Repartee in the Rathskeller? You Don't Say!

By Rob Kyff

December 25, 2019 3 min read

Here's your chance to test your mastery of frequently mispronounced words. I'll even throw in some lively repartee. Which pronunciation would you choose?

1. Repartee: a clever remark or an interchange of witty retorts.

A. rep-ahr-TAY B. rep-ahr-TEE

2. Rathskeller: a basement tavern or restaurant.

A. RAT-skel-ur B. RATH-skel-ur C. ROT-skel-ur

3. Repercussion: a reciprocal action or effect, often indirect or unforeseen.

A. REP-pur-kuh-shin B. REE-pur-kuh-shin

4. Ruse: a trick or act used to fool someone.

A. ROOZ (rhymes with "shoes") B. ROOS (rhymes with "moose")

5. Primer: a small book for teaching children to read.

A. PRIME-ur B. PRIMM-ur

6. Victuals: supplies of food.

A. VIT-ulz (rhymes with "wittles") B. VIK-choo-ulz

Answers and Explanations:

1. B. rep-ahr-TEE — "Repartee" derives from the French word "repartie" (a retort), in which the final syllable is pronounced "tee," so pronouncing it "TAY," by false analogy with "negligee" and "soiree," is what pronunciation expert Charles Elster calls "pseudosophisticated re-Frenchification" or, in plain terms, "bargain-basement French."

2. C. ROT-skel-ur — Speaking of basements, this German word is a combination of "Rat" (council) and "Keller" (cellar) because many early rathskellers were located in the basements of "council houses" (town halls). In German, "rat," also spelled "rath," is pronounced "rot."

3. B. REE-pur-kuh-shin — Think of the sound of a percussion returning or reverberating — a RE-percussion.

4. A. ROOZ or B. ROOS — The French word "ruse," meaning "trickery," entered English during the early 1600s, and for 300 years English, speakers used its French pronunciation, "ROOZ." But during the 20th century, the pronunciation "ruse" apparently pulled off a ruse and tricked people into pronouncing it "ROOS." So, today, both renderings are standard.

5. B. PRIMM-ur — The book "primer" and the "primer" meaning "an initial coat of paint" are two separate words; the latter is pronounced "PRY-mur."

6. A. VIT-ulz — Yep, the Beverly Hillbillies got this one right. "Victuals" is derived from the Latin root "victualis," meaning "pertaining to food." But French adopted "victualis" as "vitaille," which then entered English with the pronunciation "VIT-ulz." During the 1600s, linguistic purists reinserted the "c" to reflect the original Latin spelling, giving us "victuals." Nevertheless, the word retained its French pronunciation. So y'all can eat up yer "vittles"!

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Photo credit: Christian_Birkholz at Pixabay

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