February 16, 2009

Epsilon

I have a complaint.

Before their very first lecture, maths lecturers should in my opinion, take a course in how to turn on and off the lights, how to use the projector and, most importantly, how to pronounce greek letters!!!

Now, I can understand the ω-case (omega): In English, one should say ORH-me-ga or OH-me-ga, but the greek ponunciation is actually closer to oh-ME-ga, so it is alright if some people feel like saying it that way. Besides, I think that in a biblical context ("I am the Alpha and the Omega"), one normally chooses the latter of the two pronunciations.

But what has really been getting on my nerves recently, is ε, epsilon.The way you say it in english AND greek, is EP-sih-lon. And yet, I've heard at least three lecturers say... ep-SY-lon. With the pressure on the second syllable, which is, in addition, incorrectly promounced 'SY' as in 'psychology' instead of 'SIH' as in 'cigarette'. Mind you, most of them get it right. I guess the mispronouncers have heard both ways of saying 'epsilon' and just stick to their own because that's how they learnt it. And to be fair, I don't blame them, because languages can be very confusing and issues like that are not easily solved. But. It. Sounds. So. Wrong. The only response I can give, really, is just to mutter 'EPspilon' under my breath every time I hear them say 'epSYlon'. Also, that's when I start thinking about all the students in my year group who aren't as confident in Greek Letters and who will end up saying it the wrong way as well...

While I'm at it, here a list of other quirks I have noticed some lecturers say repeatedly (names omitted):
-"A dice" (instead of "A die")
-"Sqweird" (instead of "squared")
-"Seri-uhs" (close to "serious", instead of "series")
-"Augumented" (instead of "Augmented")
-"Pedestrian (instead of "pedantic")
-"DEE-pend-dent" (instead of de-PEN-dent). Note that this might just be to emphasise that it's not independent.
-"Neighbour-KHOOD" (instead of "Neighbourhood"). I actually quite like it when this particular lecturer says that.

Some would say I'm a jerk for pointing out mistakes like this from people whose purpose at the University is not to speak perfect English but to teach us maths, and who whose mathematical savvy is a thousand times greater than mine. I'd like to point that I'm not trying to criticise or point fingers at anyone (hence the omitted names), but that I'm writing down something I've noticed. I don't claim to be perfect myself; for several years I've been pronouncing words like "distribute" and "salmon" incorrectly, and surely there's still more that I don't say as I should. But still...

It's EPsilon. EP-si-lon.


- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. I’ve found physics lecturers to be good, on the whole, at their Greek. They even introduced me to the different, old-school, pronouncation of ξ. Instead of saying “zai” one would say “k-sai”... which i find easier to say.

    The best mispronouncation was from a foreign lecturer who always said “lattice” like “lettuce”! Those lectures were lots of fun =)

    Mispronouncing epsilon has no excuse though, so keep muttering at them and maybe they’ll twig!

    17 Feb 2009, 11:36

  2. Speaking of ξ, I think this letter should be banned from maths lectures. It’s painfully difficult to draw, and spending time on drawing greek letters is not something you want to do when your lecturer is in the middle of proving Taylor’s Theorem at supersonic speed. Why not just use a simpler letter, like t? That being said, my xi’s are getting better, although they sometimes look like my 3’s.

    07 Mar 2009, 12:58


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