Say 2, Say 4

Not tah, not fur, the ubiquitous words to and for are pronounced 2 and 4 according to my paternal grandmother who was first generation American-Norwegian at the turn of the nineteenth century. She worked very hard to master English, her self-esteem and perceived position in life depended upon it. She would shake her head and snort with exasperation at the tah'ers and fur'ers. She thought they should try harder to speak English correctly, like she did. Now over half a century later, after only a few sharp corrections from her early on, I still say for and to correctly as 4 and 2, but I rarely hear anyone else doing so. With speech so crisp and clear, was she preparing me for tea with the British upper crust? Perhaps to participate in most high level academic conferences? My fleeting impressions have been that the sloppy language of insouciance is de rigueur there too.


Online dictionaries record fur before 4 and tah before 2 as the preferred pronunciations. Apparently some very fine markers of genteel speech have slipped out of the lexicon.


However, I did find the following which seems to somewhat support my 4 and 2 pronunciation preferences: "Certain very common words, for example at, for, and can, have two pronunciations. We give the usual (weak) pronunciation first. The second pronunciation (strong) must be used if the word is stressed, and also generally when the word is at the end of a sentence."

Source: https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/about/english/pronunciation_english,

underscoring added.

Caption: There was merit in saying 2 and 4 not tah or fur.

by Annmarie Throckmorton 2019

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