Raising a shtrong objection

Apr 3, 2012 By Steven R. Peck

During an NCAA women's basketball tournament game over the weekend, one of the announcers mentioned that a point guard was having a good day at the free-throw line.

"Jones is six for seven at the stripe," the announcer said.

Except she didn't say "stripe." She said "shtripe, as in "Jones is six for seven from the shtripe."

Keep your ears open. There is a trend afoot.

Back in Miss Zimmerman's second-grade classroom in 1969 I was introduced to the concept of the "consonant blend" -- that is, two consonants letters that are combined to form a new sound in which both consonants can be heard.

This is not like the "tc" in "suitcase" or the "tp" in "laptop." This is the "fr" in "free," or the "bl" in "blog." The consonant blend.

And one of the most durable of the consonant blends is "st." A lot of words begin with these two letters. My American Heritage Dictionary has 30 pages of them, from stab to Styx. My own name begins with this blend.

Now, however, with increasing frequency, the "st" is pronounced as if it had an "h" in there.

Shtage. Shtack. Shtomach. Shtock."

It's most prevalent when there is an "r" after the "t." Shtretch. Shtrap. Shtrangle. Exshtract.

Listen for this. It's everywhere now.

The football player exhorts his teammates to "shtay shtrong." A new brand of deodorant has a "power shtrip." There are three new flavors of "Shtride" chewing gum.

The police dispatcher says the driver has "no reshtrictions" on his license. Getting through the blizzard on the highway was a "real shtruggle. The same goes for "the rainshtorm."

A shtray dog. An undershtatement. Race cars on the shtraightaway. A seven-game winning shtreak.

Shtream of consciousness. A shtrawberry milkshake. Shticking with my shtrengths.

Fishing for shtriped bass. Growing shtring beans in the garden.

Hitting your shtride. Looking for shtructure. Shtrung out. Shtuck up.

Shtricken with the measles. Mile High Shtadium. A Shtreetcar named Desire.

Catch "Sports Center" on ESPN sometime. I'll bet at least one of the two anchorpeople talks in this shtrange way.

I've wondered whether it's an ubran shtreet thing that's going more mainshtream. Lots of rap musicians have this speaking shtyle, but it isn't just them.

To my knowledge, there is only one word in somewhat common use that actually does begin with "sht," that being "shtick," the Yiddish slang word for the way a particular person does something, as in "the congressman came out and did his usual shtick on high gasoline prices." It's a fun old word, but I fear that it is losing its identity rapidly against this onshlaught. Inshtead of shticking with shtick, we're shticking this new sound in all over the place.

Call me a shtick in the mud if you want, but I worry about this kind of thing. I don't think itsh overshtating the matter to say that we run a risk when we jusht surrender the logical pronunciation of letters and words in this way. We have plenty of illogical consonant groupings already, rite? Enuff is enuff.

This is some weird shtuff, and I would put a shtop to it if I could. But, as usual, I was not consulted before this all shtarted. Now it could be too late.

I cringe at the thought of the president giving his Shtate of the Union Address, or of the prim TV commentator introducing a violin symphony by Shtravinsky to be played on a Shtradivarius, or a 1960s oldies show announcing the Beatles classic lament to times on by, "Yeshterday."

But others scoff at my angst over this. Language evolves, they remind me. It might just be a fad that will fade as quickly as it appeared. And even if it doesn't, accents are one of the fun parts of spoken English.

"Shteve," they say. "Why shtir the pot? You jusht don't undershtand."

Maybe I don't. Maybe they're right.

But I shtill say it shtinks.

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