A couple of days ago I was reminiscing with a friend about what our mothers’ lives were like in the ‘60s, pre- Women’s Lib, when most mothers stayed at home all day with the kids. I mentioned that my mother had a coffee klatsch with two neighbours every day, just before lunch.
“I thought it was coffee clutch,” said my friend. “You know, like a clutch of women gossiping.”
“Well yeah, it was kinda like that, but it’s definitely coffee klatsch.”
My friend wasn’t sure he believed me and was, as always, ready to instantly google to verify the truth. “How is it spelled?”
“K-L-A-T-C-H…or wait, I have a feeling there might be an “S” in there, before the “C”.
His search quickly revealed that both “klatch” and “klatsch” are correct spellings, though it could be argued that the latter is more authentic because (as I guessed) the expression is derived from the German:
Kaffeeklatsch = Kaffee (coffee) + Klatsch (noise—as of conversation).
I have the editor’s eye. If I’ve ever seen a word in print, I’ll “remember” (this is an unconscious process) how it’s spelled. If I’m unsure about the spelling of a word, it’s almost always because I’ve seen it spelled more than one way, and there is more than one correct spelling. Many people aren’t aware, for instance, of how many variations in spelling there are between American and Canadian English—it goes far beyond colour/color and cheque/check.
How do you pronounce “gondola”?
Unfortunately, the editor’s eye doesn’t help at all when it comes to pronouncing words that one has read but never heard spoken. Anyone who reads a lot has probably experienced the embarrassment of confidently saying a word aloud and being laughed at by a listener who knows the right pronunciation.
After the coffee klatsch research, my friend and I drifted into a conversation about fanatics who do the Grouse Grind (the 3 km “nature’s stairmaster” mountain climb in Vancouver) several times in one day. My friend mentioned the gon-DO-la trip down the mountain and I questioned his pronunciation. “I thought it was GON-do-la!”
Once again Google was ready to provide answers. My friend first looked at a Merriam-Webster student dictionary online:
Clicking on the audio symbol confirmed his pronunciation! However, I was suspicious since Merriam-Webster is an American dictionary, so I told him to try another dictionary. He chose to click on a YouTube video:
This site made it clear that gondola has two correct pronunciations, based on the meaning of the word. So this was a happy case where we were both right!
One could argue that it was wrong of me to say GON-do-la when talking about the Grouse Mountain Skytram, because the tram more closely resembles a freight car than a boat. Unfortunately, pronunciation is affected not only by dictionary definitions but also by local peculiarities of usage. Vancouverites, do you say GON-do-la or gon-DO-la when you’re talking about the Grouse Skytram?