has it. The other (verb) “err” is pronounced differently, more like “air”.
    P.S. In recent months I’ve noticed that answers to radio interview questions frequently begin with the word “So,…” – I find this rather annoying, because it makes it sound like the whole interview was pre-composed, and the interviewee is merely responding with boilerplate to a staged question. Anyone else notice this?

  2. What’s to understand? Stage Left woman acknowledges that she’s harsh and unforgiving (about vocabulary) in a witty, self-deprecating way.

  3. Kilby – I’m not sure what you mean about sounding pre-composed. “So,…” is used in that kind of situation as a segue, either when changing topics or following up on something the interviewee said previously.

    I’m not sure how the words the interviewer uses can contribute to making the interviewee’s answers sound scripted. (Plus, it’s normal for an interviewer to have questions prepared ahead of time.)

  4. I’m not sure why she considers slightly unusual words unforgivable, nor why that’s a joke.

  5. @ Powers – Yes, I know that the questions are set beforehand, and it’s clear that the interviewees know what they would like to discuss. But as you so accurately described, “so” sort of indicates a change of subject, or a return to an earlier one. To my ear, it sounds out of place as an answer to a direct question. At best, it’s the same kind of meaningless “filler word” as “er…” or “you know…”, and belongs on the same grammatic rubbish heap.
    P.S. “Hey, you interviewees! Get of my lawn!” 😉

  6. @ ignatzz – I don’t understand that either. I still agree with Andréa’s original hypothesis: I thing the point of the joke is a conflation of the verb “err” with the filler particle “er”. The latter word can hardly claim to have a fixed spelling(*), and it’s not that understandable why anyone would object to the verb that much.
    P.S. I was somewhat disappointed that “ew” was adopted into the new Scrabble dictionary with only one “w”. I think it needs at least two or three to express an adequate amount of revultion.

  7. Carlfink, I think you err slightly in calling her location “stage left”. From the actors’ viewpoint on stage, she is on the right. From our view, in the audience, she is indeed on the left — that puts her at “house left” though “stage right”.

    Kilby, as Powers is suggesting, the “so…” has been widely discussed. I’ve seen it called “condescending” but haven’t picked up on the reason for that. I don’t see your concern about “pre-composed” . I generally don’t mind it, and when I do, the reason, if I can articulate one, is about the presumption of continuity.

    The verb “err” has long been subject to a pronunciation dispute. Or rather, to an insistence on “correcting it”. By now I no longer remember which was supposed to be the error and which the correction. Speaking of “error”, that is obviously related, and may be why many people want to pronounce the word “err” like the first syllable of “error” — similar to, but for me not quite identical to, the word “air”, which has a bit higher vowel.

  8. “I’m not sure why she considers slightly unusual words unforgivable”

    It doesn’t have to make sense. People have their little bugaboos, and that’s that. It’s just something that is.

    “nor why that’s a joke.”

    The joke is that she condemns someone else’s quirk (unforgiveable), but expects acceptance of her own quirk.

  9. I don’t think it has anything to do with filler words. It is the irony of someone using the expression that talks about the platitude of forgiveness as unforgivable.

  10. “I think Andréa has it. The other (verb) “err” is pronounced differently, more like “air”.”

    Pronounced differently than what? Where in this strip is anyone getting the idea that anyone is pronouncing anything as “er”? And if “err” is pronounced differently than “er” doesn’t that mean Andrea *doesn’t* have it as in *both* cases in this strip she is referring to the world “err” and nowhere is she mentioning the interjection “er”.

    “The latter word can hardly claim to have a fixed spelling, and it’s not that understandable why anyone would object to the verb that much.”

    It’s not that understandable why anyone would object to the interjection that much either.

    And if she were talking about the interjection “er” she wouldn’t have referred to it as “the word ‘err'”. “er” isn’t a word. It’s an interjection.

    I don’t know why she objects to “err” that much but I figured its probably because she thought it was pretentious.

    “nor why that’s a joke.”

    It’s in contrast with the adage “To forgive divine”. It’s ironic. Or an attempt at irony. It’s not a very good joke. And it doesn’t stand up to even the slightest analysis.

  11. I wonder if Vic Lee is pleased that his humble panel has engendered this much discussion, or if he is more of the school of don’t-you-internet-geeks-have-anything-better-to-do?

  12. I think BillClay has it.

    But an alternate theory is that she thinks using “err” is pretentious, because the *proper* term for the concept, which all *real world* people now seem to use, is “f*ck up.”

  13. Yes, I have noticed “So…” in interview questions. I was thinking about this just the other day. Often, the answers begin that way too. But I have noticed more and more lately, answers begin, “I mean…” Or maybe both, “So, I mean…”

    I hear this mostly on NPR, since that is where I’m most likely to hear a radio interview. I’ve noticed it even with foreign speakers. So, I mean. it’s not just an American phenomenon.

  14. @ Mitch4 – I was not aware of the discussion about “So…“, all I noticed was that it was gradually seeping through the airwaves. Like for jajizi, for me this is mostly on NPR, which is one of only two stations that broadcasts in English in Berlin. The other one is BBC World, which is unpalatably violent, and should be renamed “Blood, Bombs, & Conflict”, honoring their programming maxim: “If it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead“.
    P.S. Thanks to Andréa for catching the typo. I meant “revulsion”, not “revolution”.

  15. Seamus Heaney used “So.” as the first word of his translation of Beowulf, and explains why if you scroll down this page a bit: https://www.mhpbooks.com/did-everyone-get-the-first-line-of-beowulf-wrong-or-did-seamus-heaney-get-it-right/

    “Conventional renderings of hwæt, the first word of the poem, tend towards the archaic literary, with ‘lo’, ‘hark’, ‘behold’, ‘attend’ and – more colloquially – ‘listen’ being some of the solutions offered previously. But in Hiberno-English Scullion-speak, the particle ‘so’ came naturally to the rescue, because in that idiom ‘so’ operates as an expression that obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention. So, ‘so’ it was:

    “So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
    and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
    We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.”

    I often hear “So” used by various academics in discussions as in the BBC4 Radio programme In Our Time, which is broadcast live. It does seem to be a kind of throat-clearing pay-attention kind of word.

  16. Kilby – My apologies, as I misread your initial comment. I thought you were talking about “So” as a lead in to an interviewer’s question, but you were talking about it as a filler word used at the beginning of an interviewee’s answer.

    To that I would suggest that it’s natural to start a reply to a question with a short phrase or single word, so as to get the basic answer out right away before delving into a deeper explanation. Many answers thus begin “Yes, but…” or “No, and…” or “Not really, but…” or “Sort of”, vel cetera. If the answer defies such brief summation, it’s natural to put a word there that implies there’s a more complex explanation coming; “Well” and “So” serve that purpose.

  17. Interesting discussion. A few points:
    ‘Err’ and ‘er’ cannot be confused in speech. ‘Er’ is a British (r-dropping) spelling of ‘uh’. I remember being confused similarly by the spelling of emphatic ‘the’ by A.A. Milne, when Christopher Robin says his bear’s name is ‘Winnie-ther-Pooh’. Possibly some people read ‘er’ as ‘ur’ but I doubt that anyone uses that as a pause.
    ‘Err’ can rhyme with either ‘her’ or ‘hair’. YCLIU. The former used to be standard but the latter seems to have overtaken it. Possibly the woman in the comic finds the ‘her’ pronunciation unbearably pretentious . To remember the once-dominant pronunciation, remember the verse about a once-sensational romance novelist and scriptwriter:
    Would you like to sin
    With Elinor Glyn
    On a tiger skin?
    Or would you prefer
    To err with her
    On some other fur?
    I’ve noticed in recent months that the majority of Jeopardy! contestants, when introducing themselves after the first commercial break, start their spiel with ‘so’. It annoys me.
    Re ‘“er” isn’t a word. It’s an interjection.’: it’s both. Look up ‘interjection’.

  18. I read “eh?” in dialogue (and not even mock-Canadian!) without realizing it is meant to capture the interjection people pronounce just like the name of the letter A. I wasn’t bothered by the fact that I had never heard people utter just a non-diphthong “short e” sound (as in “red”) as a word in itself — except for what I was hearing in my head.

  19. (That was a “used to read” it that way — long ago.)

    But on that tangent, I also was stymied by “Uh-huh” (and occasional variants) in dialog. I swear, there were authors who wrote it that way even when the context was very clearly calling for disagreement. So in a way the problem was in not using variants.

    I doubt WP will support a table in HTML, so I’ll as you to mentally construct a simple 2X2 (with labels) , where we have columns “affirmative” and “negative” and rows “oral” and “nasal”. People do utter more than these, to be sure, but I suggest this set is needed to capture the basics needed for dialog.

    The upper left would be that “uh-huh” but I can’t say what spelling would be best for the others. And actually I wouldn’t want to see regimentation over this, just hints to writers that there are at least this many variants, and they should try to develop some self-consistency.

    And don’t get me started on yeah / yea / yay!

  20. “The upper left would be that “uh-huh” but I can’t say what spelling would be best for the others.”

    Negative is “nuh-uh”, although possibly with some typographical emphasis on the final syllable when appropriate.

    “She loves me, yeah / yea / yay!”

    With a love like that, you know you should be glad.

  21. I have heard people say “eh” not as “ay” but like the “e” in “let.” Used by a non-Jewish person it means about the same as “meh” used by a Jewish person.
    When in the supermarket:
    [holding up a frozen pizza] “How about this?”
    “Yeah!”
    [holding up a frozen package of turnips] “How about this?”
    “No way.”
    [holding up a frozen package of peas] “How about this?”
    “Eh.”

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