How do you pronounce 'read'?
May 29, 2008 5:37 PM   Subscribe

How do you pronounce the word 'read' when used in the following context? -- 'John is dry (read: boring).' /rɛd/ or /rid/ Thanks!
posted by gman to Writing & Language (122 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
"reed"
posted by Carol Anne at 5:41 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's the past tense. Read like the color.

Think of it this way:

"The statement 'John is dry' is read as 'John is boring.'"
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 5:42 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


I say "reed" (whichever one of those is that). As in "I command you to read my statement as this."
posted by phunniemee at 5:42 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I also read it as a command.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:43 PM on May 29, 2008


I vote "red".
posted by jabberjaw at 5:43 PM on May 29, 2008


It looks like the imperative to me: pronounce it as "reed".
posted by maudlin at 5:44 PM on May 29, 2008


It's an imperative. "reed".
posted by tkolar at 5:44 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Reed.
posted by mecran01 at 5:44 PM on May 29, 2008


Another vote for "reed".
posted by blue mustard at 5:45 PM on May 29, 2008


Reed.
posted by phrontist at 5:49 PM on May 29, 2008


Reed. Never even noticed the ambiguity.
posted by contraption at 5:51 PM on May 29, 2008


Imperative, thus "reed".
posted by dhartung at 5:51 PM on May 29, 2008


Reed.
posted by Jimbob at 5:52 PM on May 29, 2008


Wow, I had no idea anyone said it differently. I understand it and say it as a command too ("reed"), though for what it's worth, it's something I write far more often than I say it.
posted by Kosh at 5:54 PM on May 29, 2008


Reed.
posted by pompomtom at 5:56 PM on May 29, 2008


It's the past tense. Read lirke the color.

This is wrong, and you should try not to state your personal usage as a Fact About the World. It's an imperative, pronounced /rid/; you can clearly see the development of usage from this OED entry:

9. a. To adopt, give, or exhibit as a reading in a particular passage. Hence, to substitute or understand for (what is said or written).
1659 HAMMOND Acts xv. Annot., The Æthiopick and other interpreters retain.., what you would not have done to your selves, do not ye to another,.. for which other Jewish writers read, doing as they would be done to. 1697 BENTLEY Phal. 20, I cannot..comprehend why the most learned Is. Casaubon will read σπεύδοντα in this passage, and not σπένδοντα. 1759 RUDDIMAN Animadver. Vind. Buchanan 60 Instead of.. sexagesimo quinto, we should read,.. sexagesimo nono. 1847 MADDEN Layamon's Brut. III. 346 For Lovaine some copies of Wace read Alemaigne. 1868 M. E. G. DUFF Pol. Survey 16 For monasteries, we should read convents, mission-houses, and seminaries. 1966 ‘A. HALL’ 9th Directive xxi. 193 For snatch read abduction. For swop read exchange. Never a bloody spade. 1967 Listener 4 May 593/2 Links between the cultures of ‘Indonesia’ (read southeast Asia) and west and central Africa.
posted by languagehat at 5:57 PM on May 29, 2008 [48 favorites]


pronounced /rid/

Er, just to be clear, that's "pronounced like the word reed." Sorry!
posted by languagehat at 6:00 PM on May 29, 2008


I would think it would depend on whether you would read it as an abbreviation of "read x like this" (the imperative) or "x is read like this" (the passive).

Am I dumb for not being able to clearly see the development of usage from that OED entry and what it has to do with this example of the reading of read?
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 6:05 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


"reed"

It's an imperative.
posted by limeonaire at 6:08 PM on May 29, 2008


"For snatch read abduction." is in the OED entry. Your example was basically "for dry read boring."
posted by bcwinters at 6:14 PM on May 29, 2008


"Red".

It bugs me when people say it the other way. I guess you can make an argument for either way, but if you pronounce it as an imperative ("reed"), your sentence shifts abruptly from the passive voice "John is boring" to the imperative "read this!"—and to my ears, that makes a clunky sentence.

I think of it as an aside which qualifies the word "dry"—a compound adjective, rather than a verb. Compare to these other structures:

Her name is Betty Smith (neé Andrews).
I owe you twenty dollars (less three for the beer).

I wonder if there are regional variations in the pronounciation? Of course, it's not actually pronounced very often, so I doubt there are any widely recognized conventions.
posted by greenie2600 at 6:14 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Reed.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:16 PM on May 29, 2008


It's a command, so you say it "reed."
posted by lilac girl at 6:20 PM on May 29, 2008


Imperative. Reed.
posted by desuetude at 6:26 PM on May 29, 2008


Reed. As everyone else has noted, it's a command, which the colon reinforces. Without the colon, it would arguably be read as "red."
posted by decoherence at 6:27 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've always heard and said past tense "Red".
posted by VictoriaSavi at 6:32 PM on May 29, 2008


I find GooseOnTheLoose's analysis here the best in all respects, so far.

As a simple country boy, the OED argument mystifies me as well. It'd be interesting to find a relevant etymological study, however.

Perhaps it would be useful to consider synonyms that have more distinct passive and imperative forms. For example:

1. My magpie is named Ghoti (pronounced: fish).
2. My magpie is named Ghoti (pronounce: fish).

I prefer the former, will those of you who prefer "reed" vouch for the latter?
posted by brownbat at 6:34 PM on May 29, 2008


My inclination is to say "reed," following the reasoning above. Just to mess with your heads, though, I would say "red" in the following circumstance, as dictated by the tense: "Robin Hood understood that defying the Sheriff's suggested donation (read: tax) meant death or, at the very least, a lifetime of outlawry."

But in the main, I'd side with the reasoning of the clear majority above. Of course, this crowd's answers always lean toward the imperative!
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:34 PM on May 29, 2008


Read (pronounced: /reed/, written: read)

Wait, I change my mind. For 'reed' read 'red'. No wait. Oh, fuck it.
posted by fleacircus at 6:36 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


/rid/. I always think of it as a command.
posted by thisjax at 6:41 PM on May 29, 2008


Read (pronounced: /reed/, written: read)

Read (pronounced: "red")

Read (pronounce: "reed")

I agree with brownbat.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:43 PM on May 29, 2008


Imperative, reed.

The construction would be different for the "red" pronunciation. "Dry is read as boring," or "dry should be read as boring."

GooseOnTheLoose: not so much dumb as inattentive perhaps? OED states and demonstrates that the construct developed as a present and active usage, not a passive or a passive usage.
posted by gentilknight at 6:47 PM on May 29, 2008


As a simple country boy, the OED argument mystifies me as well. It'd be interesting to find a relevant etymological study, however.

That's what the "OED argument" is. The parenthetical use of the phrase originated from the imperative use "For snatch read abduction., etc.", which in turn comes from the earlier uses cited. The parenthetical is just a recasting of the imperative.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:48 PM on May 29, 2008


>iI find GooseOnTheLoose's analysis here the best in all respects, so far.

Well, except for the respect that it is factually incorrect. Languagehat has it and has cited an appropriate reference. That you and others disagree with or don't understand it is neither here nor there.

"Reed". It's an imperative.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 6:49 PM on May 29, 2008 [5 favorites]


er, past or passive usage.
posted by gentilknight at 6:50 PM on May 29, 2008


I'd say "read", as in "read this to mean blah".
posted by divabat at 7:00 PM on May 29, 2008


So you prefer (prounounce: ...) to (pronounced: ...)?
posted by brownbat at 7:03 PM on May 29, 2008


It bugs me when people say it the other way. I guess you can make an argument for either way, but if you pronounce it as an imperative ("reed"), your sentence shifts abruptly from the passive voice "John is boring" to the imperative "read this!"—and to my ears, that makes a clunky sentence.

That's why it's "reed" -- because the sentence is, in that moment, using the imperative to direct the reader to reconsider a word that was just read as having one meaning to instead take another meaning. It is clunky, because you are using the authorial voice to control the reader. You can also do this with other words (as in: "as in"), which perform a similar function of layering meaning and directing the reader. It works sometimes, but often ends up reading as very precious and affected.

To have it be read as "red," you would need a sentence that clarified that the aside was not an imperative. Something like "John's use of dry humor (read as boring by even his friends) was not effective in his MetaFilter postings." In this case, it is "red" because it is his friends who are doing the reading, not you or I (the actual reader of the sentence) who are being directed to read it a certain way.
posted by Forktine at 7:03 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


So you prefer (prounounce: ...) to (pronounced: ...)?

No, but that doesn't matter, because it's a different word.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:08 PM on May 29, 2008


I pronounce it /rɛd/, which is, technically, the correct answer to the question that was asked.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:12 PM on May 29, 2008


I'm with 'red'. It's clearly not an imperative; it's short for "it's read this way".

The replacement with 'pronounced' further clinches it for me.
posted by ShooBoo at 7:16 PM on May 29, 2008


It's clearly not an imperative

It's always an imperative.
posted by ryanhealy at 7:19 PM on May 29, 2008 [5 favorites]


This new question made me think of a great example. Would you say "think blue man group" or "thought blue man group"?
posted by phunniemee at 7:21 PM on May 29, 2008 [5 favorites]


Reid
posted by blue_beetle at 7:22 PM on May 29, 2008


"No, but that doesn't matter, because it's a different word."

The confusion arises because of the homonym. Substituting a synonym both removes the homonym and clarifies our intuitions.

I admit I am curious about the contrast between these intuitions and the OED.
posted by brownbat at 7:33 PM on May 29, 2008


I don't understand how there is still confusion well after the OED explains the entomology that led it to be pronounced "reed". Coming up with logical arguments for why it should be pronounced as you say it is strange prescriptive linguistics.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:37 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


etymology, not entomology! Sheesh, haha.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:38 PM on May 29, 2008


Once again, I must applaud the general intelligence and lucidity of 'languagehat' and publicly express my mystification of the weird and pervasive ignorance so many native English speakers have of their own language.

As a simple country boy, the OED argument mystifies me as well. It'd be interesting to find a relevant etymological study, however.

Perhaps it would be useful to consider synonyms that have more distinct passive and imperative forms. For example:

1. My magpie is named Ghoti (pronounced: fish).
2. My magpie is named Ghoti (pronounce: fish).

I prefer the former, will those of you who prefer "reed" vouch for the latter?


The above is an entirely misleading example. Why? Because that "think: boring" bit is telling you to do something; it's clearly an imperative. It's an aside, a folksy and somewhat sly, sarcastic way of pretending to not "officially" say that John is boring but still making it perfectly clear that well, in the opinion of the writer, John is boring. It's the literary equivalent of an actor directly addressing the audience.

The Ghoti example isn't asking you to pronounce Ghoti as "fish," it's simply stating a fact. There's no folksiness there. There's no quasi-hidden implication. There's no change of voice (i.e. switching from the third person to the second) that there is with the boring John example.

I'm appalled at people who are confused by this. If "read" were visually differentiated in its past and present tenses, no one would be arguing for the case above to be pronounced "red."

An easy way of verifying this is via the incredibly simple method of substituting a viable synonym for "read" in the original sentence.

Hence:

'John is dry (think: boring).' <> 'John is dry (thought: boring).' <>
The latter makes little sense here. One could say, "John is dry and thought boring." But those parentheses mean something. They indicate a change of voice or an aside - some sort of deviation from the rest of the text - in which case only the imperative form of the verb makes sense.

I think of it as an aside which qualifies the word "dry"—a compound adjective, rather than a verb. Compare to these other structures:

Her name is Betty Smith (neé Andrews).
I owe you twenty dollars (less three for the beer).


I'd almost respect this (although it's clearly wrong), as it least it seems as if some effort towards a logical understanding was attempted. Yet it's a very flat way of reading English, to assume that any aside must refer to the subject of the phrase (such as "Betty Smith" or "twenty dollars") - simply because it so often does - and that these asides cannot function as something different, such as a redirection of the speaker's voice. For me, this point is what languagehat's quotation from the OED makes perfectly clear. If you can't understand the OED selection, don't comprehend the development of your own usage, or are a simple villager unskilled at the logic herein, you probably shouldn't try to flawed ideas as an exemplar of what is acceptable usage.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:39 PM on May 29, 2008 [19 favorites]


definitely red.
posted by alitorbati at 7:42 PM on May 29, 2008


Hats off to phunniemee, who beat me to my example of thought / think by virtue of writing a shorter post! I swear I was not plagiarizing.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:42 PM on May 29, 2008


Reed.
posted by Nattie at 7:59 PM on May 29, 2008


FWIW, I happen to find the argument for "reed" persuasive, and also dislike when people report their views in a conclusory way, but the rebuttal is presented in such a pleasant way: languagehat -- "This is wrong, and you should try not to state your personal usage as a Fact About the World" (as if this is a new phenomenon around here, that happens in this instance to offended your particular specialty); ten pounds ("That you and others disagree with or don't understand it is neither here nor there" -- though the OP did, inconveniently, seem to be asking about usage among those reading the question); Dee Xtrovert (well, introversion would be welcome). There's no reason not to be civil.

Ryanhealy, when not accusing others of stupidity, says "It's always an imperative." I'm probably being stupid, but I assume by "always" he means something beyond the specific example of "John is dry (read: boring)." I tend to doubt that. Even within the example's neighborhood, if you imagined the following: "AskMe members participating in the debates of late May were often misanthropic, and hid their anger and self-loathing but a little; those lurking at the time readily and unfailingly understood the subtext. 'Clyde is an asshat' (read: I am myself one), went a typical comment and its immediate translation by the bemused audience."
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:11 PM on May 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


"Well, except for the respect that it is factually incorrect. Languagehat has it and has cited an appropriate reference. That you and others disagree with or don't understand it is neither here nor there."

For sure, because language is handed down from on high and is never altered to account for usage trends.

Some of you people get awfully pompous about words, the sole purpose of which is to convey information. The difference between the word being pronounced "reed" versus "red" in this case is insignificant.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:12 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


The original question is ambigious and it might help if the OP clarified it. As phrased, it can be interpreted as 1) discussionfilter: Dear Metafilter Members: How do each of you pronounce 'read'? or 2) Language filter: Dear Metafilter Members: What is the proper pronounciation of 'read'?

Languagehat's explanation is sufficient but not definitive if the real question here is "what do you folks do with this word?" I've gotta agree with others here, though, GooseOnTheLoose's explanation is exactly what makes Wikipedia so troublesome. Don't make blanket assertions when you aren't 100 percent sure of what you are talking about.
posted by Happydaz at 8:29 PM on May 29, 2008


Some of you people get awfully pompous about words, the sole purpose of which is to convey information. The difference between the word being pronounced "reed" versus "red" in this case is insignificant.

I am shocked, shocked that there is pomposity at metafilter. Still, the difference is not insignificant!

The two pronunciations communicate differently. If you read it one way, it means something different than if you read it the other way. And so perhaps both sides of the debate are correct. Both pronunciations are acceptable, but the one to be used depends on the author's intent, which usually must be determined from context.

I happen to believe that most of the time this parenthetical "read" is used, the author probably intends it as an imperative. But not always.
posted by blue mustard at 8:34 PM on May 29, 2008


It's not ambiguous. It's not one of the many weird language rules for which there are a zillion exceptions.

Tense is irrelevant.

It is an imperative. It's a way of saying "insert sarcasm tag here, dear reader." It's pronounced reed.

You can, of course, pronounce it red. But that is incorrect.
posted by rtha at 8:41 PM on May 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


I've always pronounced it like red, but I'm open to reconsidering (especially in light of the OED cite). Might be a tough habit to break, though.
posted by danb at 8:49 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


The difference between the word being pronounced "reed" versus "red" in this case is insignificant.

It's significant to gman. If the question is uninteresting to you, you could just disregard it.

The original question is ambigious and it might help if the OP clarified it. As phrased, it can be interpreted as 1) discussionfilter: Dear Metafilter Members: How do each of you pronounce 'read'? or 2) Language filter: Dear Metafilter Members: What is the proper pronounciation of 'read'?

Your first interpretation is pretty chatfiltery, so let's go with languagefilter.
posted by desuetude at 8:52 PM on May 29, 2008


thank you! (read: wow! good points by a tonne of people)
posted by gman at 8:55 PM on May 29, 2008


(derail) I used to think it was spelled and pronounced "erad" (sic) because I only ever saw it written online by one person who always made the same typo (this was back in the BBS days). Oddly, nobody ever called me on this when I said "erad" out loud. Makes me wonder how much stupid stuff I say every day that goes uncommented-on...
posted by jewzilla at 9:01 PM on May 29, 2008 [7 favorites]


Reed. I'm pretty sure all the actual evidence presented has shown that it is pronounced this way and not "red."
If some people on the "red" side want to get some actual reliable sources other than their own conjecture, it would certainly help their case. But I don't think there is any.
posted by fructose at 9:23 PM on May 29, 2008


*and by that I mean find a source that says it is past tense and not imperative.

This is not authoritative, but think of it as a command to "read into it." That is what is being asked of the reader. If you were saying how it is read, you would leave out the colon.
posted by fructose at 9:34 PM on May 29, 2008


It's understandable that one might interpret the question as asking what the most acceptable pronunciation of the world is. And clearly, those of us here have varied standards.

The sad thing about many native English speakers - this is particularly of Americans - is that they've garnered this strange "anti-elite" attitude, wherein speaking and writing a cultivated form of their language is considered "suspect" or "anti-American" or something like that. It's depressing, because when I manage to say something vaguely lofty in my poor Hungarian or German or some other language, I am often greatly complimented by the native speakers of those languages. There is a sense amongst those people that the acquisition of an eloquent and rarified form of their language is an endeavor worthy of pursuing, and a joy when achieved - even in passing. In France, it is with delight that people say your way of speech is "évoluée." Not so in American English, where a person who says "nucular" instead of "nuclear" is often seen as more worthy of trust.

So if the use of "proper" English makes me pompous, so be it. My goal was simply to answer the original question correctly. I assumed that the person asking the question wanted the best reply, not a survey, for much the same reason that 'desuetude' provides. So, the following points:

1) Given that this usage isn't *that* common, one can understand that many people who encounter it rarely could perceive that it's "red," not "reed." But it's pretty obvious that people (namely authors, given that it's a literary, not conversational, point of grammar) using it of their own accord would say "reed."

2) Usage "slippage" is possible - 'toomuchpete' implies this - but usage slippage implies usage. To me, this is something akin to people pronouncing "epitome" as "epuh-tome" simply because they don't hear / read it enough to connect the two usages "properly." It's an unusual enough formation that it won't really change anytime soon. The people apt to use it generally would pronounce it in standard fashion. For anyone else, it's too obscure to alter things.

3) About the debate over what tense that is: Sure, it can be confusing, since the present tense, imperative and past tense are all spelled the same way. But in other languages (to the extent that similar usage exists) it's all in the imperative - and by that I mean, in situations where the imperative is a "unique" form.

4) As 'fructose' points out, the "red" folks have relied only on conjecture, and I think that every example thereof has been pretty well refuted. This speaks for itself.

5) Language is not "handed down from on high," but literary language standards tend to flow from the top of society (in terms of wealth, education, family class) on down. You can argue whether this is good or not, but it exists in any case - in every language I know - and as people continue to aspire to greater wealth and better education for their offspring, so will this trend go on. For the most part, people like to be thought of as intelligent, educated and evolved, and so they mimic those who are.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:41 PM on May 29, 2008 [12 favorites]


Reed

/late to the party, everyoen else already explained it
posted by Joh at 9:51 PM on May 29, 2008


It never occurred to me to pronounce it red, as the intent to direct one to a possibly more salient reading seemed so obvious from the context every time it appeared.

Yes, language changes over time, but in this day and age of easily accessible dictionaries when we can point to scholarship tracing the development of usage, it seems very intellectually lazy to fall back on this as a shield against what appears to be simply willful ignorance. We know how the word came to be used as it is used, and all signs point to reed.

When I come across a correction to something I have been pronouncing in a way that no one else does or is at least not widespread enough to be in a dictionary, I quietly adjust my pronunciation and move on. I find it hard to fathom what motivates the people who argue on in the face of all precedent. I doubt very much (and here languagehat or anyone else with proper citations can correct me if I'm wrong) that "language changing" in the past had much at all to do with a small subset of people deciding they just didn't like how the majority pronounced a word and persisting in their own interpretation to the possible detriment of communication.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:51 PM on May 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Well, except for the respect that it is factually incorrect. Languagehat has it and has cited an appropriate reference. That you and others disagree with or don't understand it is neither here nor there.


(read: owned)
posted by Mikey-San at 10:07 PM on May 29, 2008 [7 favorites]


Once again, I must applaud the general intelligence and lucidity of 'languagehat' and publicly express my mystification of the weird and pervasive ignorance so many native English speakers have of their own language.

This happens in every single language. There are words, phrases, grammatical constructions, etc, that are always "misused" and disagreed upon by native speakers of languages all over the world. It's part of being human and English has nothing to do with it.
posted by ORthey at 10:15 PM on May 29, 2008


"red", as in "to be read as".
posted by fuse theorem at 10:28 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's a nice post, Adam. And you bring up an excellent point, because language changing has occurred for many, many reasons . . . but the example in question doesn't really make sense in light of any of them I can think up. For example, in English: Crazy vowel shifts in 15th Century English, possibly due to mass sudden migration of speakers into southern England. Or the adoption of many Latinate words via the Normans. Also, when languages "interact," there is often a loss of some of the more peculiar aspects of one of the languages that the other doesn't have. And sometimes more synthetic elements disappear, in the way that Old English was highly inflected, and Modern English has very little inflection at all.

Sometimes it's obvious changes are occurring; I'm disappointed to learn very well the subjunctive in English, only to find that people insist on saying "if I was you" or "lest he falls." It's crucial to know the difference between "who" and "whom" in most languages I know, but someone who called me a "dolt" in this very thread (now deleted) came up with this truly atrocious sentence about Rachel Ray: "I just know her as the chick on the magazine covers at the supermarket who I'd kinda like to nail." It's sort of sad to see that happen - to my best knowledge at the moment, English only has SIX words with a kind of "who" / "whom" dichotomy: I / me, he / him, she / her, we / us, they / them. It doesn't seem as if it should be that hard to remember! (Of course, that sentence has a lot of other problems.) Yet none the less, people who feel up to offering grammatical advice can't seem to do any better much of the time. (In many languages, *every* word has dual forms at least. In some, like Hungarian or Finnish, there are more than a dozen or so. For every word. But I digress.)

There were times in English where spellings and grammar were consciously changed according to what was considered good or worthy of emulation, such as the elimination of double negatives as "proper" English. Pronunciations have changed a lot, due to external factors or in response to the ways similar looking words were pronounced. I just saw an episode of the American TV show "Dragnet," about LSD. The word "hallucinogen," which I hear everyone pronounce as "huh-LU-sin-ah-jin" was pronounced "ha-lu-SIN-o-jin." (Where the "a" is a schwa.) Obviously, it was a "new" word for many in 1967, and the pronunciation must have morphed right away. I saw a film from the 1950s in which "protein" was pronounced with three syllables, "PRO-tee-in." These sorts of things make sense; the words are new (or at least novel) and they slip into "simpler" pronunciations quickly.

But more often, we preserve pronunciations which would otherwise be anomalies. The "reed" / "red" thing is something I like, because it's one of not many old vowel shift verbs which haven't been replaced by a static form ("stay") and its past tense formed by adding "-ed." For it to change now, and not because the imperative form is somehow shifting, or because people are starting to say "readed" or something, would be downright bizarre. Or rather, completely unlikely. It's "reed" because the writer is directing an imperative message directly to the reader. (You wouldn't say "red" as the imperative in any sense. "Hey you, go "red" a book would sound as stupid to everyone as "red" in this less common sense does to many of us. The example of "think" / "thought" clearly shows that change is not occurring with other words, either.)

I'd defy anyone to come up with a fairly analogous and recent (past 50 years) pronunciation shift of a similarly common word in a similarly literary sense. It just doesn't happen like that. So while people are legally able to speak or write any way they wish, this is one case wherein the "red" form can pretty clearly and solidly called "wrong."
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:38 PM on May 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


First off, I say "reed."

That said, the OED does demonstrate usage evolving from "we read" but I wonder if you could similarly find usages like "which is read as" or "oft read __ in the backward provinces." Meanwhile, it would also be interesting to see how this is done in Latin, Greek, and French, since those languages were traditionally part of a complete education (think: breakfast) until not that long ago, and since what traditionally is considered "proper" English usage often reflects usage in those languages, for better or for worse. More importantly, any early scholarly works in English would have followed or at least been greatly influenced by the Classical styles of presentation.

1. My magpie is named Ghoti (pronounced: fish).
2. My magpie is named Ghoti (pronounce: fish).

I prefer the former, will those of you who prefer "reed" vouch for the latter?


Yeah, it's interesting. I tried thinking of similar parenthetical expressions. These are the ones I came up with:
(think "fish")
(known as Ghoti)
(spelled f-i-s-h)
(written f-i-s-h)
"Common obnoxious greetings include 'SSUP!' (said with as many Ss as possible) and 'Rise and shine!' (say it loud, say it clear!)"
(see comment 24)
(recall comment 24)
(refer to Chapter 2)
(compare to Chapter 2)
(cf. the noodle incident)


Personally, I like "reed" because it (feels to me as though it) invokes a sort of tutorial tradition: the author guides the reader directly instead of simply noting customary usage.

However, I agree with Clyde Mnestra. To lh, I'd say that while I agree that "reed" is the "correct" usage, surely your answer was an example of prescriptivism. In this case especially, the "incorrect" alternative is logical, consistent with many parallel expressions (see above), and apparently used by a small but non-trivial population. Its usage also has little to no implications for any other part of the language. Let 'em coexist.
posted by trig at 10:46 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dee Xtrovert, I don't think this is so much a case of a shift in phonetic reading as it is of a shift in semantic reading. That is, I read "(read X)" as an instruction where the verb is in the imperative, while apparently some read it is a comment where the verb is in the passive tense. In other words, this is about parsing rather than vowel shifts.
posted by trig at 10:49 PM on May 29, 2008


as a comment
posted by trig at 10:50 PM on May 29, 2008


If we're being descriptive, /rid/ in my idiolect with never a hesitation.

If we're being prescriptive, /rid/ for historical reasons.

If we just came here to say how disgusted we are at all the morons who don't know half so much about our language as we do, ['kʰræmɪʔ'dud].
posted by eritain at 11:16 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


My vote for "red" went the same place my vote for "Ron Paul" went.

Is it possible for the word to be read either way - depending on the author's intent? Must the author, when writing it in the fashion proposed, alway intend the imperative? Is it possible for the author to intend the same usage as "pronounced", i.e. that the word "dry" is read/understood to mean "boring"? Or should the author, if intending a non-imperative (i.e. passive) usage of "read", simply rephrase the sentence entirely?

I wonder how the author intended it here? (site nsfw)
posted by jabberjaw at 12:55 AM on May 30, 2008


One could look at it this way, too:

English has phrases wherein an adjective "takes" a sort of object-like sense:

He hammered the metal flat.
They drank the keg dry.

Additionally, one may "know something as Ghoti."
Or one may "spell something f-i-s-h."

But one doesn't "read something boring" without a clarifying preposition.

(Of course, one can in the sense that one reads something that one finds boring. But I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about reading something into a boring state, the same way that one might hammer metal into a flat state or drink a keg into a state of dryness.)

Why? Simply because it's not the right verb. One can read (in the sense of to perceive) something as boring, the same way one can know someone as Gus or spell something f-i-s-h (see, that one doesn't need a clarifying preposition!")

In other languages "to read" and "to read (something) as" might be two entirely different verbs, rendering this sort of debate moot, and making "reed" the only viable choice.

And no one's really tackled why "read" would be different than other verbs used in this manner. As I wrote earlier:

An easy way of verifying this is via the incredibly simple method of substituting a viable synonym for "read" in the original sentence.

Hence:

"John is dry (think: boring)."
"John is dry (thought: boring)."

The latter makes little sense here. One could say, "John is dry and thought boring." But those parentheses mean something. They indicate a change of voice or an aside - some sort of deviation from the rest of the text - in which case only the imperative form of the verb makes sense.

posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:03 AM on May 30, 2008


Is it possible for the word to be read either way - depending on the author's intent? Must the author, when writing it in the fashion proposed, alway intend the imperative? Is it possible for the author to intend the same usage as "pronounced", i.e. that the word "dry" is read/understood to mean "boring"? Or should the author, if intending a non-imperative (i.e. passive) usage of "read", simply rephrase the sentence entirely?

Well, people can intend anything they want. But - and I think this is an underlying thought to this whole debate - one usually desires clarity in one's writing, and the non-imperative way is just very unclear and contrary to conversational usage.

Here's the sentence you referred to:

I'll even be romantic about it. (Read: Not yell "Yippee!" then immediately write in my online journal.)

Now, I am sure that the writer intended an imperative sense. But let's look at it both ways. First note that there are two distinct sentences in that passage. If the writer intended the imperative and that's how the reader reads it, then that second sense is pretty clear and without a lot of potential for misunderstanding.

In other words, with the imperative, the writer is saying:

"I'll even be romantic about it. In other words, I won't yell "Yippee!" then immediately write in my online journal." That "in other words" could also be characterized as "read this as meaning," but the writer is saying it in the most concise way possible, with one imperative word, "read." Any imperative, as we all know, is a complete sentence in that the subject is always "you" and imperatives are always verbs or contractions of verbal phrases.

To view it the "red" way, there's a ton of ambiguity and murkiness. Who's the one who read it? Not the reader, because the action's already completed by the time the reader hit that sentence. Is it the author? Well that doesn't make sense, because he's not even reading - he's writing (or in some sense thinking, imagining or speculating through writing.) So why use that verb, when it doesn't even describe the action? Is it used in a general, third person sense? That doesn't make much sense either, given the very personal and chatty tone of the writing. One could take the view that he's really saying, "this should be read (by you, the reader) as," or "you should read this to mean," but that's more or less the imperative, isn't it?

The whole "red"-pronounced "read" usage. doesn't really hold up to much logical scrutiny.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:22 AM on May 30, 2008


Ralph is a good sleeper (read: Viking).
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:49 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


For sure, because language is handed down from on high and is never altered to account for usage trends.

What is considered proper usage is very seldom changed to account for incorrect usage. And this is one of those cases where it hasn't (by any editorial authority anywhere) and, I daresay, won't.

Seriously, folks. This is one of those cases where every single person who has chimed with with 'red/''redd'/'something that is not reed' is speaking from ignorance and is not being helpful.

A couple of people suggested substituting "think" and "thought" for "read" as a kind of thought experiment. I'm gonna suggest it again, because some people (read: unhelpful tools) clearly haven't done so yet. Civility be damned, Clyde.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 3:28 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Usually I'm the one who shakes with frustration at other people's mistakes, but I'm surprised by how much passion there is in this thread.

Unlike "cat's" vs. "cats" or "if I were" vs. "if I was" or "stupider" vs. "more stupid" or "between you and me" and "between you and [it hurts to write this] I" or even "nuclear" vs. "nucular", the question about the word "read" in this usage has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the language at all. Unlike a mad apostrophizer whose use of "cat's" to mark a plural is a likely sign of future abuses along the lines of "dog's" and "duckie's" - an unstoppable barrage of assaults against the reader who knows how to spell - the reader who reads "read: " as a perfectly logical passive cannot, even if maliciously inclined, spread this mistake anywhere else. It's not possible! Is there any other expression this mistake could infect?

So we're getting mad about a singleton, which is not even mispronounced so much as potentially misinterpreted (potentially because, as this thread shows, it's even possible that an author here and there has made the same mistake, and written "read:" thinking "red" -- and if you read "reed" in this case, would anything have been lost?) I'd venture that at least some of the people most inflamed in this thread say "reed" because they heard it that way or because they guessed right, rather than because they looked the expression up when they first encountered it and learned about its history. Others guessed wrong or heard wrong; unlike most mistakes, this one revolves around such an infrequent usage that there would have been little reason for them to ever think they were wrong until they came across this thread. Furthermore, their reading is perfectly logical and grammatically (if not historically) consistent, and if this is their only mistake it puts them in an entirely different class from/to/than the "cat's" wankers. So why this much vitriol?

ten pounds of inedita says: see "think" and "thought".
brownbat says: see "pronounce" and "pronounced".
If in a hundred years the "reed" camp will somehow be in the minority, I can't think of a single change to the language that would leave us less impoverished.

But maybe the uneven tempers are natural. As William Caxton wrote in 1490 in Eneydos ("Englished from the French Liure Des Eneydes"):

And certaynly our langage now vsed varyeth ferre from that whiche was vsed and spoken whan I was borne / For we englysshe men / ben borne vnder the domynacyon of the mone, whiche is neuer stedfaste / but euer wauerynge / wexynge one season / and waneth & dyscreaseth another season / And that comyn englysshe that is spoken in one shyre varyeth from a nother.

I have never understood how the penultimate sentence is supposed to be grammatical, but there you have it.
posted by trig at 4:34 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


The confusion arises because of the homonym. Substituting a synonym both removes the homonym and clarifies our intuitions.

No, it doesn't. Substituting a synonym is not automatically valid.

I saw a film from the 1950s in which "protein" was pronounced with three syllables, "PRO-tee-in."

I think Paul Harvey pronounces it this way.

Anyway, if it's /rɛd/, then how do I read book?
posted by oaf at 5:33 AM on May 30, 2008


Sorry I was late to this party. I came in expecting to see three quick answers and a check mark all in agreement, but wow... it's another ass-wiping debate!

It's definitely "reed", and I was shocked as hell to see so many argue against it, even after The Hat bitch-slapped the crazies*.

It's an instruction to the reader, and all this misdirection is silly (q.v. does not mean "also seen" for crying out loud! It tells you, the reader, what to do!)

*don't worry, I still love you, you crazies!
posted by rokusan at 6:03 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


To lh, I'd say that while I agree that "reed" is the "correct" usage, surely your answer was an example of prescriptivism. In this case especially, the "incorrect" alternative is logical, consistent with many parallel expressions (see above), and apparently used by a small but non-trivial population.

Thanks for actually making a sensible point amid the storm of know-nothingism that is infesting this thread. Yes, it is an example of prescriptivism, which of course sits oddly with my usual loosey-goosey whatever-people-say descriptivism. Here's the difference: in the usual situation, we're dealing with everyday, conversational English, which evolves naturally as people converse. Don't like "couldn't care less"? Tough luck, the language has moved on. Appeals to logic or history are irrelevant; all that counts is how people say it right now. Here, however, we are dealing with a technical usage that is not part of everyday speech, in fact is not really part of spoken English at all; it exists in a very narrow context of scholarly writing (or in other forms of writing based on the scholarly use). The only people competent to judge the pronunciation are the scholars who use it as part of their normal repertoire, and those scholars know that it is an imperative and pronounce it "reed." I've known that since I was in elementary school. I say that not to brag but to point out that we all have our areas of expertise; while I was sneaking off to stick my head in a book, other kids were sneaking off to play billiards, and they know a fuck of a lot more about billiards than I ever will. If a guy who's spent his life around pool tables tells me I'm mistaken about the rules, I'm not going to say "Well, I've always played this way, and it's a free country!" I'm going to say "Thanks, I stand corrected."

Now, it's not always the case that there is a clear and definite correct pronunciation for a technical usage. I once posted at LH about the preposition pace ('with due deference to' or 'despite') because I'd discovered that not everyone said it the way I did, and was surprised to discover that my usage was in fact in a distinct minority (although perfectly acceptable). But that was a matter of varying pronunciations of Latin; this is a matter of a construction with a clear history (evidenced by my OED quote) and a clear interpretation (imperative, /rid/). If you say it another way you're not part of a different dialect group, you're just wrong.
posted by languagehat at 6:07 AM on May 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


On non-preview, rokusan has an excellent parallel:

(q.v. does not mean "also seen" for crying out loud! It tells you, the reader, what to do!)
posted by languagehat at 6:07 AM on May 30, 2008


Oh, dear.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:10 AM on May 30, 2008


Oh, dear (read: ho).
posted by oaf at 6:18 AM on May 30, 2008


(Almost.)
posted by oaf at 6:18 AM on May 30, 2008


Thanks for your answer, languagehat. I replied in the metatalk thread, since I'd like to not muddy this one even further.
posted by trig at 6:52 AM on May 30, 2008


I have always pronounced it as like "reed" with the logic that the sentence means "John is dry ([you should] read ['dry' as] 'boring.'")
posted by synecdoche at 7:07 AM on May 30, 2008


A number of people have gone on about "Whether descriptive or prescriptive, one ought to provide some compelling reason for their particular usage." (a quote from the metatalk thread).

I didn't think that was necessary, but if it'll calm people down who are insisting that "red" is wrong (I don't think it will; I'm getting a real literal-versus-figurative-Viking vibe on this whole hullaballoo), I'll provide my reason.

The two interpreations are basically either "Read this as:" or "This should be read as:". For me, it's a difference between an active voice that strikes me as overly confrontational for a modification in a parenthetical aside, and a passive voice that more fits in with the "Oh, by the way" tone that parentheses imply. The passive voice feels more like a tap on a shoulder from an equal, and the active voice feels more tutorial (as trig said).

languagehat's recent interpretation seems to be defending that "tutorial" subtext:
it exists in a very narrow context of scholarly writing

But the thing is, it doesn't. I see it all the time in non-academic, non-scholarly environments. In fact, I can recall the very first time I ever read it: it was written in a program in my church when I was about seven or so. That was for a Wiccan service held in a Unitarian church, which is just about the furthest from the narrow context of scholarly writing one can get without also holding a rubber chicken.

Now, does this mean that the few times I have seen this in scholarly writing, I pronounce it "reed" in my head? No, actually. Even when the express intent of the writing is to be tutorial, I like the off-the-cuff passive nature of "red". If the author's friendly, it comes off as a helpful hint. If the author's standoffish or antagonistic, it comes off as a sorta dickish condescending aside, which amuses me greatly.

So. I stand by my earlier answer to the question: "How do you pronounce 'red'?" I pronounce it /rɛd/, which is, technically, the correct answer to the question that was asked. I don't mind if other people pronounce it "reed", and I also don't mind if they think I'm wrong, because I like the implications of my pronunciation better.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:24 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


This thread reads like a red reed I once read about. I dread that the thread will come to a head if everyone reads and heeds these screeds. I might as well head to bed.

Interesting case where the use of punctuation to represent inflection introduces ambiguity.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 7:42 AM on May 30, 2008


..."strikes me"..."I like"..."I like"...

You're demonstrably reading it opposite to all precedent, and you admit to doing so based on your feelings alone. I'll wager that no resources on the level of the OED citation exist tracing the development of the usage on the "red" side of the coin. Certainly none have been presented, so we are forced to endure random snippets of text incorporating the construction and, "I think the author probably meant to say..." statements based, again, on nothing more than feelings.

You are, of course, permitted to persist in your reading. Unless you can come up with an etymological chain of equal weight supporting that reading, however, you can't claim equal standing. I mean, you can, but why should anyone take it seriously?

This argument incites passion (much like another argument I could mention), because it is so very frustrating to argue an evidence-based position against a feelings-based one.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:14 AM on May 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Hello,

I'd just like to jump in with the following remark on the offhand chance that it might contribute something: in dutch (closely related to english, for some purposes anyway) you have the same construction, namely

John is dry (read: boring).
John is droog (lees: saai).

There's no confusion in dutch as to whether this is an imperative or not, because the past tense would have been "las", not lees.

Now I do realise that this doesn't say much in the end (a lot of tense usages are not the same at all), but it might give another perspective. Oh, and I'm for "reed", of course.
posted by Skyanth at 8:15 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


One more reed-er here. A parallel from a genuinely narrow academic usage is the parenthetical citation "see." We some times read things like "this interpretation has been eloquently refuted (see Languagehat 2008)." That's an imperative functioning much like reed, and for which a non-imperative (saw? seen in?) doesn't quite work (see the reference to q.v. above).
[Interesting that the MeFi-specific "on preview" does function as a modifier in a way similar to some interpretations of "red."]
posted by Mngo at 8:19 AM on May 30, 2008


It's an imperative. To illustrate -- compare with this similar sentence structure:

If you're lost downtown, ask for directions to Houston St (say HOW-ston St).
posted by ROTFL at 8:58 AM on May 30, 2008


Being from the "red" camp, I was going to say how upset I am at being called "wrong" or "crazy," but I realized that I really don't mind! (Note: I prefer the use of "schooled" over "bitch-slapped" in this context.) I adore how passionate we are about language!

The OED does not slam-dunk the argument against "red", as the example cited above - "dry (read: boring)" - is not worded "for dry, read boring." A colon does not always imply a "for."

What has captured me is not the logos, but the ethos and the pathos!

The passion of the grammarians here is amazing and commendable. This passion, as I see it, is not for "reed" vs. "red", but for "reed" vs. "reed or red". Because "reed" is the one and only correct answer (despite our petty arguments that the word can logically be used as a modifier, and not a command), damn all!

May your fight for "read: ____" be less painful than my battle for nauseous vs. nauseated. Godspeed.


On preview: ROTFL, does "Houston (pronounced: HOW-ston)" make any logical sense?
posted by jabberjaw at 9:17 AM on May 30, 2008


Another reeder here.
posted by altcountryman at 9:37 AM on May 30, 2008


jabberjaw, phonetically, HOW-ston makes as much sense as HEW-ston. But the short answer is that last names are often pronounced differently by different families.

The Wikipedia entry is pretty good, "The street name Houston confuses many people from outside of New York (invariably becoming one of the easiest signs of spotting tourists) because the letters "ou" are pronounced as in the word house (pronounced /ˈhaʊstən/), whereas the same letters in the name of the city of Houston, Texas are pronounced like the "u" in huge (pronounced /ˈhjuːstən/ or /ˈjuːstən/ "HYOO-stin"}}). This is because Houston Street was named for William Houstoun (note that the spelling is different), long before the fame of Sam Houston, for whom the city in Texas is named. Some people mistakenly believe that the pronunciation was popularized by the accents of local Jewish immigrants."
posted by desuetude at 9:38 AM on May 30, 2008


^ actually, I was focused on the word "pronounced" vs. "say" as opposed the the pronunciation of Houston.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:44 AM on May 30, 2008


(read: metafilter)
posted by nomad at 9:45 AM on May 30, 2008


I really like the think/thought example. It is very compelling. It made me change my position, (though perhaps not as much as you might have hoped).

Both of these grammatical structures are appropriate:
1. Foo (imperative: bar).
Ex. John is dry (think: boring).
2. Foo (passive: bar).
Ex. John is dry (pronounced: dri).

Once we have a working grammatical structure, we can plug in words that fit that grammatical structure, generally. In this case, we can substitute read (reed) for the former, and read (red) for the latter. The two will vary in meaning, but be so largely coextensive that in most examples either will be appropriate.

Note: The OED didn't seal it for me for a number of reasons. Dictionary etymologies are not exhaustive, the dictionary was not addressing this specific question of usage, dictionaries prefer active examples to those in the passive voice, the dictionary never listed a parenthetical construction, and the passive voice of read (reed, "substitute") is still read (red, "is substituted").
posted by brownbat at 10:19 AM on May 30, 2008


the dictionary never listed a parenthetical construction, and the passive voice of read (reed, "substitute") is still read (red, "is substituted").

But it did:

1967 Listener 4 May 593/2 Links between the cultures of ‘Indonesia’ (read southeast Asia) and west and central Africa.

The OED did not list passive-voice examples of "John is dry (read: boring)" because that construction is not passive. It is imperative.
posted by rtha at 10:38 AM on May 30, 2008


OK, I will take one more crack at this. For the record, I believe "reed" is the correct pronunciation in the vast majority of circumstances. I also believe the better way to address the OP's question is not to report your own practices without explaining the reasoning, and certainly not to insist on them in the face of some pretty good arguments as to why "red" is, when practiced, probably just an inadvertent mistake.

Still, the stance taken by languagehat, dee, ten pounds, etc. -- which, caricatured only slightly, amounts to "Those preferring 'red', or suggesting sympathy for that view, are even when providing an explanation are idiots reducing language to a matter of uninformed opinion" -- is more than a little rich. The objective, supposedly conclusive evidence is a use drawn from the OED, which has more than a few other uses illustrated, and is not fatally inconsistent with some other "red"-oriented understanding. So, from the Duff passage, "For monasteries, we should read convents, mission-houses, and seminaries", we are to asked to imagine "For monasteries (read convents)" with "reed"; it isn't insane to imagine Duff's voice describing a mistake ("For monasteries, which we read as lavatories") which would become "For monasteries (read:lavatories)" with a hearty, burgundy "red". I recall that there are other examples that were made or could be made -- and something from philosophy about past-tense prescriptions is tugging at me -- but it's probably not worth reviewing.

Why? Because the core of the strong/obnoxious version of the "reed" argument is that all uses must be understood as present-tense imperatives for prescriptivist reasons, which in turn rests on this view that "we are dealing with a technical usage that is not part of everyday speech." Languagehat may believe that, and may be right, but it isn't as open and shut as the tone of that and other messages suggests. I think the better answer to the question is "Should be pronounced 'reed' in almost all uses, but perhaps there are some unconventional uses warranting 'red'". But go ahead, call me stupid.

Oh, and Dee: I am sorry that native-born American speakers of English so frequently disappoint; I also get frustrated. Perhaps it's true that some think the worse of you for being correct, whereas the French would celebrate you. But when you say, "So if the use of "proper" English makes me pompous, so be it", I think you're simply misunderstanding the complaint. It's the way you write about the proper use of English that makes you pompous.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:41 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


jabberjaw: Oh. Whoops. Um, disregard, then.
posted by desuetude at 10:41 AM on May 30, 2008


Clyde Mnestra: It doesn't matter that you can imagine Duff using passive voice. The point of the OED citation is to show how the construction came to be, and it clearly came to be (using the citation) through the active voice. Your thought experiment doesn't change anything. It's no more instructive than saying you could interpret Soviet policies during the Cold War in a different way if the Bolshevik revolution hadn't happened. It happened this way, the usage developed this way, and imagining alternative developmental paths does nothing to illuminate the current usage.

For all those complaining that the OED is not authoritative, by all means cite an alternative source that supports your position!
posted by adamdschneider at 10:50 AM on May 30, 2008


it isn't insane to imagine Duff's voice describing a mistake ("For monasteries, which we read as lavatories") which would become "For monasteries (read:lavatories)" with a hearty, burgundy "red".

But you wouldn't use the construction "Blah blah (reed: yadda)" if you were using passive voice or past tense. You would say "Blah blah (which we took to mean yadda)." Because the construction "Blah blah (reed: yadda)" is. an. imperative. That is its etymology.
posted by rtha at 11:06 AM on May 30, 2008


If you're curious, this actually came about because last night I found out my girlfriend and I are on opposing sides of this argument - for no other reason than it's the way we've each always said it in our own heads. Me - 'red' and her -'read'.
posted by gman at 11:08 AM on May 30, 2008


adamschneider,

1. I'm not trying to imagine a counterfactual specific to Duff (Hilary, Hayley, or otherwise); rather, I am imagining that surrounding context might in other instances support the "red" pronunciation. To make this clearer, with a different example from the OP: one encounters the sentence 'John is dry (read: boring).' I think that is presumptively understood as "reed." If the sentences preceding that were, "Clyde reliably read everything about John in the worst possible light. John is funny: Clyde thinks, crazy. John is flush; Clyde reads, drunk. John is dry (read: boring)." These are not counterfactual because you don't know what surrounds the original sentence. My educated guess is that these or other surroundings very rarely warrant the pronunciation "red," but I lack the preening confidence of others in this proposition.

2. Here's how the OED works, to my understanding: it describes acceptable uses of a word. Languagehat quotes one. Printed, OED Online for "read" goes to 24 pages, and is peppered with miscellaneous applications. I have no reason to doubt that languagehat has surveyed and rejected as inappropriate all other possible uses, but it is a leap of faith rather than a proof, and arguably misunderstands the preclusive effect of the OED to begin with.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:16 AM on May 30, 2008


rtha,

You're probably right, as predictive matter. I guess where we disagree is that I can imagine non-present-tense-imperative uses that I wouldn't condemn as butchering the language. I understand that you would say, if someone were to write out the kind of examples that I or others have used, that they are wrong because they are too easily misunderstood as imperative, or borrow a form that has arisen exclusively for use in the imperative? If the very last is what you mean, I think that takes a very hard line based on a set of uses in the OED that by their nature are meant only to speak to the imperative form.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:22 AM on May 30, 2008


It bugs me when people say it the other way.

The imperative bugs me, but more when I encounter "think" than "read". Y'all who'd pronounce it like the color: how would you pronounce it if we substitute "think" for "read"?

John is dry (read boring) -- John is dry (thinked boring)?

(I dislike that imperative "think" because my thoughts are my own -- don't you tell me what to think!)
posted by Rash at 11:55 AM on May 30, 2008


If the sentences preceding that were, "Clyde reliably read everything about John in the worst possible light. John is funny: Clyde thinks, crazy. John is flush; Clyde reads, drunk. John is dry (read: boring)."

That's not a good example, because the verb use isn't parallel. Meaning, you go from present tense (is, thinks, is, reads, is) to the imperative "read: boring." To keep things parallel, your sentence would need to end "John is dry (reads: boring)" with the parenthetical being a shortening of "Clyde reads John as boring." And even then, it is an odd parenthetical that disrupts the sentence and pains the pedantic reader.

We could create an example more like what you are searching for with something like:

John recited poetry; Clyde read him as pretentious. John played baseball; Clyde read him as steroid-enhanced. John used dry humor (read: boring).


But even then, it is still a painful example that hurts the eyes, and is subject to being read the normal way (as "reed") given the ambiguity of whose voice the parenthetical is in. To make the parenthetical unambigously pronounced "red," you need to lose the colon and add some extra words -- in the original example that could be: "John is dry (which we have always read as boring)."

With language issues, I'm a 100% descriptivist rather than a proscriptivist. But a few people getting something wrong does not describe an equally valid usage. Rather, it takes that "wrong" usage becoming common, and fitting into the rest of the language in a meaningful way. This red/reed question is simply a misreading issue (because when spoken there is no mistaking the passive and imperative forms of "read," as one can do on paper) -- it's not actually an example of the imperative changing in the English language, or of an ambiguous construction that can be read either of two equally legitimate ways.
posted by Forktine at 11:58 AM on May 30, 2008


The OED didn't seal it for me for a number of reasons. Dictionary etymologies are not exhaustive

1) I don't know what you mean by that, but 2) this isn't an etymology, so it's irrelevant. (The etymology of read, very briefly, is that it's from Old English rǣdan, from Proto-Germanic *rǣdhan, probably related to Old Irish im-rádim 'to deliberate, consider,' Proto-Slavic raditi 'to take thought, attend to,' and various other Indo-European forms.)

the dictionary was not addressing this specific question of usage


Yes it was. See rtha's comment above.

dictionaries prefer active examples to those in the passive voice

That's completely ridiculous. This is why I get exercised in these threads: people just pull stuff out of their ass and present it as if it were fact.

the dictionary never listed a parenthetical construction

See rtha's comment above.

and the passive voice of read (reed, "substitute") is still read (red, "is substituted").


So?

Here's how the OED works, to my understanding: it describes acceptable uses of a word.

No, it describes all uses they find in print. That's why it's a dictionary and not a style guide.
posted by languagehat at 12:57 PM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


To make a long story short people, if you've been doing this wrong for a long time that doesn't somehow make you right. I pronounced it "epi-tome" as opposed to "epit-o-me" for many, many years. No amount of descriptivist vs proscriptivist nonsense makes me right. The word in this context is pronounced "reed".

YUR DOIN IT RONG. get over it.
posted by GuyZero at 1:51 PM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Only my opinion matters. I put the "me" in MetaFilter.

(what?)
posted by rokusan at 2:16 PM on May 30, 2008


This is why I get exercised in these threads: people just pull stuff out of their ass and present it as if it were fact.

Also, this offends me. My ass is FULL of facts!
posted by rokusan at 2:18 PM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Reed.

Jesus christ.
posted by m0nm0n at 4:19 PM on May 30, 2008


Here's my argument for 'reed'.

You're not talking about the pronunciation of the word. Because then the parenthetical addendum would be (pronounced like blah blah blah). You're talking about the subtext, stuff you read into.

"John is dry (read: boring)." is similar in meaning to "John is dry. Btw, I'm trying to say he's boring without being an asshat. In case you didn't get it"

Whereas

"John is dry (red: boring)." indicates something more along the lines of "John is dry. Which is the same thing as saying he's boring."

I have no idea if this explanation makes sense. Laid out like this, it doesn't even really make sense in my head. But making it the past tense makes it about how the reader said it in their mind, whereas making it the imperative points out (actively, imperatively) the subtleties inherent in whatever it is the parentheses are modifying.

My two cents.

And yeah, even if it were the past tense, there should not be a colon, and it would be "read as". Otherwise it's just awkward.
posted by Phire at 4:54 PM on May 30, 2008


Shouldn't post with jetlag. I meant the past perfect tense of course (gelezen), not "las". Still, point stands.
posted by Skyanth at 6:15 PM on May 30, 2008


I'm not sure anybody in the "red" camp is really arguing against the "reed" pronunciation at this point; only that the "red" pronunciation is just as valid as the "reed" pronunciation, depending on context.

The "reds" at this point are really looking for some sort of consolation prize (read: legitimacy, albeit semantically inconsequential), as opposed to simply being brushed off as complete losers (read: simply wrong, despite the all arguments supporting them).
posted by jabberjaw at 6:25 PM on May 30, 2008


The "reed" people are correct from a proscriptive and a descriptive point of view. They're pointing out the way the word has always been used.

If I start pronouncing "gnome" with a g, the people who correct me aren't elitists trying to prevent language change.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:55 PM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


The "reds" at this point are really looking for some sort of consolation prize...

Does this look like Berchtesgaden to you? Jesus H Christ, people were talking out of their asses and were wrong. If this was the first time for you (being wrong) congratulations and welcome to the human race. Get used to it.
posted by GuyZero at 8:33 PM on May 30, 2008


Let's put it this way: if you find someone using this construction, you may rest assured that either (1) they pronounce it "reed" or (2) they have only encountered it in print, not spoken.
posted by moss at 9:02 PM on June 2, 2008


Reed.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:37 PM on December 5, 2008


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