Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Education and Writing, by Jess Lourey

I have two semi-related issues to discuss with you. The first is the pronunciation of the word “ribald.” Kirkus Reviews wrote of October Fest, it’s “funny, ribald, and teeming with small-town eccentrics.” (They also wrote some crap about the plot falling apart toward the end, but I can’t really remember that part—I subscribe to the ellipses method for getting the stains out of book reviews.) I was pretty happy with that little blurb and told lots of people about it, including a critically-acclaimed author out in New York I was trying to impress. Here’s howstupid my conversation with him went:

“Getting any reviews on your latest?”

“Yeah! Kirkus Reviews said October Fest is funny and ribald.”

Pause. “RYE-bald, hunh?”


It was that pause that signaled to me my pronunciation was off. Honestly, it was the first time I’d ever said the word out loud. I got off the phone and hurried to my computer. Turns out it is really pronounced “ribbled,” like how a giggling frog feels. Really. Hear it here.

I got to thinking. I consider myself pretty smart. In fact, I am an English professor, and a well-larded vocabulary and a tight-lipped stare of derision are prereqs for the job. However, my book reviews have consistently shown me how little I know. I had to look up “surfeit” when a reviewer of May Day wrote that the protagonist has a “surfeit of sass.” Another reviewer called her “insouciant” in June Bug. Now, I don’t want to embarrass you, but did you know that word is pronounced “in-soo-si-ent” and not “insooshiant?”

What kind of world is it we live in that reviews of my own books go over my head?

And now that I’ve established my credibility as a teacher of the written word, I am asking for your input. I’m creating mystery curriculum on behalf of an MWA committee I’m on. My goal is to create six teaching modules: three on mystery-focused creative imagewriting and three on mystery-focused literature/reading, each group divided by age lines (middle school, high school, and college). These modules will be available for any teacher to use, free, and will hopefully bring further legitimacy to the mystery genre as well as provide interested teachers a way to liven up their curriculum. What I’d like from you are suggestions as to the “best” mysteries out there. I’m looking for mostly dead authors so there is no favoritism, and as much gender variety and multiculturalism as possible. I could particularly use YA mystery suggestions. Within those guidelines, what should students be reading?


Janet Spaeth said...

I was laughing as I read your post. I just had this happen to me last week! I heard an MPR interviewer pronounce "imprimatur" a way I'd never heard it, and I asked my coworkers (all with grad degrees)how they pronounced it, and nobody said it the same way.

Well, I told them a bit sniffily, I pronounce the French way, eem pree mah ture, because it is, after all, a French word.

Except it's not. It's not spelled "imprimateur," the way I had it in my mind.

And "insouciant" becomes a very French word when I say it and probably makes me sound haughty.

But all haughtiness would disappear if someone asked me to say "ribald," because I'd say rye-bald too, knowing as I did it that it was wrong but having no idea how to correctly pronounce it. Ribbld, huh? Who makes this stuff up?

(Yes, I have a PhD in English but let's keep that between ourselves, OK?)

On to the project: What a great idea! I'll think about it and see what I can come up with.

Hope all is well with you!

Jess Lourey said...

I would *love* any suggestions you have, Janet. I didn't even think of asking librarians--duh! Next time you're meeting with the gang and you're all vandalizing buildings, flipping cars, and discussing books (my idea of a librarian's day off), please do ask for ideas. I think you've got this, but my email is jesslourey@yahoo.com, or I follow you pretty closely on Facebook.

Now I'm off to look up the pronunciation of "imprimatur."

Jess Lourey said...

Im-prih-MAH-tor? What the helicopter?

Jaymie said...

The teaching modules sound great. Greatest mysteries? I always enjoyed "And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie.

Beth Groundwater said...

LOL, Jess! I would have mispronounced ribald, too. Learn something new every day...

Anyway, to suggest a historical ribald mystery series for your classes, I love Dorothy L Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey series.

Jess Lourey said...

Thanks, Jaymie and Beth! Christie (and particularly "And Then There Were None") and Sayers are now at the very top of my list.

*Beth, you get extra credit for using ribald in a sentence.

Cricket McRae said...

I've always pronounced ribald "rye-bald" and I don't think I want to stop. Because pronounced that way the word *sounds* like a vulgar, lewdly funny person. "Ribbled" sounds so cute it saps the punch right out of the word.

A couple suggestions for mysteries: The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne (yep, Winnie the Pooh guy) and Death and the Good Life by Richard Hugo.

Congrats on the review!

Jess Lourey said...

I agree, Cricket. "Rye-bald" works, "ribbled" does not. Three cheers for intentional ignorance!

Thank you for this:

The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne (yep, Winnie the Pooh guy) and Death and the Good Life by Richard Hugo.

I will research--hadn't heard of either.

Shannon said...

I say we officially change the pronunciation of ribald. But you can't trust those NPR guys. My husband and I heard them say something was a DEBacle. We've jokingly used that pronunciation so much we have a hard time saying dey-BAH-kul now.

G.M. Malliet said...

This is a job for the DorothyL listserve. They'll have tons of suggestions.

I can hardly pronounce anything. I read a lot, but not aloud, and only when reading aloud do I realize my ignorance.

Jess Lourey said...

Ha! I love a blog thread that makes fun of NPR. Yay for smart people, Shannon! :)

Gin, good suggestion. I'm scared to go back into DorothyL, though. They can be, um...what's the word I'm looking for? And who can I pay (in gum) to post the question and cull the responses for me?

Jessie Chandler said...

It's RYE-bald all the way, Jessie 1! Great post, but I'm brain dead and out of suggestions for you :-)

Jess Lourey said...

I appreciate you checking in nonetheless, Jessie 2, and will give you until Malice to come up with a brilliant suggestion. That's the kinda gal I am.

Shel said...

I'm scared of DorothyL too. Wandered in once and left pretty fast when most of the conversation went whoooosh over my head! And I considered myself fairly knowledgeable about books until then...
I hung out at rec.arts.mystery for awhile though.
Anyway - YA mysteries. How about "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" ? Also possibly Alan Bradley's Flavia deLuce series?

Jess Lourey said...

Thank you, Shel! I will definitely check those out...checking--wow! The Flavia deLuce books look perfect for teaching kids about mysteries. Excellent recommendation!

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Glad I'm not the only one who has to look up pronounciations all the time. There are so many words we understand but never use in conversation. At least my circle doesn't and a lot of them are writers!

Mara T said...

What about something from the Ellis Peters Brother Cadfael series? She did such a wonderful job of creating not just fascinating characters, but an entire world.