Damon Younger: Confession: I write for a residing, however I can’t pronounce any phrases

(Monique Wray for The Washington Post)
(Monique Wray for The Washington Publish)

It was 2015 or 2016. I used to be on a panel with 4 different folks, and there have been roughly 300 folks within the viewers. I had been quiet for a number of minutes, with a thought brewing that I used to be anxious to say. However after I grabbed the mic and ready to talk, I used to be paralyzed with worry. The thought included a sentence that was constructed round “zeitgeist” — a phrase that I’d learn and written dozens of instances, and was an ideal match for the smart-arty academese of the room. However I’d by no means stated it aloud earlier than and had no thought the right way to truly pronounce it. So, when it was time to talk, I leaned so shut into the mic you’d suppose I used to be praying to it, and I double-time mumble-whispered “zay-ta-get-tee.

Thankfully, nobody within the viewers stood up with “That is extra of a remark query than a query query, however, Damon, dude, what the hell was that?” I believe they simply attributed it to some Pittsburgh-specific enunciation and moved on.

I want I might say this was the one time one thing like that occurred. However the act of claiming phrases aloud has all the time kicked my a–, has all the time made me really feel like Batman within the sewer getting his again cracked by Bane, and it feels prefer it’s occurring increasingly.

There are the phrases I do know very effectively and use often — I learn them in essays and books, and on social media, and I incorporate them in my very own writing — however I’ve by no means stated them aloud. “Zeitgeist” is one apparent instance (I understand how to say it now). I’ve additionally positively pronounced “meme” as “me-me” in entrance of individuals, I believe I understand how to say “quinoa,” however I’m scared to strive, and … effectively, I’m simply going to cease right here.

After which there are the phrases that I understand how to say however simply … can’t. A disconnect occurs within the house between the phrase present in my mind and it leaving my mouth, the place the bodily act of enunciation turns into insurmountable. Some phrases, like “rural,” are tough for many individuals, and I take solace in that. After which there are some phrases, like “sample” and “trendy” — which I pronounce “pat-ter-ren” and “mod-er-ren,” giving the two-syllable phrases a long-lost step-syllable — which might be simple for 5-year-olds, however for me it’s like talking Dothraki.

The worst of them is “hallelujah,” which I can’t even say if I pronounce it one letter at a time, and every time it turns my tongue into origami it makes me really feel 8 % much less Black.

Oh, and I’m a nice reader — with fast tempo, good stamina and simple retention — till I’m requested to learn one thing aloud. My mouth will get juicy, my breath will get shaky and my voice does a magic trick the place it sounds each over- and undercooked, like a cake baked with the warmth too excessive.

An evidence for these pronunciation points begins with my generalized anxiousness, which is why I drink earlier than panels now. (Curious how the IRS feels concerning the restocking of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey as knowledgeable deduction.)

Additionally, I don’t have sufficient in-person conversations to listen to a essential mass of phrases and develop an natural understanding of how a few of them are stated. (Once I was 3, my dad and mom, anxious that I not often talked, took me to a physician, fearing that I might need a developmental concern. After giving me a few assessments, the physician reported again: “It’s not that he can’t speak. He’s fantastic. He simply doesn’t really feel prefer it.”) An upside of my lifelong introversion is that it cultivated a carnivorous urge for food for phrases, however a draw back is that I’d fairly speak to myself, in my head, than to different folks.

After which there’s the truth that Pittsburgh is within the Appalachian Mountains. Which makes me a Black Appalachian. Which suggests my accent is a few unruly hybrid of Wu-Tang groomed urbanite and Black hillbilly. I sound like somebody tried to re-create RZA’s voice from sight, and a few phrases simply don’t agree with my mouth.

The worst is “hallelujah,” which I can’t even say if I pronounce it one letter at a time.

Possibly I’d be fantastic with this if I had the type of occupation that didn’t require a lot speech. I don’t know what occupation that’s. (A watchmaker? A henchman killed by John Wick?) I’m certain one exists. However there’s an expectation of linguistic fluidity after I do speak, and every time I butcher one other Fisher-Worth phrase, I really feel the ghosts of James Baldwin and Maya Angelou on my neck, taunting me with the whispers of over-enunciated adverbs. (“Flawlessly.” “Impeccably.” “Schematically.”)

An irony right here is that I’m actively selecting to do issues now that require even extra speech and studying of issues aloud. I recorded my very own audiobook as an alternative of hiring a voice actor, and I simply wrapped the primary season of a podcast the place every episode started and concluded with me studying a brief essay. You’d should pay me in untraceable money to influence me to truly take heed to my total audiobook, however I really feel much less anxious now, about my voice and the way I pronounce phrases, than I ever have. Possibly I’ll get higher on the phrases I’m unhealthy at. Or perhaps I’ll proceed to find new phrases to butcher. Or perhaps each. Both means, I believe that is only a factor about myself that I’ve grown to just accept, and I believe that’s value celebrating. Hallelujah!

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