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February 4th, 2009

Pronunciations on the Internet / more on Ayn Rand

by Barbara Wallraff

Raymond D. Styla Jr. of Rockwood, Mich., writes: “I wonder if you know of a Web site where I can type in a word and it will give me the proper pronunciation. For example, ‘axolotl’ (pronounced ACK-suh-LAH-tuhl).”

Dear Raymond: The dictionary feature of www.merriam-webster.com gives spoken pronunciations in addition to the usual written-symbol ones. Type your word into the search box, and when the dictionary entry for it comes up, you’ll see a speaker icon next to the word. Click on it to hear the word pronounced.

You can do pretty much the same thing on www.bartleby.com. (The site is named after Herman Melville’s character Bartleby the Scrivener.) Here the entries come from the American Heritage Dictionary. I think the American Heritage is a much better dictionary overall. But if all you want is a pronunciation, the two probably are equally good, and getting to the pronunciation takes a couple of extra clicks on Bartleby.

Joseph Kellard, of I don’t really care where, writes: “In a recent column you answered a question as to why Ayn Rand’s definition of a ‘concept’ is not taught in schools, not by exploring Miss Rand’s ideas on concepts, but by pointing to the supposedly ‘many thinking people’ who consider Miss Rand ‘a crank,’and by stating that the way she looked at ‘things’ doesn’t conform to how ‘most of us’ see them.

“In other words, Miss Rand’s ideas are wrong or misguided because the majority of people hold different opinions or ideas. This is a typical, empty criticism of Miss Rand’s ideas: an appeal to numbers or consensus, failing to address her ideas by looking at how they conform to the facts of reality.

“Miss Rand and her innovative philosophical ideas deserve much better, and your reaction to the question is a microcosmic look into why education in America is in such a shambles.”

Dear Joseph: Actually, I wrote that column because I was in the mood to be insulted by a bunch of touchy, self-
righteous folks, and the best way I could think of to indulge my masochism was to insult Ayn Rand. My plan worked perfectly, and you all came out of the woodwork to insult me right back. Thanks!

Joseph, I know you find merit in Rand’s ideas, and that’s fine with me. But you must already be aware that these ideas are not widely accepted. Not everyone does find merit in them. So why should our schools teach Rand’s philosophy instead of, say, Deepak Chopra’s or Kahlil Gibran’s? Because you want them to? Talk about not conforming to “the facts of reality.”

Admittedly, I asked for it from you and your friends. But it seems to me your reaction to what I wrote is a microcosmic look into why our public discourse is in such a shambles: I made a point that you’ve no doubt heard many times before. You didn’t simply accept that I’m entitled to my views and shrug it off. You didn’t make a rational counterargument designed to convince me or my readers that you’re right. You just attacked.

I had an e-mail conversation recently with Don Hauptman, of New York City, who is another follower of Ayn Rand, and I like the way it ended. Hauptman wrote, “As the famous apocryphal exchange goes: ‘We can agree to disagree.’ ‘No we can’t.’”

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

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