Tag Archives: language

How to pronounce ‘Gorges’

I grew up in a town of about 5,000 in northeastern Wisconsin. Of those 5,000, probably 200 had the last name ‘Gorges’. People with the name had been in the immediate area since the 1850s, when my great-great-great grandfather Gorges migrated with his family from Pomerania. As a child, I took for granted that it was a “normal” name, and that everyone knew how to pronounce it.

When I was in ninth grade, my family moved. Our new home was just 25 miles from the old one. But few in our new town knew anyone with the name ‘Gorges’, and no one knew how to pronounce it. We quickly adopted a modified pronunciation of ‘Gorges’, one that was meant to better match the way it was spelled (GORE-guess). The improvement was marginal. Preemptive spelling became a coping technique. When asked for my family name, I would (and still do) often omit the pronunciation altogether and skip straight to G-O-R-G-E-S.

As an adult – living far from the epicenters of Gorgesdom – I started to think more critically about the whole situation. Years of experience had shown that any pronunciation, however modified, was going to require a follow-up spelling. That meant that, in exchange for a pronunciation that never felt natural, I wasn’t getting any practical benefit. As a teenager, I’d switched because my family had switched. But my family is far away now. And if there’s any one normative fact about the world that an individual ought to be able to dictate by fiat, surely it’s the “correct” way to pronounce his name.

So I went back to my native pronunciation, which my wife and son use as well. Which is different from the (modified) pronunciation still used by my father and (I’m pretty sure) by my younger siblings. It’s an odd state of affairs.

On balance, I’m actually a pretty big fan of having an unusual last name. The “gorgeous” pun is a dynamite icebreaker, especially for someone as good-looking as me. (See?) Some people are quite particular about the way others say their names (which is within their rights), but I long ago learned not to care very much, to the point that I’ve never offered corrections even to some fairly good friends. This nonchalance is like tossing off a burden I’ve carried since I was a kid. And – bonus – my usernames are never taken.

[For the record: two hard Gs. GRR-ghiss.]

I like ambiguous demonstratives

One of the recent changes to Facebook that went undiscussed (or at least less discussed than the it-looks-like-Twitter thing) is liking. Attached to most of the pieces of content that appear in Facebook is a button that says “Like”. The intent seems to be this: liking is like commenting without content. Kinda like carving your name into a picnic table – not because you have anything to say, but just because you want to let everyone know that you were there. Neato.

I like this

There’s something ambiguous about liking, though. Imagine the following situations:

  1. Friend 1 posts an abstract drawing that she made in MS Paint.
  2. Friend 2 posts a status update that says “I got a new job and I am very happy about it”.
  3. Friend 3 posts an artsy photograph of a beer.
  4. Friend 4 posts a link to her singing a song about how she is very sad.

Clicking “Like” in each case means something different. In (1), the only real candidate as the object of my liking is the picture itself, especially since it’s not a picture of anything. In (2), the most likely liked entity is not the status update itself (which is not particularly funny or poetic or otherwise remarkable) but the fact that my friend got a new job and is happy about it. In (3), it’s not really clear: I could be liking the picture (since it’s so artsy and thus awesome) or the beer (since it’s beer). In (4), presumably I like the song, not the link (which would just be a URL or something like that) or the propositional content of the song (that the singer is sad).

We might pinpoint this ambiguity in the demonstrative “this” that Facebook attaches to each act of liking. When you single out the object of your liking with “this” and without a sortal, there is room for audience interpretation as to what you really meant to like.

However (as I just realized – while writing the previous paragraph, I got a notification from Facebook in another window letting me know that someone likes my status) Facebook doesn’t always leave the sortal out. In the notifications section, you are told that someone likes your status or your picture or whatever. But clearly, as in example (2) above, this is sometimes not the intent at all. So in this case the phrase “this status” might be acting metonymically, as shorthand for “the propositional content of this status” or something like that (like when you say “I like this book”, I suppose).

Cases like (4) are the interesting ones, because you might end up sending the wrong message – there are legitimate candidates for thing-liked that are not very nice. I suppose that, where friends are concerned, ambiguities will be interpreted with generosity. But you might want to be careful what you like!