In praise of mispronunciation

I recently saw a Wall Street commentator talk about how uniformed uninformed investors are piling into Nvidia stock. He mocked some people he overheard at the gym referring to it as “nah-vidia”, instead of the correct “en-vidia”. But I don’t think we should mock people who mispronounce words, as it’s often a sign of intelligence.

Consider the following two people:

1. Person A went to an Ivy League school, where he learned how to correctly pronounce all the fashionable intellectual words. But he actually didn’t spend much time reading books, as he was too busy networking to advance his future career.

2. Person B is not particularly ambitious and works at Starbucks. She is a loner who spends much of her free time reading intellectual books.

Which one is better informed? Which one is superior at pronunciation?

I am surprised how often people suggest that I listen to videos discussing some hot button topic. It’s far more efficient to read, so why not send me an essay with the same set of information? Obviously, the fact that these videos are popular is an indication that many people don’t like to get information by reading. (Trump is a famous example.)

I also notice that many of these videos take “contrarian” positions on controversial issues like vaccines, global warming, and Russia/Ukraine.

I also notice that many of the contrarian positions are really dumb.

Of course these are just generalizations. So you don’t need to tell me that there are lots of thoughtful videos and lots of dumb essays. I agree.

But my point is that, on average, the information conveyed in writing is superior to information that is conveyed verbally. Put aside the question of bias (which exists everywhere)—in terms of quality the major newspapers are clearly better than the major TV news shows.

And my second point is that people who primarily receive their information by reading are more likely to mispronounce words than people who get their information by listening.

I’d prefer an investment advisor who mispronounces Nvidia over one who pronounces it correctly.

PS. Of course I’d also prefer no investment advisor at all.



19 Responses to “In praise of mispronunciation”

  1. Gravatar of Peter Peter
    2. March 2024 at 09:23

    Amen Scott, something we can be fully lockstep on for once. Often I’m more impressed they know the word at all, couldn’t care less if they butcher the pronunciation. Hell for decades I pronounced “Chloe” as “Cho-Lo” as had never met a Chloe in real life. And to my kids much annoyances I can’t break the habit of saying “Pee-Tite” for petite. And as a fellow person from Wisconsin, yes it’s “Eye-Talian”.

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. March 2024 at 09:28

    I also mispronounced Chloe, for the same reason. Anti-social people like me are especially prone to mispronounce words. (I’m also good at misspelling.)

  3. Gravatar of Don Geddis Don Geddis
    2. March 2024 at 09:37

    “I’m also good at misspelling.” Speaking of which … “uniformed” -> “uninformed” in the first sentence of the post. 🙂

  4. Gravatar of Sara Sara
    2. March 2024 at 12:35

    The beauty of short videos published by independent journalists on twitter is that you can bypass the media propagandists, hereinafter referred to as “The Firm”.

    Good intellectuals go to the source; sometimes that’s an unedited video; sometimes that’s a book; sometimes it’s taking a trip to the Darien Gap, and I don’t see a problem with any of that.

    People in search of the truth tend to be skeptical. They neither dismiss not accept information offhand. If, for example, “The Firm” writes that Trump is Hitler, the inquisitive person begins to research that brazen claim. In order to confirm the truth of “The Firm’s” claim, one must watch Trump’s interview, or his rally, or wherever he was when he made the statement.

    In addition, if “The Firm” writes that Peter McCullough is an “anti-scientist” and “conspiracy theorist,” then the intelligent person must naturally question the reasonablness of such a bold statement. Indeed, upon further research, one might notice a pattern — whenever anybody disagrees with the position of “The Firm”, they’re disparaged and labeled conspiracy theorists. Inferences are then drawn from that odd pattern of behavior.

    In regards to your indirect attack on those religious videos being “Dumb”.

    Look, it doesn’t really matter if the inalienable comes from God or locke’s natural rights, or comes from Kant’s noumenal realm, but it has to come from somewhere. If you take the view that morality is subjective, then you give fuel to tyrants. So when a Catholic stands up and says: “Hey, we have god-given rights and you cannot take them from us”, then the pseudointellectual response to that kind of video is something like: “He’s an idiot there is no god.”

    The intellectual understands there is some truth to those words,, because Universality cannot be discarded without totally upending the social contract, subjugating everyone to either the tyranny of the majority or the tyranny of the few.

    That’s why St. Augustine’s words: “No unjust law can be law at all” still resonate 1500 years later. It doesnt’ matter if one believes in God or not. It’s just important to believe that certain things transcend the human condition, OR at the very least certain things are considered outside the purview of the meandering, idle-handed apparatchik.

    It’s not “Dumb”. It’s not “empty rhetoric.” Friedrich Hayek found transcendence in culture. He spoke about the pseudointellectual, “scientism” and what he called the “pseudoindividualist”, which he thought would lead to nihilism and to totalitarianism.

    I do find it amusing, though, that you’re willing to spend countless hours watching old movies, but at the very same time complain about short videos.

  5. Gravatar of Solon of the East Solon of the East
    2. March 2024 at 16:05

    I agree with this post, but then some people, like me, work with our hands. The work is somewhat repetitive, but requires eyes on, so we listen to podcasts or radio.

  6. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    2. March 2024 at 17:44

    I learn a lot more from thinking than I do from either reading or watching videos.

  7. Gravatar of Jim Glass Jim Glass
    2. March 2024 at 20:37

    I wouldn’t exactly say that mispronouncing words is a sign of intelligence, as excellent as I am at it. But it is hard reality that factual knowledge and life experience beat high IQ and lofty academic credentials far more often then the high-IQ highly-academically credentialed like to admit.

    Four quantum physicists with a combined IQ of 600 attend a quantum science fair at the Manhattan Hilton, on the Upper West Side. They’re invited to a party that night at an address in the East Village. They have no clue where that is, much less low to navigate the subways to get there. How do they do it? By hailing a taxi driver with an IQ of 90.

  8. Gravatar of Jim Glass Jim Glass
    2. March 2024 at 21:18

    I am surprised how often people suggest that I listen to videos discussing some hot button topic. It’s far more efficient to read

    Ooooh, I really disagree.

    so why not send me an essay with the same set of information?

    1) I want daily news reported from Beijing quoting Chinese-language sources. I get it from the China Update channel on YouTube. What essay will provide me the same?

    2) As it happens yesterday I watched a five-year old video of Michael Pettis, Peking University, giving the clearest explanation I’ve heard of the history of the Chinese development model, well before the recent troubles, with predictions about choices to be made in coming years (that now seem prescient). Then a recent take by Pettis on the same in current perspective, with extensive Q&A, plus references to related articles (by both him and others) at the Carnegie Endowment, Foreign Affairs, etc. I can’t think of a more efficient example of learning over a couple hours, except maybe…

    3) Marking 100 years after WWI, all the very top historians on the subject wrote histories of it highlighting their own unique personal insights (sometimes conflicting). Of course 80% of each book redundantly covered the same basics of the war (already known by me). How to get all their best insights? Read 6 books, 3000 pages, 2400 duplicative? Nah.

    They all gave presentations at sites like the National World War I Museum, Oxford, the US Army War College, etc., sometimes together, taking Q&A, sometimes from each other, all available on YouTube. What essay takes on challenging Q&A? Listening at 1.5 x speed (efficient!) one gets the unique parts of six major texts in about four hours, and learns what specific new ideas to follow up upon. And I listened while walking the dog, doing laundry … Efficient!! Can’t do *that* reading an essay!

    For learning a new subject, YouTube is great. About health? In the YouTube search bar enter “Physionic” and your topic of choice (“protein”, “insulin resistance”, whatever), you’ll get a fine short discussion of it and links to all the best peer-reviewed, controlled studies on it. What’s more efficient than that? About Putin, Russia, Ukraine, Leninism, etc.? Enter that topic and “Stephen Kotkin” or the name of any biographer of Putin or real expert on that subject, get several presentations by the same, highly informative for introductory and advanced amateur audiences. Expert presentations! What more efficient way to learn?

    But my point is that, on average, the information conveyed in writing is superior to information that is conveyed verbally.

    On average, 80% of everything is poop but the top few percent are gold. Why ignore and slur the video gold that writing can’t match — just because the poop exists and dummies send it to you and Trump quotes it?

  9. Gravatar of Mike M. Mike M.
    2. March 2024 at 21:26

    The preference for video clips over written word has been disturbing to me too. It’s not just news companies preferring video because it’s easier to monetize (which makes commercial sense) but more sadly, it’s consumers themselves preferring video. I understand demand for audio if one wants to consume content at the same time as doing something else, like driving a car or sweeping the floor, but why do people want to get news or learn about nonvisual things by watching something whose speed you can’t easily modulate? It’s stupid.

  10. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    3. March 2024 at 01:09

    I almost never watch the short videos people send me, for the same reasons. Very occasionally, I will watch a video someone embeds in a social media post, if I think the headline of the post is sufficiently interesting or unbelievable. However, I do listen to a lot of podcasts. I already need to read a lot for work and spend a lot of my non-work time cooking, cleaning, walking the dog or exercising – all activities where reading isn’t possible and podcasts can complement my other tasks. Also, I find that podcasts that involve interviews with the author of a book enable me to get the gist of their message without needing to buy and spend time reading it. Of course, Scott, I have bought all your books (can’t say I’ve read them all cover to cover, though), and I bought and enjoyed Bryan Caplan’s ‘The Case Against Education’. But Bryan’s other books, and Tyler’s? They do enough podcast interviews discussing them that I seldom feel the need. The other thing is that while, say, David Beckworth has interviewed a lot of great macroeconomic academics and thinkers, most of them haven’t and wouldn’t write short essays on the topics he discusses with them. I have particularly enjoyed his discussions with my mate, Ed Nelson, because Ed has offered views on issues like the implicit role that money plays in the long run in New Keynesian models. There’s no easy way to find a good essay on that.
    As for mispronunciation, even 30 years later, I cringe when remembering how a more literate friend gently corrected my pronunciation of ‘ethereal’ (which I said as ‘ether-real’ rather than eth-ear-eal’). I agree with your point intellectually, but am a helpless victim of the signalling society we live in! It also gets mixed up in my mind with other, quite different, verbal mistakes people make, like when misusing words (eg using ‘infer’ when they mean ‘imply’) and the tech-industry/ valley girl habit of starting sentences with so and having upward inflexions at the ends of their sentences. I know, I’m a bad person.

  11. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    3. March 2024 at 02:51

    @Jim Glass
    I think the poop percentage is more like 99.99%

  12. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    3. March 2024 at 12:27

    “Of course these are just generalizations. So you don’t need to tell me that there are lots of thoughtful videos and lots of dumb essays. I agree.”

    Obviously this part of the post needed to be put into larger type, maybe surrounded by blinking lights.

  13. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    3. March 2024 at 12:36

    The ultimate “mispronunciation” thing is the “misle” one, where when you get the pronunciation figured out, you also lose a word:

  14. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. March 2024 at 12:36

    Rajat, Just tell them that the mispronunciation shows how smart you are—you get your vocabulary from reading, not cocktail party conversation.

    I will say that there’s no shortcut to getting the message of my book “The Midas Paradox”. A podcast summary would not be able to deliver the message. Unfortunately, not many people wish to read it (or any of my books.)

  15. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    3. March 2024 at 18:09

    I downloaded The Midas Paradox. I’ll let you know your poop percentage when I finish. So far it’s relatively low, but that might be because I’ve started with Chapter 13.

  16. Gravatar of Chris Chris
    4. March 2024 at 05:09

    I always enjoy the irony of people proudly proclaiming that they get all of their information from propaganda while sneering at various high quality information sources as “propoganda”.

  17. Gravatar of Ricardo Ricardo
    4. March 2024 at 09:24

    The Supreme Court overruled the radical left wing in Colorado.

    9-0 ruling sends a big message to all of the TDS freaks, and the millions of commies masquerading as liberals.

    You’re losing in all swing states. You’ll be destroyed in Florida, because the Cuban community has worked hard to warn all latinos about your commie leftwing party.

    You’ll never get your one-party state as long as we’re here. Cuba will not be coming to America. America will not be reporting to the WEF, the WHO, the UN or your one-world-NATO. Once Trump is back in the White House, all these ridicilous supranationals siphoning power away from people will be destroyed.

    That’s why you’re desperate. You know your one world government agenda is collapsing in real time.

  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. March 2024 at 10:01

    Chris, I notice that too.

  19. Gravatar of Bob Loblaw Bob Loblaw
    4. March 2024 at 19:58

    Where’d sds Ricardo come from?

    All your ideas are contrarian Scott. Perhaps you should try out being a youtuber. You could sign off by saying, “remember, never reason from a price change!”

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