Thursday, January 19, 2012

Word peeve: nuclear

In my previous two peeves, I pointed out a couple of metaphors that get regularly mangled. Somebody is sure to tell me that the English language is constantly evolving, and I might as well accept the fact that these mangled metaphors are part of that evolution. To this, I reply "Oh, I hope not."

However, I think may as well wave the white flag on this next one.

Nuclear power entered civilization's collective consciousness with a bang - two bangs, in fact, in Japan, in 1945. Fortunately, those were the only two times that the nuclear demon has been unleashed in anger. After the war, the demon was harnessed and put to work to create steam and electrical power.

Along the way, English-speaking people began increasingly to mispronounce the word "nuclear". It's like the missing "r" in "library" and "February": some do, some don't, and the ones that do, sound stupid. I'm sorry, but it's true.

The correct pronunciation is "NOO-clear". Or maybe "NOOK-lear". They sound the same to me.

The wrong pronunciation is "NOOK-you-ler." It sounds like "jugular", but with "nuke" replacing "jug". If that were the right way to say it, wouldn't we spell it "nucular"? But we don't, do we?

Go ahead and call me intolerant. I'm also intolerant of the sound of fingernails scratching on a chalkboard, and "nucular" sounds about the same to me as those fingernails.

But like I said, I'm fighting a losing battle. U.S. President Jimmy Carter always pronounced it "NOOK-you-ler". Before he was president, he was a millionaire peanut farmer. And before that, he was an officer in the U.S. Navy.

In the submarine corps.

As a nuclear engineer.

And he has a lot more credibility than I do.

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