Listening to Sarah Palin pronounce the word "nucular" the other day, Paul Spiegel inquired, "What is it with that word? She's the daughter of schoolteachers and a former student of journalism. How can she and so many like her mispronounce it in a manner so clearly contrary to the way it's written?"
We turn to Stanford University Professor Seth Lerer, scholar of the English language: "I have come to believe that in fact, that is a regional or class dialect pronunciation, and that while educated people may believe that it's wrong, I believe that pronunciation - along with certain other regional or class-based pronunciations - is considered to be relatively standard in certain parts of the country. ... Because it has been used by somebody like (President) Bush and other people of prominence, it has become accepted as a standard."
A Democratic version: "When John F. Kennedy said things like 'Cuber' instead of 'Cuba,' I vividly remember hearing people accepting that pronunciation. Because 'Cuba' was a hot-button word, people affected that pronunciation. ... The umbrella question is this: What happens when people in power pronounce words in a particular way? ... People adopt that pronunciation, believing it to be maybe not correct, but influential, powerful. They want to affiliate themselves with people doing the speaking. ... I do believe strongly that this is a feature of the nature of political power."
You want to blame "nucular" on someone? Blame it on Dwight David Eisenhower, who as president was first to hurl the pronunciation at American ears.
(By the way, Lerer will speak Nov. 2 on "Where Our Words Come From" at the One Day University lecture series at San Francisco's Mission Bay Conference Center. I'm planning to attend. Anyone else?)