Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

My Areola Problem

A few days ago I had what I thought was a brilliant idea: write an article about the word “areola,” and then sell it to Slate Magazine. I’d title it something like “The Word Nobody Pronounces Right.” It’s exactly the kind of article—and title—they tend to like.

First, some background. Just in case you don’t know (about a third of the people I mention this to don’t), “areola” is the word for the colored ring around the nipple—it can, of course, be applied to both male and female nipples, but female nipples have wider range of variation and, in any event, get talked about more. That’s why it’s a little weird to look up the word in Merriam-Webster’s Tenth Collegiate and see it defined as “a colored ring (as about the nipple, a vesicle, or a pustule.)” I would venture to say that areola as “a colored ring around a nipple” is used at least ten times more often than it is as “a colored ring around a pustule.” But I don’t keep up with all the medical journals, so I can’t say for sure. But it sure seems like there ought to be an additional sentence at the end of the defnition: “But honestly, it’s mostly used to talk about women’s breasts.”

Anyway, I discovered several years ago that the allegedly correct pronunciation of the word, according to the first dictionary I checked, is not “airy-OH-luh,” as you might expect, but “uh-REE-uh-luh.” And yet I have literally met nobody—not one single person—who pronounced the word the way the dictionary says you’re supposed to. (In fact, just two nights ago I heard “airy-OH-luh” on an episode of “CSI.” Apparently a stripper had been murdered. It’s a long story.)

What makes this doubly strange is that all modern dictionaries list variant pronunciations when there are common variants in heavy use. For example, any listing of the word “our” usually has at least two pronunciations with the word: OW-er and AR. A moment’s reflection will show this is perfectly appropriate. Or take the word “ophthalmologist,” which should technically be pronounced OFF-thull-MAHL-uh-jist, even though most people tend to say OP-thuh-. (According to Webster’s Guide to Modern English Usage, this is even the most common pronunciation among ophthalmologists themselves!) And every major dictionary lists both pronunciations as a result.

And yet no such alternate pronunciation is ever listed for the word “areola.” That was going to be the point of my article. “Check anywhere!” I was going to say. “New International Third! The New World! The Random House Second! Encarta! Merriam-Webster’s Tenth! Not a one of them even seems aware that this most common pronunciation even exists! What’s up with that?” And then I was going to end the article somehow.

Unfortunately, I work in a crossword puzzle office, and the other day I discovered two disturbing things: One, there’s a Webster’s Eleventh Collegiate out (I thought I had it already), and Two, damned if it doesn’t list “airy-OH-la” as a legitimate alternate pronunciation! Damn! There goes my article! Somehow the article isn’t nearly as interesting when it ends by saying, “Only one dictionary gets it right...” instead of none.

Or have I given up too easily? I ask you, my readers—can any among you think of a way to reframe the article so it’s still sellable? I could use perhaps a small goosing of encouragement.


Anonymous Trip said...

Just leave out the analysis and include a lot of pictures of nipples.

6/04/2006 10:13 AM  

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