Because weekends are hard but I want to keep posting, here’s a snack-sized bit to enjoy with your Sunday morning tea/coffee/milk/CBD/whatever.
Sometimes, words in one language automatically look inappropriate in another, and today I give you the Spanish word… leer.
In English, it’s one syllable, and means to stare at someone inappropriately. “Don’t leer at me, dude.”
“He leered at her so much that she called HR.”
“Notice: Leering at patrons or artists is not accepted here.”
The word should also not be confused with the always proper noun Lear: “He landed his Lear Jet on Tuesday;” “The Bristol Cities Community production of ‘King Lear’ premiers on Thursday.”
In Spanish, “leer” is two syllables, and pronounced a lot like the English word “layer,” except with the emphasis on the second syllable: lay-AIR. In Spanish, it means “to read.”
It also happens to have a couple of variations by conjugation that, while pronounced differently, are spelled out lazy and without accents and look like other English words, mainly “leo”, the astrological sign; “lei” that Hawaiian airport gift thing; leia, that Star Wars princess; lea, where cows hang out; lean, how you like your meat; Lee, a common name.
If you’ve ever tried to learn Gaelic, then all those silent letters may have stopped you. But there’s apparently a method to that madness. Not so much in English, where there’s only one letter that is never silent.
First, a quick quiz to be answered later. Without cheating in Google translator or something, how would you pronounce this Gaelic surname? Mudhean. Hint: The answer is not “mud hen.”
Now, I’d mentioned previously that I’m glad I learned English first because it’s the hardest to pronounce. However, I’ve tried several times to learn my mother’s family’s mother tongue, which is Irish Gaelic, and have failed completely for exactly that reason: It is impossible to pronounce!
Seriously, look at these Americans trying to pronounce common Irish first names — and trust me, I once watched my own father being totally clueless on how to pronounce the very common name “Sean.”
Now look at this liar of an Irishman (because all of us are liars!) claiming that it’s so easy! Right. Maybe if you get rid of all those damn extra H’s and silent letters and dipthongs that bear no resemblance to the vowels in them!
But… this brings me to the point of this article. As difficult as Gaelic pronunciation can seem to English speakers, our language is still weirder because almost every letter in it can be silent. In fact, Miriam-Webster only found one and a half exceptions in their very fascinating article. The first is kind of a cheat because it comes from a direct borrowing from Spanish, and it shouldn’t exactly be unpronounced. I’ll give it to you here as a freebie: it’s the “J” in marijuana. And it isn’t silent, it’s a “y” sound, but hey, I don’t expect gabachos to know that.
The other letter might surprise you, though, and I’ll give you a free hint: It’s not a vowel, so you’ve only got 21 guesses. Well, make that 20, since we’ve already eliminated J. So… which letter in the English language has no examples (to date) of words in which it is silent? To find out, you’ll have to read the Miriam-Webster article.
And, to answer the original question, the name “Mudhean” is pronounced like “Moon,” but with a very, very liquid “u” sound in the middle. Imagine it like drawing that “oo” out a couple of syllables.