Goofy Geeks Grumble,
Gripe ’Gainst Gossipy
Greek Glyph Goofs
by Ruthlessly Roving Reporter Miss Deakina Andrea Kirkhamia
The Greek Department of Greek at the Greco-Hellenic University for Greek Studies in Grimsby, UK, is on the verge of collapse after internecine conflicts on the pronunciation of letters of the Greek alphabet have threatened to derail the once highly respected department.
The difficulties apparently emerged at a faculty lunch-cum-finger buffet, when a relatively new hire, Helen DeTroi, a promising post doc with an Oxford PhD in Sophoclean Mime, is reported, while they shuffled down the buffet queue, to have asked of the Chair of Euclidean Studies and Constructs of the Mycenaean Feminine in the pseudo-Dionysius, Emeritus Professor Pier Rice, whether he liked pie. Misconstruing the communicative event (as this distinguished prof had in fact been doing since his Cambridge days), he apparently reported ‘It’s [ksi:], young lady, not [ksaɪ]; it’s [ˈbeɪta] and [my] not [ˈbi:tə] and [mju:]; it’s [ˈjɒtə] not [aɪˈjəʊtə]. So, if you want to know’—and here the prof raised his voice—‘ask me if like [pi:]’.
The Departmental HR Manager happened to overhear and things rapidly snowballed out of control, out of all proportion and eventually out into the street (where, surprisingly, the slightly disoriented prof surprised everyone with his hitherto unknown μ-ay thai skills). Helen DeTroi relocated back to Oxford and Professor Pier Rice suddenly became fascinated with tending his hydrangeas.
Shortly after the hoo-hah had died down, an attempt was made to patch things up with a departmental symposium entitled Rho, Rho, Rho Your Trireme Gently Through Our Alphabet: The Alpha and Om[ε/e]ga of Alphabetical Pronunciation Variation Symposia. However, one contributor, Dr Ronaldo O’Mick, whose name badge read ‘O’Mike, Ron’, left in a huff on arrival saying ‘no one ever pronounces my name right’. And to kappa it all off, the keynote speaker, Alfred O’Mega went to the ν campus in Thessaloniki as opposed the Grimsby venue.
We caught up Professor Fiona (Fi) Qi in her plush office in the Parthenon building. ‘It’s been pure χαός,’ she began. ‘But we all know that [pi:] is the most likely pronunciation of the Greek letter. While I appreciate that Helen was just making conversation, Pier is a stickler for authenticity. He wrote the go-to textbook on the pronunciation of τ: ‘You τ-t Me Well’. And these things matter; just think of all the puerile giggles that could be avoided if we just called the planet [u:ɹaˈnɒs] instead of anything else.’
On our way out we ran into Plato who was having a fag leaning on a Doric column. As ever, he had something to say: ‘The anglophone world has faced strife and conflict over centuries on a variety of issues (consider the American War of Independence/Revolutionary War of the late 18th century and the Great Sausage Debacle between New Zealand and Australia in the early 20th). However, linguistic concerns have never motivated conflict with respect to English. This Hellenic up(silon)set could never happen in the Anglo-Saxon tongue; the worst English has produced in terms of alphabetical disharmony is that Eta Fitzgerald song about tom-[ɑ:]-to and tom-η.’