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It was loud, anyway



Mike Watts saw a newspaper report on a perfect game pitched by Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners. "In the article, the word 'crescendo' is used, as it is more often than not, incorrectly," Watts writes. "Describing the crowd's chanting in support of Hernandez, it says 'A crescendo was reached at 3:02 p.m. PDT when Hernandez threw a called third strike past Sean Rodriguez.' A crescendo is not the peak, not something to be reached, but, rather, as my dictionary defines it, 'a gradual increase in loudness,' i.e., the build-up, not the peak."

That's the way I learned it too, but when I checked my Random House Unabridged, I discovered that I may have learned imperfectly. The first definition for crescendo given by RH is "A musical term for a gradual steady increase in loudness or force." But further on, the dictionary says that crescendo can also mean "The climactic point or moment in such an increase; peak: The authorities finally took action when public outrage reached a crescendo." The on-line Merriam-Webster says the same thing.

If a word is used a certain way by many people for a long time, dictionaries sometimes come to recognize that usage. Individuals don't have to agree. Those who prefer the old crescendo can find support in Garner's Modern American Usage:

"Crescendo refers to a gradual increase in the volume of sound, not to a blast or even to a peak. To say that something reaches a crescendo is woolly-minded."

Or maybe I was thinking of Joe Louie, the boxer:

"In your Aug. 22 column, you refer to 'Louie' Armstrong. His name was 'Louis,' you woolhead. Get right or get out."– Cy O'Naura

Louis is indeed correct. I guess I was thinking of the pronunciation Looey, which is sometimes used for Louis, as in "Meet me in St. Looey, Looey," and "You've come a long way from St. Looey." But since the great trumpeter and singer was from New Orleans, not St. Lewis, those songs are irrelevant, I suppose. People on the Internet say he himself pronounced his name with an s, and now I seem to remember that in "Hello, Dolly" (not "Hello, Dollis") he sang "This is Louis, Dolly."

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