Sunday, July 29, 2007


Do you hear words in your mind? I do, on occasion -- especially if I am thrashing out an argument while I walk. It is positively Socratastic in there, then.

But usually, I don't hear words in my head -- I see them. Lines and clouds and wandering perspectival parallel lines of letters and text, converging at infinity, circling a giant semiotic drain, expanding into giant syntactical tornadoes.

This makes me very prone, like many people I know, to fairly few and far between but nonetheless terrible and woefully long-standing mispronunciations of the oddest things. I still have to think about it when I say gesture against the ingraining of years of uttering it with a hard g.

I have long been a sucker for the great romance of the symbols themselves -- the letters of the alphabet, the anal yet fabulously creative and open-ended technicalities of typography, the small drawing that each word is, the tiny map that each letter makes. And, of course, most alluring of all, the exultant, rebellious meaninglessness of the mere letters. One of my favourite pieces of typography is an A4 setting of Castellar by Sebastian Carter. It is the alphabet and a single ampersand, but it is subtly disordered to improve the typographical aesthetics of the page.


When I think about how words sound, I am always seeing them. Somehow, I believe that "light" sounds different to "lite", even though it doesn't. I am convinced that I can hear the "a" in "healthy", even though I can't. Spelling errors make terrible sounds in my head, so that "cappucino" crackles like speaker feedback and "minutae" clacks like a dropped garbage-can lid. It is as though the words have a sound for how they look, as well as as sound for how they sound.

Today, poring with mind-bendingly onanistic fascination over my blog stats, as every self-obsessed respecting blogger does, I noticed that one of today's readers searched my blog -- not the web, my blog -- for "pronunciation".

I cocked an eyebrow.

Curious Reader must mean of "Xtinpore", I deduced. An excellent question.

"Xtin" was coined for me when I was five, by my father, another lover of the letterishness of words. It was more than twenty years before someone asked me how I might pronounce it. They had gotten into a debate with someone who claimed that the "X", since it was an abbreviation of a syllable, should be pronounced like that syllable. Their evidence was that the pronunciation of "Xmas" was obviously Christmas.

I was horrified.

In the first place, of course, "Xmas" does not sound like "Christmas". I mean, I'd never really thought about it before, because I'd been living in my comfortably weird yet mercifully personal world of lookish-sound. But if pressed, I'm firmly on the side of "Xmas" pronounced EX-mas.

Ergo, naturally, "Xtin" is pronounced EX-tin. Hence, Xtinpore. Except for the play on extempore to work, you have to change the stress. ex-TIN-pore-ee.

Glad we got that settled.


dr. hypercube said...

I almost had a heart attack - I thought for a moment that I'd misspelled pronunciation!

Your deduction was on the money - I was looking for how to pronounce Xtinpore or Xtin and how one gets from one to the other. I wonder no longer.

Just so you know - I have been reading for a while; today was just the 1st time I had something (sort of) relevant to say! Having broken the ice, I could no longer restrain my curiosity - thus the search. My theories on Xtin (pre-explanation, obviously):
- X pronounced as sh - a Pinyin allusion of some sort that was over my head.
- Pronounced ecksed in (sort of the mirror image to crossed out) - the kind of thing I drive my family crazy with.
- None of the above.
I was betting on #3. Right again!

Xtin said...

Thank you for coming out of the shadowy confines of lurkerdom!

I guess sometimes I'm a little obtuse, even for myself.

I'd say it's an occupational hazard, but that would insult my occupation. I think it's in my damn genes.

Phantom Scribbler said...

I'm not usually aware of seeing words in my head, but I cannot fix an unfamiliar word or name in my head until I've seen it written out. And "grey" and "gray" are different colors to me.

Xtin said...

Absolutely, PS! I knew I wasn't crazy ...