Increasingly I hear speakers on NPR pronouncing the “t’ in “often.” I surmise they think this mispronunciation makes them sound more educated.
For three centuries authorities have rejected the pronunciation AWF-tin. The renowned British lexicographer H.W. Fowler wrote, “The sounding of the ‘t’ in often is practiced by two oddly consorted classes—the academic speakers who affect a more precise enunciation than their neighbors and the uneasy half-literates who like to prove that they can spell.”
Yet once the professional classes in America believe that sham pedantry can enhance their prestige, the battle is lost. Everyone in the next generation will say AWF-tin. I expect these poseurs will also pronounce the “t” in glisten, soften, listen, castle, fasten, christen, and Christmas.
Ever since its founding document proclaimed that “all men are created equal,” the supply of status in America has been inadequate. Any method to appropriate distinction, even though mispronunciation, will flourish. Thus, useful British words that stressed the first syllable, such as exquisite and lamentable, were Gallicized into the melismatic ex-QUIZZZZZZZ-it and la-MEEEEENT-abIe. So sophisticated. So refined. So continental.
Similarly, the pronunciation of forte has changed from fort to for-TAY, a word that does not, irregardless, exist. Forte (pronounced fort) is a French word meaning strength. Forte (pronounced forty, as in pianoforte) is an Italian word meaning strong or loud. When one says, “that is not my for-TAY,” one is saying “that is not my strong.” Not strong.
In their hopeless quest for eminence Americans now change the meaning of words. They have literally turned the word “literally” on its head. The word is now used to mean figuratively, as in, “I literally was in seventh heaven.” Speakers believe this usage makes them appear cultured and literary.
Here in Seattle such problems demand a progressive political solution. I suggest that Biden’s stimulus plan tap into our National Strategic Status Reserve and distribute 650 rations of status to under-prestiged Americans who pronounce the “t” in often and confuse “literally” with “figuratively.” Equitably distributed, bien sur.