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February 4th, 2004

This is she / gawp / pronouncing jewelry

by Barbara Wallraff

Betty Lois Siegel, of Troy, Mich., writes, “I formerly shared an office with five other persons and one phone line. Five sixths of the calls were for my colleagues, but occasionally I would answer one for myself. I considered the response ‘This is she’ stilted and ‘Speaking’ brusque, so I started to respond with ‘That’s me.’ Was this incorrect?”

Technically, yes. If you’re a stickler for grammar, when you refer to yourself with a sentence that starts “That’s” or “This is” or “It is,” you have to end it with “I” or “she,” not “me” or “her.” Why? Because “is” is a linking verb: A noun that follows it isn’t an object (the way “me” is in “You called me”). It’s a restatement of the subject—hence the “I” or “she.”

Although “This is she” is grammatically correct, it does sound snooty. And “That’s me” is so normal and conversational that anyone who would look down on you for saying it must have his or her nose way high up in the air. Still, if you know the rules of grammar, it can be fun to figure out how to follow them in a way that doesn’t call attention to itself. How about “Hello, I’m Betty”?

David Kratz, of Albany, N.Y., writes, “In a recent column you said that ‘everyone stopped talking and gawped.’ Is that a typo or a word I've never seen before?”

“Gawp” appears in every one of eight dictionaries I just checked, but curiously, the dictionaries agree on almost nothing about it. A couple of them say it’s chiefly British; two others say it’s used chiefly in the Northern U.S. or the Northeast and Great Lakes regions. One indicates that the usual spelling is “gaup,” another gives that as a variant that’s less common than “gawp,” and the others don’t give “gaup” at all. The earliest example they have of the word’s use may be as old as 1682 or as recent as 1855. “Gawp” seems to have been derived from the now obsolete verb “galp,” but whether it descended directly from that word or came by way of “gape” or “gawk” isn’t clear.

And what does it mean? The dictionaries don’t agree on that either: Is “gawping” gaping (in the sense of having an open mouth) or gawking? Is a “gawper” rude, stupid-looking, or only surprised? The definition in the Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary comes closest to what I meant by the word: “to stare with the mouth open in wonder or astonishment.” What a shame there aren’t more things in the world worth gawping at.

Betty Shibles, of Orrington, Maine, writes, “‘Jewelry!’ Nowadays it seem the majority of people, even jewelers, pronounce this word ‘jew-ler-y,’ instead of ‘jew-el-ry,’ as it is supposed to be! This needs be to stopped before it becomes totally ingrained!”

Point taken! Would you like to know the name for what people are doing when they mispronounce “jewelry”—or, for that matter, “nuclear” (nu-cu-lar)? It’s called metathesis (accent on the “tath” syllable), which means transposing letters or sounds within a word.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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