Friday, August 13, 2010

Is there a "bite" in "respite"?

Over at Language Log, Mark Liberman looks at the eggcorn of the week, from al-Jazeera's website -- rest bite instead of respite:
The skies over the capital have cleared, a welcome rest bite for thousands of people doomed to spend sweltering nights in overheated apartments.
One commenter suggests (plausibly, I think) that "rest bite" could be formed by analogy on "sound bite," to mean a brief period of relief from exertion or hardship. But what surprised me was that the pronunciation with second-syllable stress (res-PITE, ruh-SPITE, ruhs-BITE, whatever) was common enough to produce such an eggcorn.

Yes, I know the variant is out there -- Elster's "Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations" says it has a "long and tarnished history" -- but I don't think I ever hear respite with second-syllable stress (in "respite care" and the like). Since y'all were so informative (not to mention impassioned) on the pronunciation of often, maybe you could enlighten me about the local renderings of respite you hear, and what you think of them? 

12 comments:

Jonathon said...

I'm not sure how often I hear anyone say "respite," but I think I usually hear "RES-pit." For what it's worth, both Merriam-Webster and the OED say that "RES-pite" is the usual British pronunciation, with primary stress on the first syllable. But if it's mostly British, that could be why you haven't encountered it much. And I assume an al-Jazeera writer would be more likely to use British English.

Jan said...

Jonathan: Yes, I see the OED has both vowel sounds, but it shows only first-syllable primary stress. Is my problem that the combination of first-syllable stress and long "i" in second syllable is unnatural in AmE? (If "respite" has the i of "despite," I expect it to have the stress of "de-SPITE" as well.) Maybe this is (as you suggest) an eggcorn only for BrE speakers. (But I'm strictly an amateur, ready to be enlightened.)

Harry Campbell said...

RESS-pit sounds slightly old-fashioned to me in BrE. The normal thing is RESS-pite, though ris-PITE is possible too, perhaps indeed on the analogy with "despite". But even so in phrases like "repite care" there would be a predictable stress shift to "RESS-pite care" (cf prin-CESS but PRIN-cess ANNE).

However this is irrelevant, since the stress pattern of "rest bite" would clearly be "REST bite", like sound bite. It's not "sound BITE".

Interestingly, Wells (LPD) gives ris-PITE only as an American alternative to RESS-pit, with no RESS-pite in AmE. In which case, yes, this wd presumably only work as a British eggcorn.

Vireya said...

Just took a quick poll of all the Australians in the room (there are two of us), and we say the word "res-pite" with just about equal stress. If anything the second syllable may be very slightly stronger.

FUZZARELLY said...

Oh, I love the concept of rest bite! However, I use the word on occasion, and pronounce it RES pit.

Gordon Campbell said...

I'm in Australia and I say (and hear) the word with stress on the first syllable. 'Pite' and 'pit' are both used. I always thought that 'pit' was the 'proper' (posh)pron, but have been wrong about such things before. (Once or twice.)

techwriter said...

Another vote for REZ-pit.

John Cowan said...

The ghost of Hamlet's father says he is "unrespited, unpitied, unreprieved", where the meter shows that "unrespited" was stressed on the second syllable. Therefore, in his day "respite" must have had initial stress and a weak final syllable (i.e. RES-pit), since neither "un-" nor "-ed" shift the stress.

outerhoard said...

Australian, and in the context of "a welcome respite" I can imagine it only with second-syllable stress, resPITE.

But surely it is RESpite that would give rise to "rest bite"? I mean, "rest bite" would be stressed on the REST, just like "sound bite" is stressed on the SOUND.

"Respite care" is a completely different context. There I would expect to hear RESpite, putting aside the fact that I wouldn't expect to hear (as opposed to read) such a phrase anyway.

Never heard of RESpit.

Anonymous said...

Among the people I know it is pronounced ress pit. I only hear it when referring to a brief break for a person who cares for a parent with Alzheimers or a child with severe special needs. I seem to recall years ago hearing it with the Pite sound when referring to the unrelenting heat and humidity of August.

Anonymous said...

whats with all this prescriptive grammar? what makes you all grammar authorities? Do you have studies in grammar BA's? somehow I doubt it. whats up with all the discrimination, lets let people use language to communicate effectively by creating what ever sort of impression they want.... -_-0

Jamie Hubbard said...

Hi there, this is an old post but it has helped me so I thought I'd comment. In my neck of the woods, (Hertfordhsire, England - near the Essex border)it is SO common to hear res-PITE that all my life I have thought that respite and rest-bite were seperate terms with similar meaning. I honestly thought that rest-bite was the sort of thing an American sports commentator might say, for example, and that it meant the same as 'respite'. Perhaps you can picture Del Boy from Only Fools... saying res-PITE and you can understand my confusion.

Anyway, cheers for clearing this up, I was about to put a very stupid mistake in an essay.