Introductory Anthropology Notes – How Do You Say…

Originally published on June 16th, 2016, at
Republished at on March 10th, 2017.

This is just a quick note on proper pronunciation of a couple of words that I’ve mispronounced pretty much always. You may wonder what these two words have to do with anthropology, but both relate to phenylketonuria, a metabolic disorder caused by a genetic defect; and hell, at this point in the learning process, we—humans, animals, living organisms, all of us—are just vehicles for making sure that our genes don’t die, anyway.

As less-than-uplifting as that concept is, I still had the negative energy left over to be bothered by what the word “phenylalanine” sounds like when a professor of anthropology says it versus what it sounds like when I say it, even if I’m only saying it in my head.

The professor says it similarly to how the fine folks at Forvo say it, roughly “phe-nyl-al-a-nine”. The important segments here are “phenyl”, “ala”, and “nine”. In my head, that’s always been “pheny”, “lala”, and “nine”.

I’m sure you can see why one of those feels less silly to say than the other; and on this pronunciation, I stand corrected.

The other word, however, is “aspartame”.

Admittedly, I’ve heard this word pronounced exactly as the professor says it—and as everyone at Forvo echoes—over and over again: “ass” (i.e., the part you sit upon) – “purr” (what a happy cat does) – “tame” (what your dog supposedly is).

I’ll reiterate: “ass-purr-tame”.

That’s an awful word. It really is.

I prefer “ass-par-tuh-me”.

You’re saying “ass”, either way, but my version brings to mind ancient Greek warriors. The proper version?  Salicylic acid.

Admittedly, the latter is easier to swallow.

But, if you have phenylketonuria, swallowing ass-purr-tame is just a bad idea.