In response to "Peter"

I've decided that my last post was too long for my own short attention span. So I'm cutting it into two parts and reposting.

Now that I've recovered from my attack of paranoid neurosis, I'll respond to Peter's comments. I'm doing it in the body of my blog rather than the comments section on the assumption that Peter is one of my two faithful readers and the other one won't mind.

First, I, too, found it amusing that BlogSpot specified religion as an "industry"; that's largely why I chose it for my self-description. It would probably have been more accurate to tag my industry as "education," but that didn't have the same punch to it. I believe sometimes that I and my fellow professionally religious persons pursue our careers to the peril of our souls. My friend who really is named Peter confesses that he believes that a priest should ideally offer his services without charge, and I remind him that the laborer is worthy of his hire. But I admit that it's hard to avoid trying to serve both God and Mammon when you're in the religion biz.

Second, sorry about the hassle of having to register for a blogger account. I guess I disabled anonymous posts out of the afore-mentioned paranoia about spam comments.

Third, my freak-out about your assumed name suggests strongly that either you never told me that people call you Peter, or you did and I forgot. (But given that my sponge-like memory for useless information recalled that you once complained about Terry Gross' interviewing style six years ago, I'm going with the former.) It also suggests that, in print, the connection to your real name is not obvious.

Aurally, however, the mistake makes sense. T and P are both, in linguistic terms, unvoiced stops -- there's only a slight difference in tongue position between the two consonants, so the sound is quite similar. J is a voiced postalveolar affricate, which is similar to the unvoiced alveolar stop T both in initial sound and tongue position, since "Affricate consonants begin like stops (most often an alveolar, such as [t] or [d]), but release as a fricative such as [s] or [z] rather than directly into the following vowel" (Wikipedia). And, as the difficulty of developing reliable voice-recognition software has demonstrated, word breaks in spoken language are not recognized by pauses in speech, but by recognition of words. If the person on the other end of the line doesn't know in advance where your first name ends and your last name begins, they can just as well assign the R to either.

That was probably WAY more than you cared to know, but I've never been able to resist a linguistic puzzle since I had to take LING 101 in college as part of the ancient languages major.


Peter Onigan said...

That is just the sort of explanation I have been looking for. To my ear it always sounded plausible that people were slightly mis-hearing it, but now I have a thorough explanation on hand. I'll have to commit all of this to memory, as well as read up at Wikipedia.

My apologies for causing any confusion or distress. I'll have to work on my clue-dropping skills, because I had hoped there would be enough to unmask me.

Speaking of Terry Gross, did you happen to catch the interview with Zadie Smith ( It was my favorite author interview in recent memory. I loved Smith's discussion of how she still prefers reading over writing despite being an accomplished writer. It captured much of my feeling towards using any knowledge I've acquired. I feel so compelled to acquire more that I don't know when I'll make time to use what I've already got. I guess that's why I'm in the science industry now--they'll make sure I put out a product on a regular basis.

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