Watch how you say that!

Podcasts are great. I love them and I wish I could be on one. There are really three types of podcasts out there in terms of production quality. First are the radio-station produced podcasts (many with the help of NPR affiliates like WBEZ in Chicago and WNYC in New York) or just recorded versions of actual radio shows. I call this category the “technical podcast” since it is a podcast in terms of function, but is really only a new way to get content that they were already producing. Next, you have the professional podcasters, “the pros”, who purchased microphones and software to be able to produce the podcast. Finally, you have the buddy-podcast, “the buddies”: this is the podcast that a few buddies got together to produce with the laptop mic and Audacity. I consider these last two - the pros and the buddies - the heart of the medium. And of these, “the buddies” didn’t spend any time or money on the equipment and you are probably safe in reasoning that they will have the same attention to the listener with all other areas of the podcast.

All of this means that the pros are what make podcasts matter and what also make them great. My typical podcast lineup consists of between four or five shows that I listen to on a regular basis. Many of them are developer related and so you can imagine that the hosts have a better-than-average insight into what works in terms of equipment, timing, preparation and processing. ATP (Accidental Tech Podcast) is the apotheosis of the “pro” podcast. On the one hand, all the hosts have professional equipment and they all have many years of experience with the format. On the other hand, Marco Arment, one of the ATP hosts, is a leader in podcasting, making one of the best podcasting apps available today, Overcast. Single-handedly, he is working to keep the medium free from turning into a proprietary ecosystem like Stitcher. ATP also probably benefits from the fact that Marco is also a sophisticated audio engineer who has worked to ensure that each podcast in Overcast sounds good and skips over the bits of silence that occur during the podcast, saving you time. Its worth a listen even if just to admire the audio quality of the podcast.

For all the spit and polish given to the podcast, in almost every episode of the show, there is at least one moment where a host talks about the pronounciation of a word. This is an example from the most recent episode, “Christmas Phone”. But, the pronunciation of ‘niche’, how you say ‘bezel’ and the first syllable of Luigi’s brother’s name have all made their appearance in the show. In a show that is perfect in terms of audio production, themes, timing, pace, regularity and innovation, why does is seem like pronunciation is the Achilles heel?

To understand this, you need to understand a little about the world. This is just a sampling, but here are some of the Englishes of the world:

In x86 assembly, the system call (or ‘interrupt’) to exit a program is 0x80. If you call for 0x81 or 0x79, you have failed. You have called the incorrect operation. You did not do what you wanted. In meatspace, if you talk about ‘insúrance’ (as they do in the north) instead of ‘ínsurance’ (as they do in the south), you will still be understood. We move now to the contentious bit:

Akmajian, A. (2001). Linguistics: an introduction to language and communication. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

I know that in 2017, at least two of these pronunciations are debated, but they are the ones that are hard-wired to my tongue. When I subvocalize words, I say ‘lie-nix’ instead of ‘lih-nix’. Observe the most ‘debated’ pronunciation of all:

OED: ‘Gif’

My point with the above is that when one person says that you’re saying something wrong, try to remember that for them to know that you were saying something wrong, first they knew what you knew what you were saying… and that you probably sounded great.