Thursday, January 21, 2016

/OF-tuhn/

Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day today looks at often . An excerpt:

The educated pronunciation is /OF-uhn/, but the less adept say /OF-tuhn/. Similar words with a silent -t- are “chasten,” “fasten,” “hasten,” “listen,” “soften,” and “whistle.”
Garner’s Language-Change Index puts the /OF-tuhn/ pronunciation at Stage 4: “The form becomes virtually universal but is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts (die-hard snoots).”

Our household must be composed of snoots. Outside our household, the /OF-tuhn/ pronunciation seems to be everywhere, these days.

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comments: 8

Daughter Number Three said...

I watch out for this one, both in conversation and in media use. Seems like at least nine times out of ten the "t" is pronounced. I wonder what evidence there is that the t-less version is older or preferred or whatever? There seems to me a reasonable difference between an "st" word like "hasten" and an "ft" word like "often," too.

I honestly don't know which way I pronounced this word growing up and even ten years ago. It sounds right to me either way.

Michael Leddy said...

The OED has background. In the sixteenth and seventeeth centuries, the Dictionary says, some orthoepists had the word pronounced with -t- and some without. Queen Elizabeth spoke the word with a -t-, but the -t- “seems to have been avoided by careful speakers” in the seventeenth century. “The pronunciation with -t- has frequently been considered to be hypercorrection in recent times,” says the Dictionary, citing Fowler. Fowler associates the -t- with “academic speakers who affect a more precise enunciation than their neighbours’” and “uneasy half-literates who like to prove that they can spell.” In Fowler’s day, the OED said that the -t- sound was “not recognized by the dictionaries.” Today the OED gives pronunciations without and with -t-.

Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage (1966) calls often with a -t- “chief among the overnice pronunciations.” I don’t think I was aware of it until a few years ago. I think of it as a hypercorrection, but it’s become so widespread that now /OF-uhn/ seems to sound déclassé. Where will it all end? :)

Geo-B said...

in-ter-REST-ing

Michael Leddy said...

Ha! For anyone who’s curious, here’s a page that addresses interesting . My reading lately seems to be telling me that I grew up with a great many British (or once-British) pronunciations and words in the air.

Mike said...

Take all of the following with a pinch of salt, as it's unscientific in the extreme and based purely on my own experience...

In British English, I hear two pronunciations predominating: OFF-ehn (/'ɒfɛn/) and OFF-ihn (/'ɒfɪn/). The former is how many Scots pronounce it, and the latter how most other speakers of British English would pronounce it. My fiancée, a Londoner for her first 17 years, pronounces it the second way, as do I, a lifelong Scot (albeit with a non-regional northern Scottish accent).

I occasionally hear the hard t, most often from non-native speakers. I spend a lot of time at my current job working with and talking to Eastern Europeans, most of whom use the t pronunciation.

Michael Leddy said...

Mike, thanks for the background. OFF-ihn is what sounds most familiar to me, and I’m a native of Brooklyn, New York.

shallnot said...

I find myself pronouncing it either way depending on surrounding words. I'll say "not /OF-uhn" and "not very/OF-tuhn/".

Diane Schirf said...

That's very innerestin'.