Monday, January 26, 2009
  More language notes



While Professor Polistra is on duty ... she's been wanting to document a few small changes in American speech that happened around 1950. Some of these are interesting because two forms coexisted comfortably.

First, the pronunciation of Los Angeles. Before 1950, most people said something like Low-Zanglis. This wasn't an outsider's mispronunciation like Spokain or Missouree; even the mayor of LA called it Low-Zanglis. The modern version, Loss Anjeles, began in the '30s and took over by 1950. Here are two sound samples, only a minute apart, from the very same 1937 episode of Calling All Cars. CAC is sometimes called the father of Dragnet, but it was an entirely different and more artful show.

Low Zanglis
Loss Anjeles

Second and harder to explain, two pronunciations of sacrifice. The first, 'sacrifiss', disappeared after 1950. I'm not sure it was ever a common pronunciation in everyday speech, but it was common among actors. These two sound bytes are from a 1947 episode of Casey Crime Photographer, a lively and well-written gumshoe drama.

Sacrifisses
Sacrifice

Finally, a grammatical switch involving 'star' as a verb. The word originates from the practice of placing an asterisk or star by the name of the leading player on a printed playbill. Literally his name was starred on the program; metaphorically he was starred in the play. Around 1950 the verb turned around from passive to active intransitive, and we now say that he starred (or co-starred) in the show.

Here's just one example of the old usage from a 1950 episode of Philip Marlowe, which was the last radio show to follow the old style.

"And now, with Gerald Mohr starred as Philip Marlowe..."

The modern form of the sentence would be "And now, with Gerald Mohr starring as Philip Marlowe..."

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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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