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Monday, January 16, 2017

Why teachers are literally slaves

A Greek pedagogue
 I was listening to a podcast the other day by an American academic talking about ballet teaching methods, or as she pronounced it, "PEDDA go gee", with a long "o" vowel. 

Being my sweet-tempered, tolerant self, I thought, "What the hell is wrong with her? Why doesn't she know how to pronounce pedagogy?" I myself say "PEDDA godge ee" with a short "o", and could not recall ever having heard anything else. 

Once again I was too quick to judge. Oxford dictionaries give only "my" pronunciation, but the Merriam-Webster dictionary gives "PEDDA go gee" as the more frequent US pronunciation.

So I ran a little survey amongst my editor friends.

Americans were split, but not in the way the Merriam-Webster suggests:  23 used the long vowel, but 34 used the short vowel.

In Britain and the rest of the English-speaking world, the short vowel was definitely predominant, although 8 of 23 UK speakers opted for the "go gee" variant.
Usually, when we have a US/British pronunciation divide like this, Canadians split about 50/50. But not in this case. 
64 out of 64 Canadian respondents used the "short" o. So it's not surprising that I was unaware of the "go gee" variant and thought it was "wrong".

I have no explanation for this difference in pronunciation. The question of whether the second "g" is a soft or hard one will have to wait for another day. 

How do you pronounce this word?

Where does the word "pedagogy" come from?

The ancient Greeks had slaves who were responsible for escorting the young scions of wealthy families to and from school. The Greek word for “boy” was paidos, and “lead” was agogos, so a “boy leader” was a “pedagogue”. 

The Anglo-Saxons had a literal translation of this which they used to mean “schoolmaster”: Anglo-Saxon magu (boy) + toga (leader) produced the delightul magatoga No doubt prestige-conscious teachers felt that a Greek word was much more impressive than an Anglo-Saxon one so adopted pedagogue starting in the 1400s. Teachers nowadays are of course less full of themselves, though they may often feel that they are slaves!

Any word lovers out there who are also ballet lovers? Come on my great ballet trip to London in May! You could visit Samuel Johnson's house! More info here: 

1 comment:

  1. I'm in the short o camp. PEDDA go gee just sounds weird!


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.