Sunday, February 05, 2012

Irritable Vowel Syndrome

Nathan Heller:

The Grey—in which Liam Neeson fights a pack of wolves in some obscure Alaskan locale—is an insult to marquees everywhere and to the lupine species. In this country, the land of freedom and wild dogs, gray is properly spelled with an A. The E version, bearing the pretense and the inhibitions of the Old World, ought to be associated only with those words that hearken to that culture—earl grey, for instance, or grey peas. Grey, in short, signifies sorry cuisine. Now, it is true that Neeson hails from greyer lands. But The Grey is an American film, set in this nation’s northern soil; to force an E on this effort is to deny the blood and toil and orthographic genius of this country’s forebears, who fought, in great peril, to liberate a nation from the unjust spellings of its European colonizer.

Ooh, uh, yeah, I'm gonna have to go ahead and sort of disagree with you there. Please, do not allow jingoistic nationalism to cloud your view of what should be an open-and-shut case of linguistic verisimilitude. Speak the word and envision it with an E as you do. Go ahead, out loud, do it right now, I implore you. Do you not picture the tight-lipped mouth and steely gaze of stoic forbearance displayed by someone facing the flat, leveling monotony, the streamlined sameness, of dense fog or existential despair? Would you not concur that the Americanized "ay" (a singular example of the unfortunate American habit of intoning vowel sounds with all the subtlety and grace of a perturbed donkey) softens and nullifies this necessary sense of vague peril, rendering it affable and harmlessly round, much like the American paunch imposing against the faded college athletic logo on an old t-shirt?

"Grey" signifies a dignified nobility, a suit of armor against the vicissitudes of life, the hard-won wisdom of experience as evidenced in one's hair. "Gray" - I shudder to even type the word in reference to the color - merely conveys the casual, unprepossessing familiarity of a favorite pair of sweatpants dotted with powdered sugar and marinara sauce.