Loscon Statement from Isabel Schechter

[Since LASFS distributed a statement by Gregory Benford as its determination about the code of conduct issues at Loscon 45, published here as part of a report about the incident, I have agreed to host Isabel Schechter’s statement about the outcome as well.]

By Isabel Schechter: It is unfortunate that I have to make a statement regarding the incident that happened last week at LosCon 45, but there has been lack of information, misinformation, and deliberately incomplete information being put out, and given Loscon’s lack of communication, I feel I need to set the record straight on some things.

The comments made by Dr. Benford at the “New Masters of SF” panel have been discussed elsewhere, and I will not address them or the reasons for my report of them further. However, the actions of the convention and the LASFS board, and my connection or lack thereof, to those actions have been confusing, and that is what needs to be made clear.

To begin, right after the panel, there were several people who spoke with the Programming department head, Justine Reynolds, about Dr. Benford’s comments. After that, various concom staff members sought me out regarding this incident. First, Justine followed up with me to let me know that Dr. Benford had been asked to not be on programming for the rest of the convention. Later, the con chairs sought me out to tell me that they had removed Dr. Benford from the convention. The third time I was approached, it was by Ops to ask me to make an official report of the incident. Each time concom staff sought me out, I thought that was the end of it.

Apparently, that was not the end of it. It was only after the convention that I found out that Dr. Benford’s removal from the convention had been reversed. It was only after reading social media posts about the incident that I found out that Dr. Benford’s removal from the convention was not actually because of my or anyone else’s report of his comments on the panel, but rather because he didn’t follow the concom’s directions, used foul language, and referred to one of the con chairs as “honey.”

I was not informed that the con would be issuing a statement about the incident on social media, nor was I informed that they would be publicizing Dr. Benford’s statement or asked if I would like the opportunity to do the same. In addition, contrary to what at least one concom member stated, Dr. Benford and I did not have contact of any kind after the panel.

In my on-site interactions with Loscon staff, I felt that they took their Code of Conduct seriously and wanted to ensure that this kind of incident was handled appropriately. Sadly, as I have now found out from other sources more about how Loscon did not follow their own procedures and has still, one week later, not communicated any of this to me directly, I am now extremely disappointed with their disorganization and unprofessionalism.

While I appreciate that the con chairs had good intentions in taking swift action against Dr. Benford, I need to make it absolutely clear that at no point did I request, pressure, insist, or demand that Loscon bypass their policies or procedures, or to remove Dr. Benford from the convention. I was never asked by Loscon for my input or opinion regarding any actions the con took toward Dr. Benford. His removal was a decision made by the con chairs without my knowledge and only communicated to me after it was already done.

I take CoC’s very seriously and believe it is imperative that all conventions not only have a strong CoC, but to also consistently follow policies and procedures to ensure all incidents are handled in an appropriate manner. I reported Dr. Benford’s comments and spoke to File 770 about what happened at the convention because I initially trusted Loscon would properly implement their CoC rules. Unfortunately that trust was misplaced, putting me at risk. When conventions bypass their own CoC policies and procedures, misinformation and confusions result. CoC policies and procedures exist to not only protect the convention, but also to protect attendees, including those who report problems to the convention. Failure to follow procedure can often lead to those who made reports leaves them vulnerable as targets for retaliation and threats, including some I have seen encouraging physical violence against me that have made because of the unclear and conflicting statements and actions taken by Loscon. Convention attendees need to feel safe enough to report incidents, and when failures like this occur, they can discourage other attendees from reporting issues because they don’t want to expose themselves to harassment and threats for doing the right thing.

Loscon did not handle this incident well to begin with, and has made it worse with their lack of communication. I hope that they will learn from this incident and do better going forward, and that other conventions will take note and strengthen their own procedures to prevent a similar situation from occurring.


Update 12/02/2018: The formal address in this post has been corrected to Dr. Benford. Isabel Schecter explains: “I was unaware the he was Dr., and would have used the proper address if I had known. I apologize for my error.”

108 thoughts on “Loscon Statement from Isabel Schechter

  1. Cora:

    The US habit of calling anybody who teaches at a university “professor” is very strange to us, because Professor is a very specific title over here.

    “Professor” is a specific title in the US as well: the three ranks at (most, as far as I know) universities are Assistant Professor (which is the rank given when you’re hired for a tenure-track job), Associate Professor (which is usually granted along with tenure IF you get tenure–which is in the 7th year), and Professor (which is applied for at some point after tenure when you’re amassed sufficient peer-reviewed scholarship). There can be differences in the criteria depending on the university (small regional ones, state flagship ones, big name ones). Exploited contingent faculty have different ranks even though they have doctorates.

    But there’s also a habit of using “professor” as a catch-all title when in doubt of status. For example, when I became an area chair for the Popular Culture Association back in the 1990s–organizing sessions in the SF area for their annual conference–I was advised by the outgoing chair to address all emails to “Professor So and So” on the grounds that professors who weren’t called that might get huffy, and people who weren’t professors would at most correct me but not be huffy about it. Students are often advised to do the same, to address all their instructors as “Professor” or “Doctor” unless told differently (some of the first and second year courses are taught by teaching assistants in a graduate program).

    And yes, there’s a tendency to use “professors” as a general category term for all college teachers.

  2. @various: I was never impressed by Pournelle’s interest in being addressed as “Doctor”, let alone his habit of signing a portion of his non-fiction “J. E. Pournelle, PhD.” My experience is probably colored by generally unpleasant personal and small-group interactions, but IME he tended to wave the PhD in technical discussions despite the fact that all his degrees were in non-technical fields. (No, I don’t consider “political science” a science.)

    @Cora Buhlert: The US habit of calling anybody who teaches at a university “professor” is very strange to us, because Professor is a very specific title over here. I don’t remember any such habit from my college days; IME, US media are also careful not to use the title where it isn’t earned. (This is especially relevant in the current economic climate, where more and more baccalaureate-level teaching is done not just by graduate students but by non-student “adjuncts” on extremely poorly-paying short-term contracts.) Could you be confusing Hollywood vernacular (which also uses “Professor” for anyone appearing to flaunt their knowledge) with actual usage? In practice, becoming a professor doesn’t require a 2nd thesis per se — but it does tend to require publishing a number of papers, generally peer-reviewed, and may involve other obstacles — e.g., Harvard was notorious (when I was paying attention) both for downrating work involving practice rather than theory and for preferring not to promote from within.

    Going back to the original post (gasp!): I have difficulty connecting anything in Schechter’s narration to “Unfortunately that trust was misplaced, putting me at risk.” (emphasis mine.) At risk of what? Other reports say that he walked away from the initial confrontation, unlike (e.g.) Brin at Boskone in 2003.

  3. Dr. Benford’s academic (scientific) credentials seem relevant to the opinions he expresses. It seems to me that there is a long history of SF written by scientists, and a long history of those writers urging a greater degree of scientific literacy, or preferring works of “Hard” SF.

    As someone in a “hard science” I think this is generally but not universally true. I love me some hard sf (Peter Watts being my favorite, and he even included his Astrophysical Journal references at the end of Blindsight) but sometimes I am dismayed to read a book recommended by one or more colleagues and find it devoid of characterization or any sense of nuance.

    Of course, one of the most notorious examples in the U.S. of “Dr” not being used for PhDs (except upon request) is the New York Times style book.

  4. Chip Hitchcock: Going back to the original post (gasp!): I have difficulty connecting anything in Schechter’s narration to “Unfortunately that trust was misplaced, putting me at risk.” (emphasis mine.) At risk of what?

    She’s getting a lot of abuse on puppy blogs like JDA’s, and that’s just the part I’ve seen myself.

  5. @Greg —

    because in an emergency, someone might think that person was a real doctor.

    Big, heavy sigh!

    PhDs **are** “real” doctors. Specifically, they are doctors of **philosophy**, while MDs are doctors of **medicine**.

    I’m not even a PhD myself, and yet I absolutely despise that particular canard about not being a “real” doctor. Hmph, I say.

  6. @Robin
    Thanks for the clarification. And yes, we also have low-paid graduate students teaching university classes. I’ve done this myself a couple of time. We also have university teachers with doctorates who are not (yet) professors.

    @Contrarius @Greg
    PhDs definitely are real doctors, even if they cannot help you in a medical emergency.

  7. @Contrarius:

    Yes, Ph.D.’s are real doctors, but there are definitely context where “Dr. Whoever” is assumed to be a medical doctor.

    My aunt occasionally took advantage of this. She’s “Dr. Bleyman,” a (now-retired) professor of biology. When her mother, my grandmother, was hospitalized, she got better information, faster, when she said “This is Dr. Bleyman, I’m calling for an update on [Grandma’s name]’s condition” or “Do you have [Grandma’s name]’s test results” than if she gave her name, without a title, and said she was calling about her mother. That wasn’t because “she’s a biologist, she’ll understand the details”–it’s because they thought she was a medical doctor, and was calling in her [inferred] role as part of her mother’s medical team.

    I don’t remember if this was pre-HIPAA, but I think Grandma’s paperwork specified that information could be given to her daughters, just as mine specifies that my doctors etc. can talk to my husband and girlfriend.

    Conversely, everyone would agree that an anesthesiologist or surgical oncologist is a “real” doctor and entitled to be addressed as “Dr. Whoever,” but they might be less qualified to help in an in-flight emergency than some nurses and EMTs

  8. Dear Mike,

    On further reflection…

    “It’s not accurate or fair to say that Loscon put them on display.”

    Yes, it is. Loscon did not initiate public discussion, but they added fuel and oxygen to the flames by making two public posts about it. Neither of those served anyone well. I stand behind the paragraph that you took exception to.

    Worldcon 76 handled this properly, with regards to A Certain Author. They quickly moved to a position of “This is not a matter we will discuss publicly, nor will we countenance public discussion on our site/page. You may take it elsewhere.”

    Except in rare circumstances, and this isn’t even close to being one of those, that is the correct and best course of action.

    Nobody was done any favors by LosCon’s postings, except the popcorn munching masses who wanted a good spectacle.

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    ======================================
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. http://ctein.com 
    — Digital Restorations. http://photo-repair.com 
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  9. @Greg Hullender

    When I was a kid, I was told that it was a really bad idea to call anyone “doctor” unless he/she had an MD

    I’ve seen a similar rule in a Ms Manners column, and was mildly annoyed, because from an academic POV, medical doctorates tend to be among the least substantiative. (Med school is undoubtedly very demanding, but the standards for original research applied to the actual doctorate are ridiculously low).

  10. The weirdest honorific fetish I’ve ever seen was a tombstone in a local graveyard referring to the occupant as “Dr. Ing.” (Engineer being an academic degree in Switzerland).
    But given his fondness for informal forms of address that triggered the Loscon incident, I’m sure Benford wouldn’t mind being addressed as “sugar tits”.

  11. Dear Tom,

    Before I get into specifics (I agree with one of your points), a pertinent observation.

    Of the dozen (more or less) cases I am familiar with where someone was sanctioned by a convention, in only one of those did the person feel they were sanctioned fairly. Everyone else feels they were done wrong. A few of those sanctions were judgment calls, one was patently wrong, and most were brain-dead unquestionably appropriate. It happens that the one where the respondent felt it was fair was one of those judgment calls.

    People who violate the code of conduct generally don’t feel they’re doing anything wrong. They feel their behavior is justified in some fashion or another.

    Okay, getting to the specifics. Point 5 It is a definite weakness in the system, and the people I know who care about producing CoC’s and Procedures are painfully aware of it. What we have are mostly open-loop systems. We have not developed good mechanisms for correcting errors. So far this has proven to be even a tougher problem than creating Procedures, which is a tougher problem than producing a CoC.

    So it’s a good point, a very good one.

    But other than creating an appearance of fairness to the outside observers, it may not make a whole lot of difference. Because it’s impossible, in any practical way, for everybody who thinks they’ve been sanctioned unfairly (that is, almost everyone) to get an appeal. And by and large they will be unhappy with the results of the appeal.

    I still think it’s a major lack, and when we do need to fix. But don’t overestimate its importance.

    The rest of what you ask for is largely impossible. Even more than the CoC, the Procedures are highly situational. There are some meta principles which apply to good ones — confidentiality will be strictly maintained unless the Reporter or Respondent choose otherwise, and even then the convention and the IRT will maintain confidentiality.

    This is extremely important; any Procedures that don’t hew to this are already in failure mode. At the same time, there have to be exceptions. E.g., if the Complaint is one where an indefinitely large number of people are the targets (see Worldcon 76 and A Certain Author), there maybe little choice but to break confidentiality to the extent of identifying the Respondent and the sanction.

    There are too many different kinds of violations to produce the kind of simple and comprehensible document you would like. A clear and present threat requires a much faster response than obnoxious behavior.

    Also, the venue matters. E.G., one-on-one interactions are different from panel-audience interactions. This is yet another problem that we haven’t sussed out well. Those are quantitatively and qualitatively different interactions, and the meta-rules we would apply to one don’t work very well for the other.

    Fundamentally, this is all a work in progress. Unfortunately, that makes the specificity you desire infeasible. Spelled-out Procedures create false expectations.

    (In passing — when you throw out phrases like “Star Chamber” and “due process,” it makes me wonder if you understand the nature of the beast. Neither are germane.)

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    ======================================
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. http://ctein.com 
    — Digital Restorations. http://photo-repair.com 
    ======================================

  12. Ctein: Yes, it is. Loscon did not initiate public discussion, but they added fuel and oxygen to the flames by making two public posts about it.

    Really, is this the mistake? Having no moderator on the panel. Failing to follow the CoC procedures. Perp-walking someone out of a signing. All those mistakes happened before the first statement was issued — which named no one, nor said what the CoC violation was. It was wise for the committee to take responsibility and acknowledge the snowballing public discussion.

  13. @various:

    I’m commenting about this because it may be that many people here have academic positions or degrees beyond the average American.

    I doubt you will find anyone not in such a situation who has any idea what the various ranks of professorship are and mean or even that they exist as a result of published research at all.

    Pretty much any average US undergrad is going to call anyone “Professor” who is not specified as a TA, and boy does mode of address vary by TA(Teaching Assistant/Grad Student).

    A large minority if not majority of professors with a doctorate are going to request they be referred to by the title “Dr.”, and this is the common form of address among the “laity” of universities here–ie students. It may be that a student with a close relationship to a professor will even go so far as to use a first name, and of course, foreign language or just foreign in general professors often go by their own cultural or linguistic terms. But you will get reamed out at many Unis for calling a “Dr.” “Mr.” or “M(/r)s.” if you are a student. (I think it’s silly, but when your grade is on the line…)

    Most students will only be vaguely aware, say from reading the syllabus, of whether a professor is an Associate, Assistant, or [] Professor, and they will care even less.

    As far as academic titles mattering in other contexts, I don’t see it. You might intro a panelist on orbital dynamics or some such technical topic as “Dr. Stella, Ph.D., Astronomy” or whatever, but I don’t think there’s a strong argument for demanding a Ph.D. be called doctor outside of clarifying their expertise on a specific issue.

    I have to say Hampus’s comments about Sweden struck quite a chord for me. (Although complex systems of address are fascinating to me in fiction.)

  14. Dear Mike,

    Don’t go putting words in my mouth. All I said about it was, “One thing LosCon unquestionably did wrong was making a public announcement with the details. All they accomplished by doing that was to put themselves, Greg, and Isobel on a public Trial By Internet.”

    Please note the first two words. They do not equate to “the mistake.”

    pax / Ctein

  15. Ctein: My point is Loscon could hardly avoid addressing what was going on — would have added to their list of mistakes had they remined silent.

  16. Mike Glyer: Loscon could hardly avoid addressing what was going on — would have added to their list of mistakes had they remined silent.

    And they’ve still massively dropped the ball on that. That they have not published, since Benford’s egregiously one-sided statement, any further statement clearing up the misconceptions and issues pointed out in Schechter’s statement, is just unfathomable to me.

  17. JJ: I think I just sustained a case of moving goalpost whiplash.

    Ctein and I are (as I understand it) debating the wisdom of Loscon having issued a statement at all, close to the original event.

  18. Mike, I agree with you, as far as your discussion with Ctein goes. My comment is not moving the goalposts in that smaller situation, it’s addressed to the larger situation.

  19. Dear Mike,

    Yeah, that would be it.

    We totally agree on what we disagree about.

    Probably as good as it gets! [g]

    pax / Ctein

  20. @Atsiko,

    That is fascinating. In my experience, New Zealand universities are much less formal. Generally, those that prefer/insist on being called by their formal title (“Professor”) are of an older generation, and dare I say it, more old-fashioned.

  21. Maybe it’s just that I didn’t go to a prestigious enough university or that arts/humanities tend to be more lax about it anyway, but here in the UK I called all of my lecturers by their first name. Outside of using their titles/quals for their research, books, etc., they weren’t a particularly fussy bunch as far as I recall. Even the really up-tight lecturers I had didn’t insist on titles.

    The dentists and vets I know are also entitled to use “Dr” but mostly choose not to as it’s seen as pretentious and dickish to do so. It seems really that it’s mostly MDs that embrace the title fully in the UK.

  22. America is where you have to call your boss by their first name. It’s forced camaraderie.

    I hate it double in an academic environment. It’s a means by which those on the very top–who do get called by their titles–degrade the faculty who work under them.

  23. “America is where you have to call your boss by their first name. It’s forced camaraderie.”

    Sweden is where everyone is called by the first name, because why the hell wouldn’t you? Why should you be forced to address them with a title. This actually how it used to work in Sweden before we had our reform to renove honorifics.

    – Would Vice-Director Andersson be so welcome as to come into the meeting room?
    – Of course, Johan, I am coming.

    It was a means to force a social hierarchy into every single social interaction. And that is why it was one of the main goals of swedish equality to remove all of those titles and honorifics.

    Nowadays you will only hear a title in a professional setting when someones role has to be explained, and after that, their ordinary name is used again. Same for everyone.

    Problem I had when working in US was not being able to call my boss by his name, but to fit into the system of hierarchies (which we swedes mostly ignored with complications caused by that).

  24. Every place of ork I’ve been in since leaving college – and one of the ones I was in there – has been on a first names all around basis (occasionally with last initials in the third person when needed to disambiguate), and I’d feel very put off by anything different.

    (The previous director here was sometimes referred to, both in second person and in third, as either “Mr. Lastinitial” or “Firstname”. They came from a rather more uptight place than here.)

  25. I find first-name-for-everyone situations easier, because otherwise I either have to keep correcting people’s pronunciation of “Rosenzweig,” or keep wincing when they get it a little wrong, and not realizing they mean me when it’s way off. And I really don’t like people saying they’ll call me Vicki “because it’s easier” (which it is, by itself) but expecting to be “Mr. So-and-so” or “Dr. Whosis.”

    I know it’s violating expectations, but when my dentist called me “Vicki” without asking if that was okay, I answered, calling him “Umesh” rather than “Dr. Mahindra.” (He didn’t comment on that, but I suspect kept doing the “Hello, Vicki, I’m Dr. Mahindra” thing.)

    At least once I’ve been sitting in a waiting room and heard someone call “Vicki Rosen– er–…” and said “that’s me.” But I won’t answer to “Ms. Rosenberg” or “Rosenthal” by itself, because I won’t realize they mean me rather than someone who is actually named Rosenberg or Rosenthal.

  26. I used to work at a law firm, where one of the senior partners Charles Szypszak.

    Or, as we all called him, everyone from the managing partner down to the summer interns, Chuck.

    Phone calls that came in asking to speak with “Charles……” got the response, “Zipzack” and were connected to Chuck or his secretary, not any of the three other Charles Lastnames at the firm.

    I was one of the very few who as a new employee had looked at his last name and unhesitatingly pronounced it correctly.

    First names, or preferred nicknames. Titles are fine when they matter. Mostly they don’t, in terms of getting day to day work done.

  27. @Vicki —

    Conversely, everyone would agree that an anesthesiologist or surgical oncologist is a “real” doctor and entitled to be addressed as “Dr. Whoever,” but they might be less qualified to help in an in-flight emergency than some nurses and EMTs

    Ummm, no.

    Actually, anesthesiologists are probably the BEST people to have on hand during an in-flight emergency. It is their daily job to keep people from dying, in a much more direct and immediate sense than medical or surgical specialists.

    For perspective: my father is an anesthesiologist (retired). He also helped to create and train Nashville’s first EMTs and oversaw the early respiratory medicine program. Anesthesiologists across the world have been responsible for a lot of the advances in critical care — because that is what they do every day.

    One of the luckiest guys I ever saw was a man having a heart attack in the middle of an anesthesiologists’ conference. 😉

    /rant

  28. I worked at a place for seven years where everyone was on first-name terms. At one point I worked with a really talented and friendly Irish artist that everyone called ‘Don’. After about six years, the company’s art director left. Shortly afterwards, ‘Don’ sent out an email explaining that his real name was ‘Donnchadh’, along with an explanation of how to pronounce it, and asked if everyone wouldn’t mind calling him by his real name now, please. Turns out in interview the art directory couldn’t pronounce his name, so had decided to call him Don instead. And so he became for years and years.

  29. I work in a research hospital (in Biostatistics). A doctor can be a MD, PhD, or in the case of one across the hall from me, both. And despite the fact that we have grad students and postgrads, nobody’s a professor, even those who teach classes.

  30. @Patrick Morris Miller

    Every place of ork I’ve been in since leaving college – and one of the ones I was in there – has been on a first names all around basis

    I’ve always wondered whether the boss went by “Mr. Sauron”, “Dr. Sauron”, or “Lord Sauron”, but I guess now I have my answer.

  31. @Vicki Rosenzweig
    With surnames of German origin (and yours is even a German word), I tend to automatically pronounce them the German way, which is not necessarily how they’re pronounced in English. Ditto with names of Dutch origin.

    Therefore, I tend to ask people in such cases how they pronounce their surname. Ditto for other names where I have no idea what the correct pronounciation is. For example, I only recently found out from a Chinese colleague that I have been mispronouncing Liu Cixin all this time.

  32. @Comtrarius: Thanks for the correction; I mis-extrapolated that from the fact that anesthesiologists (usually?) work as part of a surgical team, not as the only doctor on a case, and from having heard that anesthesiology was one of the specialties whose appeal included relatively few emergencies, and hence more regular hours than many other branches of medicine. (Have I been misled on this as well?)

    @Cora–I think we’re pronouncing the consonants in my name more or less as they would be in German (despite that name coming from the Russian Jewish side of my family); the “ei” is pronounced like “eye,” not like “see” (and definitely not like “it”; a short final “i” is one of the common ways people get it wrong).

  33. @Vicki Rosenzweig
    That’s how I would pronounce your name as well.

    ei (pronounced eye) vs. ie (pronounced as in see) is a huge pronounciation (and spelling) issue for English speakers trying to learn German (and for other German as a foreign language learners, but for some reason native English speakers struggle more with this than e.g. native Arabic speakers). It’s also a problem with many German derived and/or Jewish surnames in the US, especially since the pronounciation varies from family to family. See Fritz Leiber who reportedly was very insistent regarding the correct pronounciation of his surname.

  34. @Cora Buhlert–

    ei (pronounced eye) vs. ie (pronounced as in see) is a huge pronounciation (and spelling) issue for English speakers trying to learn German (and for other German as a foreign language learners, but for some reason native English speakers struggle more with this than e.g. native Arabic speakers). It’s also a problem with many German derived and/or Jewish surnames in the US, especially since the pronounciation varies from family to family. See Fritz Leiber who reportedly was very insistent regarding the correct pronounciation of his surname.

    It reverses the normal rules for pronunciation of ie vs. ei in English, but somewhere, very early apparently, I acquired a special-case rule for names only. Ei to be pronounced eye, vs. ie to be pronounced like see, unless and until the other person corrects you. Most names with those letter pairs are German-origin, at least in my experience, and it results in far fewer corrections. It’s not 100%, but it is overall useful.

  35. There’s a silly quote: “I before E — except when your foreign neighbour Keith received eight counterfeit beige sleighs from feisty caffeinated weightlifters. Weird.”

    At least when I say it out loud, a bunch of those are pronounced differently from each other and the only one with an “eye” sound is “feisty”. I’m not surprised some English speakers might find the nice, consistent German one confusing at first — we’re used to it being a lot messier.

  36. @Lis Carey

    I dunno about that, there’s a lot of ie’s that are pronounced like see. A lot of the ones for plurals (activities) and also ones like fiend. Also some weird ones like view which sound more like you. There are some which are eye (rarified, pie, tie, etc) but it’s certainly not absolute. If it made sense it wouldn’t be English. 😀

    ETA: And then there’s the many, many words where it isn’t an ie sound at all but just an i and an e which are next to each other and pronounced separately (client, ambient) or even change one of the adjacent letter sounds instead (patient).

  37. @Meredith–

    If it made sense it wouldn’t be English.

    So true!

    But while English has more exceptions than consistencies, words where the adjacent i and e are in different syllables, I would argue can’t be considered exceptions to a rule whose theoretical application is for when they’re in the same syllable.

    And of course, pronunciation rules in English are properly for first-pass attempts at words you don’t yet know. This is why people who read more than they talk to other people often mispronounce words.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 😉

  38. @Cora —

    ei (pronounced eye) vs. ie (pronounced as in see) is a huge pronounciation (and spelling) issue for English speakers trying to learn German (and for other German as a foreign language learners, but for some reason native English speakers struggle more with this than e.g. native Arabic speakers).

    Heh.

    I knew a family growing up named Wiesmeyer — pronounced with a long “eye” sound. The story was that the spelling had been reversed during immigration or some such. And just to make things even more confusing, one of the sons of the family, but not the other, legally changed his spelling back to “Weismeyer” to make it correct by German standards.

    @Vicki —

    Anesthesiologists are/were at the root of the development of critical care medicine — for just one example, the anesthetist Bjorn Ibsen created the first ICU in Europe in 1953 and is called the “father” of intensive care. But there has been a lot of specialization and expansion in the emergency and critical care medical fields since then. These days, anesthesiologists mostly deal with the emergencies that crop up daily during surgeries; you need to remember that anesthesiology is the art of almost but not quite killing the patient every time they perform anesthesia, especially given how often paralytics are used. They don’t deal with all the stitching and wound cleaning and bone setting and bedpan changing and so on involved with most emergency medicine — they “just” keep your heart beating and your lungs expanding. That’s why I made the comments about airline emergencies — they are likely to be things like heart attacks or asthma attacks, and there’s nobody better for things like that than an anesthesiologist.

    /soapbox

  39. @Lis Carey: I was one of the very few who as a new employee had looked at his last name and unhesitatingly pronounced it correctly. What was correct? I’m thinking of one of our mutual acquaintances (too few vowels?) who moves a stop to another syllable, vs another who pronounces a vowel that needs 8-bit ASCII (at least) as his ancestors would — and contrasting both of them with a married-name Markiewicz who pronounced it “Mar-KEE-wee”.

    @Meredith: the version I learned 55 years ago was “neither leisured foreigner seized the heifer on the weird heights”, but I think yours has more different pronunciations. Then there’s “Though the tough cough and the hiccough ploughed him through…” if you want to really torment ESLs.

  40. @Chip–Chuck’s was a relatively simple name, and he pronounced it the obvious way.

    Zipzack. Well, almost. There’s almost but not quite an s sound before each z.

    Hey, I could have been wrong, there are no absolute guarantees in how people will pronounce their names–but I was right. And it was a couple of bonus points for me that his name didn’t make me freeze in panic the way it did nearly everyone else.

    I’ve found that in general, a confident attempt at pronouncing a name with the rules that seem likely to apply, seasoned with a slight note of question so that they know you want to be corrected if wrong, almost always works in terms of making a good impression.

    Which doesn’t change the fact that some names really are alarming if you don’t get a chance to think about them for a second or two before plunging in.

    (Some of my relatives come from the Too Many Vowels parts of the world, while others come from Too Few Vowels regions.)

  41. This goes back to the 80s, and I looked at it before I called, but Narayanaswami Darmarajan’s secretary was impressed anyway when I called to say that the book he’d requested had come in. She said I got it right, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find I got it 95% right and that was closer than usual.

    Reminds me of a line I thought was pretty funny on the Simpsons when a humorless official refers to Apu Nahasapeemapetilon as “Apu Nahasapeemapetilan,” getting it right all the way up to the final vowel, then turning right at Albuquerque.

  42. There’s a family in my area with the surname “Maillet”. The eldest Charles Maillet, now deceased, a long-time radio personality locally, was called Chuck MAYlet. His son Charles II goes by an approximation of the original French pronunciation and is called Chip MaLAY. Charles III, with whom I worked at Shawnee State, was going by Charlie MaLAY but may have reverted to MAYlet since then. He and his wife Mary do not intend to name any son they may have Charles.

  43. A quick google search on “Szypszak” indicates it’s Polish, which in turn suggests that “Zipzack” is an Americanized version: from the sources I can find on Polish orthography, in Poland it would sound more like “Ship-shock”.

    I’m reminded of an American chess grandmaster I once read of, whose family name is “Fedorowicz”, pronounced “fed-OR-oh-witz”, but who played in so many European tournaments (that’s where the money was) that he gave up and just started going by “fed-or-OV-ich”.

  44. Anne Sheller: His son Charles II goes by an approximation of the original French pronunciation and is called Chip MaLAY.

    My French may be a bit rusty, but wouldn’t the French pronunciation of “Maillet” be Mye-yay?

  45. My go-to example for a non-intuitive name pronunciation comes from a junior-high classmate: Tunc Kocacitak. The school had a military past, so the tradition was for teachers to refer to students by their surnames, and one of ours good-naturedly referred to him as “Ka-heart-attack.”

    In actuality, the name’s easy to say but bears little resemblance to the letters used. “Tunc” rhymes with “punch” (the unwritten H not being at all silent), and the surname is roughly “kuh-ZHOJ-ih-tok.” I learned it early on, and obviously it stuck with me.

  46. @JJ

    My French may be a bit rusty, but wouldn’t the French pronunciation of “Maillet” be Mye-yay?

    Indeed so. I was a bit confused because, while reasonably fluent in French, I did not remember the exact rule, my intuition got a bit contaminated in recent years by learning Spanish, and I knew there were words with [l] pronunciation and words with [y]. It appears these are the rules:

    https://www.lawlessfrench.com/pronunciation/ll/

    I would approximate “Maillet” as “MY-yeah”.

  47. The discussion on formality reminded me of the rules for familiarity formulated by Stephen Potter in One-Upmanship. According to Potter, a company director would refer to:

    Co-director Michael Yates as MIKE
    Assistant director Michael Yates as MICHAEL
    Sectional manager Michael Yates as MR. YATES
    Sectional assistant Michael Yates as YATES
    Indispensable secretary Michael Yates as MR. YATES
    Apprentice Michael Yates as MICHAEL
    Night watchman Michael Yates as MIKE

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