Sunday, February 26, 2017

The longue and the short of it

I recently sent a verbal high five to author Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) and narrator Joe Barrett for their correct spelling and pronunciation of chaise longue in Stark's novel Butcher's Moon and its audio book version. That's why I was surprised today to hear the term pronounced chaise lounge in the audio book of Stark's novel The Sour Lemon Score. Could Stark, that most literate of crime writers, have spelled it wrong?

Nope. I checked the novel, and Stark got it right. But the narrator, Stephen R. Thorne this time, pronounced longue as it were written lounge, the way the word is pronounced so often in America. OK, the sort of people who refer sneeringly to "language police" will blandly declare that "language changes," and they're right. But how do they explain Thorne's correct, French pronunciation of chaise?
I've congratulated Marlon James and John Lawton for using the correct term, and I feel so strongly about the matter that I once wrote a story called "The Longue Goodbye."

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it was pronounced "chaise lounge", surely spelling would have to change. "Chaise longue" would be most obviously pronounced "Chase [or chaze] long-you" if it only underwent a change in pronunciation.

February 27, 2017  
Blogger Dana King said...

In American English--the language I'm guessing the audio book was recorded--I've heard both "chase" and "chaise" for the first word, but never anything but "lounge" for the second. That's as good a reason as any for the reader's choice. To do other, no matter how "correct," risks confusing the reader, or, maybe even worse, of sounding pretentious. Pretentious is the last thing Stark would want to sound like.

February 27, 2017  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Anonymous: You're right. The disjunction between spelling and pronunciation is what makes this example interesting.

February 27, 2017  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana: It's easy to think of Stark as the great tough-guy writer he was, less convenient to recall that Westlake was literate and cosmopolitan in his tastes in books and movies. To him, there was no dichotomy between good, lean writing on the one hand and correct grammar and pronunciation on the other, even if the latter happened to derive from another language. He was not afraid of being called elitist because he spelled chaise longue correctly, and his doing so in no way detracted from his writing

That distinction, with its sneering references to language police and the like, is a more recent phenomenon. Spelling, meaning, and pronunciation change, of course, but an old usage dies only with its last user. Chaise lounge or even, God help is, chase lounge may not be wrong in any meaningful sense if their use is widespread, but this does not mean that literate readers and writers have to surrender to the trend.

Incidentally, I have seen " chaise lounge" in crime writing that predates Westlake's. That suggests the possibility that Westlake may have rejected "chaise lounge." Would that make Westlake pretentious?

It would be interesting to compare the recording dates of the two audio books. Both novels used "chaise longue," but only one of the audio books pronounced it correctly. Did the one that substituted lounge for longue predate the other? Does it therefore indicate further progress of the new pronunciation?

February 27, 2017  

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