November 19th, 2003
Pronouncing puerile / Oriental vs. Asian / graduated or graduated from?
by Barbara Wallraff
Bruce P. Coffin, Jr., of Albany, N.Y., writes, “Large bet with golf buddies. The word is ‘puerile.’ How does one pronounce it? Are there variations? I use the Latin pronunciation (remembered from my altar-boy and school days), ‘poo-air-ile,’ from the Latin for ‘boy’: ‘puer,’ which is pronounced ‘poo-air.’
Nifty word—one for which modern life presents us with plenty of uses. It’s a near synonym of “childish” but more disapproving. Here it is, for instance, in a recent column published in the Hartford, Conn., Courant. The writer is talking about ads for the French Connection United Kingdom, a company that goes by its initials: “It’s just vulgar…. The whole puerile campaign might be tolerable if …”
Fernand Corbeil, of Beverly, Mass., writes, “An argument ensued recently when I referred to my adopted Vietnamese granddaughter as ‘Oriental.’ My daughter insisted she be referred to as ‘Asian.’ Determined to prove my daughter wrong, I delved into my trusty World Book Dictionary, and lo and behold, my conviction is true!”
How old is that dictionary of yours? Of six major contemporary American dictionaries (I’m not including World Book’s, which is a rare item these days), five warn that “Oriental” in reference to people is “dated,” “often regarded as a term of disparagement,” or “offensive.” It raises eyebrows because “the Orient” has connotations of being an exotic place whose people are foreign to “us.” But Asia is simply, factually, one of the earth’s continents.
Roger D. Grow, of Iowa City, Iowa, writes, “Is it not proper to say ‘He graduated from high school (or college),’ as opposed to ‘He graduated high school’? More and more I hear ‘He graduated high school’ and I find it offensive.”
A few die-hard traditionalists still insist that “He was graduated from high school” is the only proper form. But you’re right that “He graduated high school” is increasingly common—and not everyone finds it offensive or people wouldn’t say it. I’m with you, though, and so are most authorities on correct English.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.