Saturday, November 17, 2012

Keeping the "suck" in "successful"

I’ve heard accessories called “assessories,” and succinct pronounced “sussinct” (not so often, but then it’s not so common a word), and flaccid started down the road to flassidity so long ago that the wrong pronunciation is now right. (That is, all our dictionaries list it, some as the majority usage.) Still, most English words with this Latin-derived double-c -- originally pronounced kk, as John Wells explains at his phonetics blog – continue to sound the cc as ks: accident, success, vaccinate.

But just as there’s no apparent reason for succinct to change its sound, there’s no way to know when another new pronunciation may appear. A couple of weeks ago, I had my first encounter with the nouveau successful, pronounced “sussessful.” The speaker was a caller to “On Point,” WBUR-FM’s talk show, who hailed from White House, Tenn., and who predicted an electoral victory for Mitt Romney. Why? “He’s a sussessful governor and a sussessful businessman as well.”

Yes, he had a Southern accent, but my Southern-speaking friend doesn’t recognize this as a regional thing, and of course it could be idiosyncratic. Anyone else out there hearing – or saying – “sussessful”?


20 comments:

Stuart Martin said...

It really is never too late to learn - just a few days short of forty-five and I learn that "sussinct" is non-standard! Now to find out whether it's just my idiolect, or a more widespread NZE thing.

empty said...

That's nothing! Your own dear Boston Globe's automated phone system for dealing with billing and delivery matters used to feature a recorded voice that pronounced the word "subscription" as if it was "suscription".

empty said...

But to answer the question, no, I don't recall ever hearing "sussessful". I hear "assessible", which sounds odd to me (maybe because there is a word "assess"), and also "sussinct" which for some reason sounds less odd. I wonder if "coccyx" will ever be pronounced "cossicks".

Gregory Lee said...

In the examples accident, vaccinate, coccyx, where ks remains, the accent precedes ks, but in the examples where the k is lost, the accent follows. I conjecture that following accent is a conditioning factor for the change. empty's examples access, accessible, the first with preceding accent and the second with following accent, display the predicted alternation between ks and s in the same morpheme.

Gregory Lee said...

A secondary accent on the preceding vowel seems to prevent the loss of k in taxation, mixology, doxology, accentuate, facsimile, tuxedo.

empty said...

Gregory, are you suggesting that even words in which the ks sound is spelled x can sometimes be subject to the same loss of k sound?

Marc Leavitt said...

Jan:
I've heard sus-sink and flas-sid. I know it's probably a losing battle, but despite the pseudo-legitimacy of the lexicographers' art, I'll suck-sinktly keep to the old-time religion; nothing flack-sid about me. If tweety-pie's sus-sessful I still won't grant it ack-session to my idiolect.

Gregory Lee said...

empty said: "Gregory, are you suggesting that even words in which the ks sound is spelled x can sometimes be subject to the same loss of k sound?"

It hadn't occurred to me that the spelling had anything to do with it. (Linguists don't do spelling.) It did occur to me that whether k is from a Latinate prefix, like ad-, might be important, since such prefixes have some phonological peculiarities (like permitting word-initial unstressed closed syllables).

Bryan M. White said...

Hmmm, maybe this is some kind of Faux-British affectation going on here. People hear the hard "c" sound dropped in "schedule" and perhaps they assume that they'll sound a bit more cultured and refined if they drop it elsewhere as well. Stranger things have happened, have they not?

On the other hand, I've always pronounced "flaccid" as "flassid", and I never knew that there was any other way of saying it.

Gregory Lee said...

Online Etymological Dictionary says "the modern British pronunciation ("shed-yul") is from French influence, while the U.S. pronunciation ("sked-yul") is from the practice of Webster, and is based on the Greek original."

So the change was from "shed" to "sked" and was a scholarly restoration, in English, but previously the "k" had been lost in Old French before the borrowing into English.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=schedule&searchmode=none

empty said...

I think I read somewhere that "sed-yul" (which nobody says nowadays) is the older pronunciation, or at least that it would be truer to the word's origins.

Gregory Lee said...

It's possible that an earlier English pronunciation had "sed", but I have my doubts. The source form is given as O.Fr. cedule, which would have had "ke" in Latin and would now be "se" in modern French. The way this change usually works is "ke" > "che" > "she" > "se", so it could have been "sh" at the time it was borrowed, depending on just how far the change had proceeded by the time of O. Fr. I wasn't able to find out about the pronunciation of "ce" in O.Fr.

CaitieCat said...

LOL, I always want to ask if people who say "shedule" learned how to say it that way in shool...

limssej said...

I've always pronounced succinct as "sussinct" and will say that aurally it exemplifies its definition better than its traditional pronunciation; perhaps to allow the listener to more easily suss out its meaning?

limssej said...

I've always pronounced succinct as "sussinct" and will say that aurally it exemplifies its definition better than its traditional pronunciation; perhaps to allow the listener to more easily suss out its meaning?

John Burgess said...

It's been "sussinct" and "flassid" for my 60+ years of speaking. My native English is a blend of New England and Michigan.

cp said...

I suspect that "sussinkt" is the norm in Australian English - but that is just my guess, no data can be produced to support this assertion. Anybody else noticed?

It's certainly easier/quicker to say.

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Herm Holland said...

For the record, as a British person, I found this all very interesting...

My pronunciations of these words are as follows:

flaccid = 'flassid'
schedule = 'sked-yule'
succint - 'suck-sinkt'
access = 'ack-sess'
accessible = 'ack-sessible'

The example I find strange is that of 'schedule'... I've only ever come across the 'shedule' pronunciation with non-British sources, so find the 'faux-British' comment really peculiar.

It's all very interesting, to say the least.

Gregory Lee said...

With a recent poll showing that 49% of Rs favor secession, several news commentators have failed to resist the punny "Nothing secedes like secession."