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Bobby Bare sang about DEE-troit City:

Paul Murray writes, “Is there a word for the tendency to (incorrectly) emphasize the first syllable of words? This tendency used to be limited to words like HO-tel and PO-lice and UM-brella and IN-surance. Then along came DEE-fence, DEE-fence, DEE-fence. Now it seems that that the first syllables of more and more words are being incorrectly emphasized. Today on the news I heard DEE-segregation.”

Regarding defense, Garner’s Dictionary of Modern American Usage says, “The standard pronunciation has long been with the accent on the second syllable. But primarily as a result of sports talk, the accent has shifted to the first syllable. If you want to sound like a general or a lawyer, use the first of these pronunciations; if you want to sound like a sports announcer or a cheerleader, use the second.” Sports announcers and cheerleaders say AH-fence too. I don’t know a word for this particular type of mispronunciation.

Desegregate is kind of a special case. It seems to me that ever since desegregate came into wide usage during the civil rights struggles of the ’50s and ’60s, most people have emphasized the first syllable, to more clearly distinguish desegregate from segregate. That desegregate came into use at all is because someone decided that putting a few black students in a formerly all-white school did not constitute true integration, but only desegregation. A hair-splitting distinction, but it stuck.



“Kane Pohl, who had the highest total weight in the opening two rounds of the Bassmaster Legends, made today’s six-man cut by a mere 3 ounces. While Pohl was the modicum of composure and joked to the capacity crowd on the weigh-in stage at the Statehouse Convention Center, his wife, Mae, was a bundle of nerves.”

I suppose the writer intended “model of composure.” Modicum is a noun meaning “a moderate or small amount.” It’s preceded by a, not the, and it’s not a word to describe a person, though a person can possess a modicum of some quality or other: “Mrs. Pohl had only a modicum of composure.”


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