Toward the end of Impromptus today, I have an item on regional pronunciations — in particular, “nuke-yuh-lar” (sometimes rendered “nucular”). This is the way a lot of Americans pronounce “nuclear.” I heard it, from very intelligent people, recently. George W. Bush was derided for saying it, of course. Other presidents have said it, too — Eisenhower and Carter, for sure. (Carter, as you remember, served in the nuclear-sub program under Rickover.)
I wanted to share one letter with you. A reader writes, “When I was in college and doing my senior project in plasma physics, my thesis partner was a genuine prodigy. He ultimately got his Ph.D. at MIT in nuclear engineering, did a stint at CERN [the European Organization for Nuclear Research], etc. He always said ‘nucular.’ It was the big physics-department joke that he was going to be the world’s first nucular engineer.”
There have been many of them. For my part, I would gladly trade my standard pronunciation of “nuclear” for the MIT guy’s knowledge.
P.S. You know what one of the most frequently mispronounced words is? “Pronunciation.” People say “pronounciation” — daily. (Relatedly, one of the most frequently misspelled words is “misspell” — people like to leave out the second “s,” for savings, so to speak.) (Do you remember that ad? 1-800-MATTRES?)