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Pronouncing Literally, Battery Oddly
August 1, 2011 12:08 PM   Subscribe

Growing up, I knew someone who pronounced the word "literally" as "litrally", and "battery" as "battry". When I asked her why she did that, she said it was a vestigial habit from acting classes in college, which would have been in the late 1960s. Now, the guy who cut my hair pronounces things in that way, and, of course, there is Rob Lowe's character on "Parks and Recreation" who also does it. My question: Is this a thing? Is it a regionalism? Was it ever taught in acting or elocution classes? Or is it just an affectation?
posted by everichon to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
See Mid-Atlantic accent.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:12 PM on August 1, 2011


My mom (born in the '40s on a farm in northern Illinois) says both of these, as well as pronounces helicopter "HEE-li-copter." AFAIK, she's never taken any acting or elocution classes. I always assumed it was just mom talkin' weird or maybe passed down from her Irish relations.
posted by jabes at 12:22 PM on August 1, 2011


There's no explicit reference to my examples, but I was led to American Theater Standard by Iris Gambol's wiki link. That seems like a strong lead.
posted by everichon at 12:26 PM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I seem to say "literally" as "litrally" and "battery" as "battry".

I think I've got a mostly neutral English accent but a police detective once asked if it was "posh Yorkshire".
posted by BinaryApe at 12:27 PM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Related, but not quite on point: some actor friends of mine who were educated at the Atlantic Studio learned a weird mode of speech meant specifically for the theater. Up close, it sounds sort of like you've been to a Swiss boarding school, but when you hear it projected from the stage to the audience, it sounds much more normal than even "regular" speech. People who come only from a film background sometimes sound mushier on stage than theater actors, because they haven't mastered this sort of technique.

Anyway, the reason I bring it up is that one of my actor friends told me that Julianne Moore's weird accent in The Big Lebowski is what happens when you play up this accent and record it up close, as you would in a film. The result sounds like a bizarre, unplaceable affectation.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:28 PM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and: my instances are from Wisconsin and California, not counting Rob Lowe.
posted by everichon at 12:30 PM on August 1, 2011


I say those words like that, and it's not an affectation for me or for any of the innumerable people I know that do the same. I'm English. I'm guessing, as you didn't specify, that you are in the US?

As to why your acquaintance does this... Maybe there was something about acting classes at that time that inculcated a mid-Atlantic way of speaking?
posted by altolinguistic at 12:40 PM on August 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


It was taught as recently as the mid-2000s at NYU. I didn't take any of those classes, but I remember some of my acting student friends practicing "litt'rlly" in the dorm. From what I remember, students would first learn that manner of speech in order to learn how to craft accents and regionalisms.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:47 PM on August 1, 2011


My uncle's wife speaks that way too. Her mother is Scottish but she was born and raised in Texas. None of her siblings say "litrally" or "battry" so I just assumed it was affected.
posted by omarlittle at 12:52 PM on August 1, 2011


Thirding the suggestion that it's pretty normal in England to pronounce words like this. I think in linguistic terms they call it "syncope", and it basically like the deletion of unstressed vowels in these cases.

For me (Northern English), "battery" has two syllables, not three. "Literally" has three syllables instead of four, and its stem "literal" has likewise lost the unstressed vowel to become just two syllables instead of three.
posted by Jehan at 1:01 PM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


My former stepdad pronounced battery like "batt-ry". He was raised in Michigan by French-Canadian parents, FWIW.
posted by fishmasta at 1:35 PM on August 1, 2011


My uncles, grandpa, and at least one aunt say "battry." All are Wisconsinites, and I guarantee that none had theater training. I can't remember how they say "literally" since batteries are much more common conversation topics on the farm!
posted by Maarika at 1:38 PM on August 1, 2011


Yeah, this is standard in a lot of British accents. I say these words that way. It might be the case that in the second instance this person has interacted with Brits a lot.
posted by ob at 1:39 PM on August 1, 2011


For me (Australian/ UK), battery the object has two syllables, while battery the act has three. Do you notice a similar distinction?
posted by goo at 1:41 PM on August 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


Saying "battry" and "litrally" are very common here in Newfoundland, at least the part I live in. Might be the Irish influence, I'm not sure.
posted by futureisunwritten at 1:43 PM on August 1, 2011


battery the object has two syllables, while battery the act has three. Do you notice a similar distinction?

That, I have never heard in the wild. Thankfully, I guess, I don't hear "battery" in the sense of the act very often.
posted by everichon at 2:17 PM on August 1, 2011


I second goo (and am also Aus/UK background), with the extension that battery the object has two syllables, battery the act or the group of guns has three.
posted by pompomtom at 2:23 PM on August 1, 2011


More anecdata: my high school friend's dad sad battry. This in northeast Missouri, and I think he was born and raised there.
posted by attercoppe at 2:37 PM on August 1, 2011


Another 'me too' for Goo's Battery noun vs Battery verb difference. I'd never noticed that before, but I do it too.

I can't work out how I'd normally say "artillery battery" now, as I'm getting too self conscious.
posted by BinaryApe at 2:47 PM on August 1, 2011


My dad, and others who grew up with him in coal country, West Virginia, says "battry" and similar things. Not sure if it's a regional thing, or a holdover from the Scotch/Irish influence others have mentioned here.
posted by Rykey at 3:00 PM on August 1, 2011


My rural upstate NY forebears all said battry.
posted by jgirl at 3:02 PM on August 1, 2011


Please note there is a difference here: bat-tree and bat-ree. I have no idea where either comes from, but the former sounds mid atlantic to me, and the latter sounds like pre-1950s Brooklyn.
posted by gjc at 6:27 PM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Aww, you guys are making me miss my Grandpa. He said "bat-tree" but I don't know how he pronounced "literally". He was from Cobleskill NY. He was of mostly English stock.
posted by imalaowai at 7:44 PM on August 1, 2011


Aww, you guys are making me miss my Grandpa

Me too! He said battry - raised in Maine from 1915 on, English stock also.
posted by tristeza at 9:35 PM on August 1, 2011


Everyone in England pronounces them that way, as did my grandfather who was born in Maine. So it's definitely a thing.

As for your friend who picked it up in acting class, she was probably being taught by someone who thinks all actors should speak in an affected "Shakespearean" accent.
posted by Qongqothwane at 3:01 AM on August 2, 2011


Please note there is a difference here: bat-tree and bat-ree. I have no idea where either comes from, but the former sounds mid atlantic to me, and the latter sounds like pre-1950s Brooklyn.

I don't quite understand the difference you're referring to. I pronounce the word "battery" as either ['bætrɪ] or ['bæʔrɪ]. Are they the two pronunciations you mean?
posted by Jehan at 4:07 AM on August 2, 2011


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