pageok
pageok
pageok
Usage:

Commenter Luke faults the Webster's Dictionary of English Usage argument about times less and times more with this:

"Everyone" understands what I mean when I say "axe you a question," so presumably we can all start saying that in the courtroom and in business meetings, etc. with no problems, right? It's no different than this case. It would take "a good deal of effort" to not understand what I meant, after all.

The trouble with "axe" for "ask" isn't that the spelling is somehow "illogical." After all, everyone understands that the pronunciation "iern" means "iron"; that's perfectly proper. The pronunciation "kernel," in context, means "colonel"; that's proper, and we wouldn't phonetically say "colonel" instead.

The difference between "iern"/"kernel" and "axe" is that "axe"-for-"ask" has not established itself well enough in educated speech. Using it therefore makes people think of you as lower-class; that may not be fair, but there it is. To the extent that one can call certain usages "wrong," this one is "wrong," because it departs from standard usage among educated people -- not because it's somehow illogical.

"Times more" and "times less" is standard usage, from Gladstone on down, and has long been standard usage. Most educated English speakers, I suspect, aren't even aware of the controversy over it (unlike with "axe"). So I see no justification for describing it as "wrong" (as opposed to "inelegant" or "likely to cause annoyance among some listeners").

And, yes, if "axe" ever becomes common enough in educated speech, it will become right, just as "ice cream" and "iern" are now right.

Gonerill (mail):
Hm, what's this elephant doing here in the room?
6.21.2006 6:28pm
Stamboulieh (mail):
Axe is a tool with which you chop wood. It is not a word that can be substituted for 'ask' when using it in a sentence. However, I have never seen someone write a sentence substituting 'axe' for ask, it is merely pronounced that way, so perhaps it is just a mispronunciation.
6.21.2006 6:53pm
A.S.:
The difference between "iern"/"kernel" and "axe" is that "axe"-for-"ask" has not established itself well enough in educated speech.

Why should educated speech be the touchstone here? It seems to me that any usage that is accepted by X% (you fill in the X) of the population should be considered proper and acceptable, regardless of whether that X consists of educated people or uneducated people. Provided one is not a prescriptivist, at least.
6.21.2006 7:02pm
DonBoy (mail) (www):
"Why should educated speech be the touchstone here?"

Because since there is no actual language police, the only possible penalty for mispronounciation is to be taken for a member of a different social class than one desires. And most of this language stuff is really about class (he said with a huge handwave).
6.21.2006 7:09pm
Allen Asch (mail) (www):
Does that mean Nuke-yuh-ler has been made proper by GW Bush?
6.21.2006 7:12pm
Ak Mike (mail):
Professor Volokh, I think Luke is missing the point regarding the controversial phrase "ten times less." Most people may know what "axe" means when used orally instead of "ask," because of context. But as scores of comments show, many many people do not know what "ten times less" means. Therefore it is not primarily objectionable as an illiterate, unintelligent colloquialism. It is objectionable as an unintelligible, confusing, ambiguous phrase that is not familiar as a colloquialism. The phrase should be avoided if you want to convey meaning.
6.21.2006 7:20pm
GMUSL Rising 3L (mail):
Allen -- of course not. It was made famous by President Elmer Fudd, or whichever gullible (see Hamas, Arafat) Southern president was stymied by that Wascally Wabbit!
6.21.2006 7:24pm
Kipper (mail):
Stamboulieh makes a point. Many people have trouble pronouncing ask "correctly," just as many people have trouble pronouncing nuclear "correctly."

That said, I think EV's point on usage is right. The operative criterion is "educated speech." Clearly, that's a matter of opinion. FWIW, if anyone is keeping tally, count me with those who think it is not educated speech. Does the Conspiracy do polls? I've been amused by some of the polls Professor Bainbridge has taken.
6.21.2006 7:26pm
GMUSL Rising 3L (mail):
Prof. Volokh is perhaps making a reference to Y3K, as "axe" has become the standard in the New New York of Futurama.

Although presumably, you won't get arrested in the future if you "axe" an undercover NARC for his "dex", "flax" will not just be a fabric but something you can drink from, "max" will be something that can be worn around without being obscene, "tax" evasion will be a normal part of work and something children do by watching TV instead of doing homework or cleaning their rooms, and I'll be able to "bax" in the glow of my own cleverness for writing this post.
6.21.2006 7:29pm
ShelbyC:
There's an interesting article on ask/axe (that also mentions nuculear here:

http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=19991216
6.21.2006 7:35pm
DaveK (mail):
Does that mean Nuke-yuh-ler has been made proper by GW Bush?

Although it's closer to acceptable than "axe" for "ask", I'd answer no--because, again, the touchstone is educated speech, not simply higher-class speech (though the two correlate). If you say "nuke-lee-ur", essentially no one will register the speech as an error, whereas if you say "nuke-yuh-ler" some (large) fraction of your listeners will think you're uneducated. The latter is thus a poor choice in most circumstances. Put differently, "nuclear" remains a shibboleth.

This rule has an exception--there are plenty of examples where prescriptivists have overcorrected and condemned a usage that has a long history and no basis in a logical or pronunciation error, and where a large fraction of the population thinks a usage is incorrect. (One example that comes to mind is ending a sentence with a preposition.) I would argue that there's no reason to avoid these examples in educated speech if you know what you're doing (and you are not in a situation where the consequences of being misinterpreted as erroneous are dire). "Times smaller", "axe", "nuke-yuh-ler", etc. do not fall in this category.
6.21.2006 7:41pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Does that mean Nuke-yuh-ler has been made proper by GW Bush?

According to the Wikipedia, it was popular these US Presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

Homer Simpson and Tony Blair also use it.

Jimmy Carter and Homer Simpson probably pick up the pronunciation while working in their respective fields.

For more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nucular
6.21.2006 7:50pm
John Jenkins (mail):
Ahh, the glories of descriptivisim!! Nothing is right or wrong, it all depends on how many people do it. Where have I heard that before?

Just to get in on the debate, "times smaller" has never made any sense to me at all, and no one seeking any sort of precision would use it, so I always mentally convert it to "a lot less" because trying to figure out what precisely was meant is a waste of my time and if the author had wanted to be precise he or she could have used a different construction. On the other hand, that may mean that the person using this construction either has something to hide or doesn't quite understand what he or she is saying.
6.21.2006 7:59pm
Sasha (mail):
1. Stamboulieh says he's never seen someone write a sentence with "axe." See Geoffrey Chaucer, The Wife of Bath's Tale, line 21. (Click here for a modern translation.)

2. Since the notion of "educated speech" has come up in this thread, I'll just repost (approximately) the relevant portion of my comment from a few posts down, as it's more on point here.

I think descriptivism and prescriptivism are bad labels; we should all be descriptivists and prescriptivists at the same time. Specifically, we communicate to achieve a goal, and whatever doesn't achieve that goal is "wrong."

Using "axe" for "ask" is in fact CORRECT when you're communicating with people who use that word, and INCORRECT when you're talking with people who would take it as a sign of hickness IF your goal was not to convey that impression. "Ten times more" would in fact be incorrect if you're in a room full of people who either don't understand the usage or just find it annoying (unless your goal was to annoy them); it's also incorrect in various scientific contexts; but it's correct in most colloquial contexts.

If some people in the community you're talking to do understand a phrase and others don't, then you do the cost-benefit analysis -- how many people in each group? what are likely misunderstandings? what are the costs of being misunderstood? how well does it express what you meant? how nice does it sound? how similar is it to how other people in the community you're talking to would say the same concept? -- and you should choose the phrase that maximizes that overall communicative goal. Whether you're speaking CORRECTLY depends on whether you optimized correctly.

Now some people will say as a shorthand that "right" is as I've described it but where we stipulate that your commnuity of listeners is the community of educated people. That's a classist shorthand, but useful, since usually we give people speaking and writing advice when they're seeking to make a good impression on educated people. But it's nothing but a shorthand. If you're giving advice to a politician who wants to campaign among simple folk, your best advice would be to say that some of these turns of phrase are quite incorrect.

Anyway, that's all it means to speak rightly or wrongly. The prescriptivism is where I tell you that certain things are WRONG to say IF you're trying to achieve some communicative goal with a certain community. The descriptivism is where I tell you that whether you achieve that goal entirely depends on what "language" your listeners are speaking, that is, what linguistic conventions they use.
6.21.2006 8:40pm
jimbino (mail):
Y'all miss the point. If correct means getting your idea across or sounding like George Bush, all kinds of nonsense is correct. Certain word usages are indeed shibboleths, enabling the conoscienti among us to communicate just fine while separating the human wheat from the chaff at the same time.
6.21.2006 8:40pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
jimbino said: "Certain word usages are indeed shibboleths, enabling the conoscienti among us to communicate just fine while separating the human wheat from the chaff at the same time."

Let me suggest that, as long as you're talking about shibboleths, it's either "cognoscenti among us" or "conoscienti among you."
6.21.2006 9:12pm
Windypundit (www):
For whatever it's worth, I've heard actual skilled nuclear engineers say "nu-cue-ler." It's probably not something we need to worry about.
6.21.2006 9:21pm
Stamboulieh (mail):
Sasha, thanks for the link to that. Since we are playing a semantics game here, I will stand by my first response that I have never "seen" someone write that in a sentence.

I enjoy conversation much more when people enunciate and pronounce words correctly. It is a frustrating exercise to decipher a language, especially in a classroom setting. One of my professors does not use the English language that I have become accustomed to, and continually (perhaps consciously) mispronounces words (ask, forfeiture, flammable, paraphanalia). I know, I know... Shouldn't be that hard to decipher those words, right? It smacks of lack of intelligence (In her defense, I personally know her to be an incredibly intelligent person and outstanding lawyer).

S
6.21.2006 9:34pm
Gabriel Gonzalez:
A couple of additional points in favor of the empiricists (contra the mathematicians).

1. A quick google check shows 162,000 occurrences of the sequence "ten times higher than" versus only 13,300 finds for the (indisputably, I think) correct sequence "ten times as high as"; ie, the first sequence occurs approximately 12.5 times "more often" than the second. The sequence "ten times lower than" occurs 33,400 times. (The sequence "ten times as low as" is virtually non-existent.)

2. In Spanish, the same "unmathematical" constructions are in extremely common use: "veces más/menos" (times more/less) such as "mil veces más dificil" (a thousand times harder), "tres veces mas elevado" (three times as high), "diez veces mayor/menor" (ten times more/less). All of these show high figures in google. Same in French: "dix fois plus grand" (ten times as big), "deux fois plus bas" (twice as low), etc. Interestingly, in French and Spanish, there is in most cases no equivalent to "times as --- as" and the construction must be made with "more" or "less". Thus, the Spanish language and French language form are substantially identical to the English ones in construction and meaning, are in wide use and are correct, as far as I know (though I have not heard in either language the mathematical case opposing them).

I think we are dealing with "deep structure" here.

Gabriel Gonzalez
6.21.2006 9:34pm
Christopher M (mail):
Using "axe" for "ask" is in fact CORRECT when you're communicating with people who use that word

And even that's a bit of an oversimplification, right? -- you don't just adopt the speech patterns of whomever you're talking to. (As a white male whose dialect is more or less what you hear on the television news, I certainly don't go around pronouncing "ask" as "axe" when I'm talking to people who say the word like that.)
6.21.2006 9:37pm
Christopher M (mail):
Oh, I should have added, Sasha's also oversimplifying (and I'll be shocked if he disagrees) when he says that "[t]he descriptivism is where I tell you that whether you achieve that goal entirely depends on what 'language' your listeners are speaking, that is, what linguistic conventions they use."

It doesn't just depend on what language your listeners use. It depends on a complicated interaction between their linguistic situation (into which factor class, race, intelligence, ethnicity, locality; self-perception of class, race, intelligence, ethnicity, and locality; very likely gender &self-perception thereof; and a bunch of other things) and your linguistic situation (into which factor the same).

It's complicated, which is why linguistic-social faux pas aren't uncommon. Personally, I have kind of an problem where I subconsciously adopt the accent of whomever I'm talking to, and I have to be careful in Chinese restaurants when the host/ess asks "how many?" or "smoking or non?" not to answer back in a terrible (but unintentional!) parody of a Chinese accent.
6.21.2006 9:48pm
Sasha (mail):
Yeah, what he said.
6.21.2006 9:56pm
Neal R. (mail):
I see the elephant has still not been noticed, or is being ignored.
6.21.2006 10:00pm
Sasha (mail):
A side note, which has nothing to do with correctness or incorrectness, but does relate to Christopher M's last comment -- I learned Spain-Spanish (pronouncing soft "c" and "z" as "th", using the "vosotros" form for the second person plural), but when I speak Spanish now it's almost always with people from Latin America, mainly Mexicans, so I drop the Spainisms. But when I went to Spain, I went back to using Spainisms. Similarly, while in Argentina, I used the Argentinisms I had picked up (pronouncing "ll" and "y" as "zh", using the "vos" form for the second person singular at a level of formality between "tu" and "Usted"). I dropped those when I crossed into Chile, after asking a cab driver a couple of Chilean usage questions.

Thanks for listening.
6.21.2006 10:02pm
Sasha (mail):
Neal R. -- I thought the elephant Gonerill was referring to was classism, which we've discussed. Of course, this includes all the group-based manifestations of language, including regionalism, and race-related stuff (Ebonics?). Which is your elephant?
6.21.2006 10:05pm
Christopher M (mail):
Sasha's comment on adopting varieties of Spanish was kind of cool, and if I were a prescriptivist about internet-posting-coolness I'd say anyone who disagrees just doesn't get it. But I'm not. So I hope everyone agrees.

It also ties into my point. There's a basic international social norm that it's polite to try to speak the local dialect, especially when it's apparent that you've put some effort into learning what's what. (I tried the same thing, only in more affected ways than Sasha, like I'd throw in a "codesto" every so often in Tuscany, which is, like, not that one over there, and not this one over here, but the one that's over by you.) But there's not a social norm that it's polite to try to speak like the racial or ethnic group you're talking to. That's why I don't say "axe" and why I have to be careful not to be a jerk in Chinese restaurants.
6.21.2006 10:20pm
pallen:
Surely though you might recognize that there are other principles that one might apply when judging changes to usage. For example, those discussed in 'Politics and the English' language. Simply put, some changes to the language impede our ability to communicate ideas. Take for example the word 'liberal'. I don't think anyone can honestly claim that this word has any effective meaning these days--baring first defining or clarifying what you you intend to mean by the word before explaining further.
6.21.2006 10:35pm
Bob W (mail):
You overzealous grammarians are the type of people up with which I am not willing to put.
6.21.2006 10:37pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Other than President Nixon's tapes, has a president ever been recorded saying the "F" or "N" word? Private conversations count, but Nixons are the only ones I've heard those words.
6.21.2006 10:42pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
I don't have the link, but there is a great clip of then Governor Bush jokingly flipping the bird to the camera while doing a sound check. I'd vote for him just for that.
6.21.2006 10:44pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Professor Volokh: I have the greatest admiration for you, your intellect, and your writing talent and skill but you picked the wrong battle here. The idiom you're defending is common enough that the nitpickers who are attacking you on this issue are being unfair. However, the ultimate test of writing is its clarity. If some readers may be confused by one construction (whether it is grammatrical or ungrammatical, logical or illogical, and/or elegant or inelegant) but all readers will understand an alternative (no matter what its merits may be) isn't it usually better to go for clarity?
6.21.2006 10:44pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
But what of Trotsky's interesting autobiography, "Axe Me Again"?
6.21.2006 10:45pm
Kieran (mail):
Actually it was called "I Speak of the Revolution."
6.21.2006 11:03pm
James Taranto (mail) (www):
Picky, picky...
6.21.2006 11:07pm
Luke:
I got mentioned on a big blog! My mom will be so proud.
6.21.2006 11:44pm
Spoons (mail):
AppSocRes:
Professor Volokh: I have the greatest admiration for you, your intellect, and your writing talent and skill but you picked the wrong battle here. The idiom you're defending is common enough that the nitpickers who are attacking you on this issue are being unfair. However, the ultimate test of writing is its clarity. If some readers may be confused by one construction (whether it is grammatrical or ungrammatical, logical or illogical, and/or elegant or inelegant) but all readers will understand an alternative (no matter what its merits may be) isn't it usually better to go for clarity?
You must have missed the memo, AppSocRes. According to the professor, anyone who claims to be confused by these usages is simply a liar, and therefore the professor's usage is indisputably correct. Ipso fatso.
6.21.2006 11:45pm
guest (mail):
"Why should educated speech be the touchstone here?"
Should it be uneducated speech that's the touchstone?

I hear people pronounce 'often' OF-ten quite frequently, on NPR, a law professor here or there. Is that a regional thing?

Also, isn't 'ten times less' similar to phrases like 'each girl is prettier than the next?' The meaning is clear but parsing the words won't get you there.
6.21.2006 11:53pm
Lev:
They are not saying axe instead of ask, they are saying aks instead of ask.

The same as saying asteriks instead of asterisk.

And aks isn't any more correct English pronunciation than asteriks is.

---------------



pronounce 'often' OF-ten


Quibbling: pronounce 'often' off ten (as opposed of-ten, i.e. uv ten)
6.22.2006 12:05am
Kieran (mail):
"Why should educated speech be the touchstone here?"
Should it be uneducated speech that's the touchstone?


Well, the latter would have the weight of numbers. And the former would have some quite phenomenally educated people who pahk the cah neah Hahvahd Yahd. You pick.
6.22.2006 12:23am
Bleepless (mail):
Aks instead of ask is perfectly proper on Futurama. I heard this at the lie-berry.
6.22.2006 12:29am
paranoid (www):
4 posts and nearly 200 comments in under two days.... seriously, guys?
6.22.2006 12:41am
Dave Ruddell (mail):
What's wrong with 'ice cream'? Was it that it used to be 'iced cream'?
6.22.2006 12:54am
Luke:
Now that I'm done being a pedantic dick I would like to make some substantive comments..

First, and most irritatingly, Professor Volokh has changed the terms of the discussion. Whereas before the determinant factor of acceptable speech was universality (hence the commenters' insistent crowing about "everyone" using phrase XX), now it is suddenly changed to "educated speech" when I bring up an example of a colloquialism used amongst the poor, the urban, and blacks. This is extremely irritating. Either engage on the original terms or admit defeat, but don't try to shift the frame as though we had been talking about educated speech the entire time.

Secondly, I have no problem with "ten times more than", which is sometimes unclear (but you will always land in the ballpark), as opposed to "ten times less" which makes no sense to me and in fact I have rarely if ever heard people use that term. I have always used, and heard people use, "one -tenth as much, one half as much" etc.. It seems to me a common sense rule that when referring to smaller quantities you would use "one-Nth" and larger quantities as "N times as much." But then again, now I'm just saying "everyone" does it the way I like it, and that's the argument that was pissing me off in the first place! Furthermore, I would note that only a few weeks ago we were all debating whether Bill Cosby was right to criticize urban youth (read: black youth) for mutilating the English language. In those threads, it was claimed far and wide that there was a "correct" way to speak English and those kids needed to catch on. Now, we are reverting to the majoritarian principle, whereby if enough people say something the wrong way, it is "right"? I don't get it, that sounds like results-based reasoning to me. Why are you all being linguistic activists?
6.22.2006 12:54am
Dave Ruddell (mail):
Okay, I hadn't read the previous post about ice/d cream. Nevermind.
6.22.2006 12:57am
PabloF:
"4 posts and nearly 200 comments in under two days.... seriously, guys?"

That's one of the beauties of a blog... you never really know which posts are going to get legs (as it were).
6.22.2006 1:00am
Swimmy:
Regarding usage and grammaticality, this post on Language Log is almost perfect.
6.22.2006 1:05am
Truth Seeker:
The elephant is Ebonics an all deez white boyz be fraid ta be talkin bout it.
6.22.2006 1:11am
Lev:
So, I have a better question for Old Eugene regarding "standard usage" and "use by the masses".

If one listens to one's fellow citizens, as well as broadcasters etc. etc. etc., one notices that the plural verb, "are", is disappearing from usage, dare I say by factors of 10s.

I dare say, that the formely standard usage:


There are -plural word-.


Is in danger of axetinction, as usage is changing, illiterately it seems to me, to


There is -plural word-.


Further, "many is called, but few is chosen" is not likely to be seen as incorrect by great swaths of the population.

Ain't that ok tho?
6.22.2006 1:40am
The Voice of Reason (mail):
And, yes, if "axe" ever becomes common enough in educated speech, it will become right, just as "ice cream" and "iern" are now right.

Just to point out that axe for ask is not technically "Ebonics," if "Ebonics" means of African origin. The origin of the axe/ask distinction, at least in the speech of American blacks, is low-class Brits and Scots who owned slaves. That is, African slaves learned to speak English from low-class English speakers (at least they were low-class back in Britain!) and it trickled down into black English. The axe/ask distinction is known to trace back to Anglo-Saxons tribes. So, while it has never been the speech of the educated, it is as English as spelling Shakespeare as Shaxpear. (For another, similar example, many black Americans say "done come over yonder," it appears in black folklore and blues songs, and yet "over yonder" is a preposition of Scottish origin. The reason why is the same. Certainly, unless Sean Connery has a time machine, no African slaves arrived here speaking English with a Scottish accent.) i wouldn't call Scots who say "over yonder" were speaking Ebonics, nor would I say Anglo-Saxons who said axe instead of ask were speaking Ebonics, probably because they'd tomahawk their axes at me and I'd have to hot foot it over yonder.
6.22.2006 4:29am
The Voice of Reason (mail):
you don't just adopt the speech patterns of whomever you're talking to. (As a white male whose dialect is more or less what you hear on the television news, I certainly don't go around pronouncing "ask" as "axe" when I'm talking to people who say the word like that.)

Well, that depends how much choice you have. If you were wrongly imprisoned in Mexico, you can bet that you would learn Spanish fast and learn it the slangy, uneducated way the other prisoners spoke it. If everyone you interact with speaks a certain way, you do certainly adopt their accent and modes of speech, etc. But in a one-off interaction, you're right, there's no need to adopt or mimick the other's speech patterns, unless you're someone who "code-switches". (There's nothing wrong with "code-switching". Eric Clapton doesn't sound especially British when he is singing a blues song, even one he wrote himself. He rather sounds like a sad, drunk old black man. As he should.) Then again, if you like someone, you're likely to adopt their body language, speech patterns, and facial expressions, even in your first interaction. It's called empathy!
6.22.2006 4:41am
The Voice of Reason (mail):
Oh, sorry, that should read "owned slaves (or were indentured servants on the same plantations)".
6.22.2006 4:48am
The Divagator (mail) (www):

1. Stamboulieh says he's never seen someone write a sentence with "axe." See Geoffrey Chaucer, The Wife of Bath's Tale, line 21. (Click here for a modern translation.)


Nothing like a reference to Chaucer to make my day. Way to go!

Unfortunately, in Middle English, it wouldn't be pronounced as 'ax'. One would aspirate, no? So it would like more like the French insurance company rather than the handtool. Something like ax-uh?
6.22.2006 7:26am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
I always say "one-tenth" (which is traditional) or "point-one times" which is mathematically correct. I could never say "ten times less" because the math is just wrong.
6.22.2006 11:09am
Sasha (mail):
I think you wouldn't pronounce the "e" at the end of "axe" in the Chaucer line. Whether to pronounce the final "e" in Middle English poetry depends on whether you need the syllable for the iambic pentameter. (Sometimes in Middle English, you can write the word without the "e" at all, for instance the word for year -- "yeer" -- is sometimes spelled "yeere" to indicate pronunciation; but sometimes they put the "e" and you can leave it off.) So in the line "But that I axe, why that the fifthe man", I would leave off the "e" on "axe" but pronounce it on "fifthe."
6.22.2006 11:15am
The Divagator (mail) (www):
Sasha, gotcha. I was scanning the last two feet as a double iamb (- - / /), not aspirating with fifthe, but your way makes more sense as the line would then be regular iambic pentameter.
6.22.2006 11:35am
Seamus (mail):

I hear people pronounce 'often' OF-ten quite frequently, on NPR, a law professor here or there. Is that a regional thing?



And we you say "awf-en" do you mean awf-en, a person who has lost his parents, or do you mean awf-en, frequently?
6.22.2006 11:59am
Seamus (mail):
Hey, guys, can we talk about a whole nother subject?
6.22.2006 12:05pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
test
6.22.2006 1:50pm
dweeb:
was iron ever pronounced differently?
There is a proper pronunciation for ask, and axe is a different word, with established different meaning.
6.22.2006 2:52pm
The Divagator (mail) (www):
dweeb, funny, I've consulted the OED, which still has the pronounciation of iron as one syllable, not the i-ern noted earlier. So as to your question (was iron ever pronounced differently?) the answer is yes, as the most definitive source on English persists in believing it's a one-syllable word (something like 'arn').
6.22.2006 7:24pm
Christopher M (mail):
If you were wrongly imprisoned in Mexico, you can bet that you would learn Spanish fast and learn it the slangy, uneducated way the other prisoners spoke it.

Or even if I were rightly imprisoned in Mexico!

But good point, and just another way in which, as I say, these things are complicated. In your scenario, I'd be trying to become a member of the social group of Mexican prisoners -- and have obvious and credible reasons for trying to do so -- and speaking their dialect would further that goal. In real life, I'm not trying to become a member of any of the social (etc.) groups that regularly says "axe" for "ask," and since everyone knows that, my attempt to speak the dialect would just be patronizing and offensive.
6.22.2006 9:42pm