The Grammarphobia Blog

A plea for pretentiousness

Q: In your radio conversations with Leonard Lopate, you both dismiss some usages as unworthy because they’re pretentious. Is being pretentious such a bad thing? I want to stand up in support of pretentiousness! I love to appall people, for example, by pronouncing “penchant” as pawn-SHAWN instead of PEN-chunt. It’s a French word and I enjoy saying it authentically.

A: Well, at least you have the courage of your convictions. I’ll bet you pronounce “homage’ as oh-MAHZH instead of HOM-idj or OM-idj.

Well, many people do, but “homage” has been part of the English language for 800 years and “penchant” for 400. There’s really no reason to pronounce them as French anymore.

You may be interested in a blog entry a while back on the pronunciation of “homage” and another on the tendency of some people to use “an” before “homage,” “hotel,” “historic,” and such words.

Formality has its place, certainly. And informality is very often out of place. But even formal English can be simple and clear, avoiding unnecessary obfuscation and needless showing off.

Don’t confuse the unpretentious with the incorrect. One can be well-educated without being pretentious, you know. But if you don’t mind appalling people, go ahead and satisfy your penchant for pretentiousness.

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