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“Shedule” versus “Skedule”

23 August 2016 508 views No Comment

Having been challenged about this yet again recently and still not having much more to offer than the stunning revelation than that the English language is full of exceptions to rules — because, really, it’s not a surprise or a big deal to me that different people in or from different parts of the world pronounce things differently — I decided to do some research.

The tired old comparison is to the word “school”. “Why don’t you pronounce it ‘shool’?” goes the typical witty refrain. Really? That’s your best argument for why I’m supposedly pronouncing the word “schedule” incorrectly? Why are there two pronunciations and three meanings of the word “desert”? Why ask me? Who died and left me in charge of making the rules of the English language and ensuring that every word conforms without exception?!

Sometimes it amuses me the number of Canadians who simply don’t realise the extent to which they are influenced by American English, even when the closest thing we have to an official guide north of the border — the Gage Canadian Dictionary — goes against American wisdom and sides with British norms. It’s a sad result of our proximity to the States, Hollywood, and American dominance in certain other areas — such as the default settings for spellcheckers in software created by American companies, not the least of which is Microsoft. (Although, maddeningly, my copy of Mozilla Firefox keeps reverting to United States English unbidden!) But distance does not save even the British themselves — and others like South African, Indian and south Pacific speakers of English — from the grubby hands of “Pax Americana”.

You may or may not be aware that the English language contains a vast number of loanwords. According to a couple of impeccable sources (one an answer on the collaborative English Language & Usage “Stack Exchange” addressing a bizarre question about class in the UK, and the other a British blogger living in the US), the British “shed” pronunciation is influenced by either French or German, while the American “sked” pronunciation is influenced by the Greek origin of the word. A slightly more impeccable source is the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, which lists both pronunciations with a preference for “shedule”, and indicates that the word comes to us from Greek via Latin and French. (No mention of German.) There you have it; foreign influences in our pristine, flawless, rule-bound English language! Who would have thunk it?! (Don’t tell the morons responsible for this nonsense!)

OK, now that you’ve taken in the enormity of the difficulties involved in adopting foreign words into “our” language, learn to accept that there are understandable regional differences in spelling and pronunciation. My background means that I often pronounce and spell words the British way and pepper my speech with Afrikaans loanwords, but put me in the company of people who are from the places where I grew up and they’ll tell me that I have an “American” accent and use “weird” terminology. I can’t win. And actually, I like that. I’m not one who wants to be like the rest of the crowd. I’m almost tempted to use “skedule” in their company!

Speaking of which, in my dim and distant past when I briefly worked towards a career in the aviation industry, I did actually occasionally refer to a “sked”, aviation argot (another loanword pronounced as the original French) for a “scheduled flight”. Referring to one as a “shed” would have just been weird.

Anyway, getting back to the aforementioned Gage Canadian Dictionary, it offers both “skedule” and “shedule” as correct pronunciations of the word, in that order. And in case you’re so unimaginative that “school” is the only comparable word that you can come up with, my Concise Oxford Dictionary lists 86 words that start with “sch”. Some of those are compound words and phrases, but here are a few that are unquestionably pronounced using “sh”: schist, schlep, schlock, schlub, schlump, schmaltz, schmear, schmo, schmooze, schmuck, schnapps (yum!), schnauzer (woof!), schorl and schuss.

Now, how did you learn to pronounce those in shool?

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