Trying hard is good, but trying too hard is another matter. Hypercorrection is the technical term for mistakes in grammar, punctuation, or pronunciation that result from trying too hard to be correct.

Perhaps the most common hypercorrection involves pronouns. We constantly hear things like Keep this between you and I or The Wilsons invited he and his wife to lunch. In those examples, the correct choices are the object pronouns me instead of I and him instead of he (me is an object of the preposition between; him is a direct object of invited). The authors of such sentences seem to have decided that I and he sound more classy than me and him, so they must be correct.

Here are a few more examples of this vain tactic:

Often  All dictionaries list two pronunciations, OFF-en and OFF-tun, but OFF-tun is classic hypercorrection. The t should be silent, as it is in soften and many other English words (e.g., listen, moisten, Christmas). Ninety years ago Henry Fowler wrote in Modern English Usage that the t in often is pronounced “by two oddly consorted classes—the academic speakers who affect a more precise enunciation than their neighbours’ [and] the uneasy half-literates who like to prove that they can spell.”

“A $8,000 price tag”  You run across items like this in newspapers from time to time. The copy editor chose the article a, rather than an, even though anyone reading aloud would say “an eight-thousand-dollar price tag.” Acting on the principle that an is used only before a vowel, the copy editor concluded that a dollar sign preceding a numeral cannot be considered a vowel—therefore a was the clear choice. In truth, the rule states that an is used before all vowel sounds. The letter h is not a vowel either, but no copy editor would prescribe “a honor.”

“The Jag-wires have scored 90 points in their past two games,” said the sportscaster. He was talking about a professional football team called the Jacksonville Jaguars (American pronunciation: JAG-wahrs). The mistake was hardly an isolated incident; many announcers say “Jag-wires” over the course of the six-month pro-football season. Here is why: The most avid football fans in America are from the South, and many Southern Americans say “wahr,” “far,” and “tar” instead of wire, fire, and tire. Professional broadcasters are required to remove all traces of regional accents from their speech. In their zeal to speak unaccented English, these announcers sometimes overcompensate with “ire” when words contain an “ahr” sound, even though, like jaguar, it belongs there.

And that is how hypercorrection has unleashed upon the world the dreaded jag-wire.

Posted on Tuesday, March 1, 2016, at 5:39 pm

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