This is the first of what I am sure will be many posts on the mangling of our spoken language. I abhor lazy speech and seek to correct it as often as possible. If you find yourself making any of the errors I point out, don’t be embarrassed, just fix it. This may help prevent you from presenting yourself to others as an uneducated imbecile.

NOTE: I am fully aware that these types of posts will undoubtedly come across as intolerant, condescending, and perhaps even anal-retentive.  So be it.  We have definitive rules behind most of our language.  They are outlined in numerous rule books, style guides, and grammar dictionaries.  There are so few definitives in life, let us embrace the ones we have.

Of late I have noticed a disturbing tendency in the speech of popular culture.  The tendency is the pronunciation of words that begin with “str-” as though they included an “h” – thereby making the pronounced sound “shtr-“.  For example: straight, streak, stripe, stripper, stress, stroke, and strategy. Read that list again, OUT LOUD. Did you hear any “Sh” sounds at all? If you did, you’re pronouncing the words incorrectly.

Just to be clear, there isn’t any debate to be had here.  This isn’t a matter of opinion, or an issue of placing the proper emphasis on the right syllable. Nope, this one is truly a right and wrong issue.

I really don’t know why this tendency exists as it is actually more difficult to pronounce than the simple “str” sound. Nonetheless, it has been growing in frequency and permeating our language for at least 20 years. It gets even more peculiar when the sound is made in the middle of a word such as reshtrictions, abshtract, and dishtributions.

I first noticed it in African American culture.  Being a fan of The Cosby Show as a youth, I noticed Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Theo) making the error occasionally.  It was unusual to me (growing up in the midwest I was not exposed to black culture often and the African Americans I knew were all well-spoken college professors, judges, and state officials).  Then, as A Different World came to follow, and being more entrenched in hip-hop culture, I found many of the actors at fault.  Of course, it did not take long to prove it was not ethnically related.  Harry Connick Jr. employs this unfortunate convention in Independence Day when he informs Will Smith’s character (another shtrict abuser) that NASA will never select him as an astronaut if they find out he’s “married to a shtripper.”

I found many of my own college students were guilty of this transgression, and these were caucasian kids from the rural midwest. Though I at least had made them aware of it by the time they left my instruction.

Petty though it may be, it’s lazy speech, plain and simple.  Pay attention to how you speak. Without knowing it, it could cost you a job, or a loan, or a date, or any situation where you want to make a good impression.  If you speak properly, your chances improve dramatically.

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