Fighting Over Phonics


Creating Interest

  • What type of dialect do you think you have (or, identify your speech by geographical region)?
  • Name some words that you think are commonly mispronounced or misused.
  • List all the generational and ethnic groups with which you have associations.

Judges 12:5-6

The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived.  And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?”  If he said, “No,” then they would say to him, “Then say, ‘Shibboleth’!”  And he would say, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right.  Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan.  There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.

The Story

After divvying up the Promise Land, the children of Israel proceeded to establish tribal individuality.  In their zeal to be independent, they quite naturally developed a few differences.  If you couple that with a continuous practice of doing evil in the sight of the Lord, then major conflicts were certain to arise.

The Gileadites were in reality renegade Ephraimites.  To retaliate against their own countrymen for a past disagreement (of no small controversy), the Gileadites shrewdly used a difference in dialect for a military advantage.  Their animosity resulted in civil war.  So what if their countrymen pronounced “Sh” as an “S.”  They were still kinsmen.  It would be like me resenting a Christian brother of German descent for pronouncing a “W” as a “V.”  It doesn’t matter, he’s still my brother.  I’m not fighting over phonics.

Unfortunately, contemporary versions of this are seen today, even in our own country.  Consider those Southerners who moved north to find jobs.  Many were held in contempt by northerners – do I have a witness?  Thankfully, we’ve grown beyond that as a nation, for the most part.  Yet I can’t imagine the fighting that surely would have erupted if a Yankee had asked Johnny Reb to first pronounce “potato” before being allowed to cross the Ohio River.  For the record, my family says “taters,” mostly just to be annoying.

We encounter “tribal” differences all the time in our daily Christian walk.  Just think about it.  We have African Christians, American Christians, Asian Christians, Eskimo Christians, European Christians, Latino Christians, New Zealand Christians; and baby-boomer Christians, east coast Christians, Gen-X Christians, hippie Christians, Midwestern Christians, Native American Christians, west coast Christians, yuppie Christians, and insert-age-or-ethnicity-here Christians.

This diversity is a reflection of the unity we’ll enjoy in heaven with brothers and sisters of all ages, languages, and nationalities.  It calls for celebration and civility.  If you can’t or won’t celebrate it now, you better start thinking about which road to eternity you’re walking.  Biblically, that’s the warning we find in the Ephraimite-Gileadite struggle.  Hatred destroys, both here and in the hereafter, irregardless of church membership, family roots, generational standing, or religious patronage.  Maybe this doesn’t need to be said.  But personally, I’ve seen it happen in recent days.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.  But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.  (I John 4:18)

Okay, now that I’ve said what I’ve said, some of you pedantically noted that I used the word “irregardless.”  I’m aware that it is not a “word.”  Likewise, I’m aware that we – especially men – mangle a lot of things, words being among them.  With the help of several friends, here’s a list of locutions we often slaughter (did some of you pronounce the “T” in often?).  If you find that you are a victim of this list, please sit back and laugh at yourself as I did.  I mean, I laughed at me, not you…  well, actually, I did laugh at some of you, so please don’t take a fence:

Locution.  Yes, it’s a word.  It means, among other things… word!

Sabot.  It’s correctly pronounced “say’ bo.”  Muzzleloaders know it as that plastic thingy in which a smaller-than-bore-size bullet rides.  It’s French.  Who cares?

Salmon.  I personally pronounce the “L,” mostly to be annoying.  At any rate, they’re good to eat, the fish, that is.  The root word has a French connection.  Again, who cares?

Bison.  The beast is not a buffalo.  We have American bison in North America.  There are only two true buffalo:  the water buffalo and the African, or cape, buffalo.  Only the cape buffalo cares what you call him.

Antelope.  Ditto, that is, a pronghorn antelope is not a goat nor a melon (i.e., an antelope is not a cantaloupe).  Thanks for the reminder, Brian.  And that brings us full circle to “who cares?”

Antler.  Speaking of antelope and goats, they, along with cattle, are the only animals that have true horns.  Antlers are not horns.  Most hunters know this.  Still, I hear things like, “Hey Herb, that big buck I kilt had big horns.”  For further edification:  giraffes have ossicones and narwhal whales bear a modified tooth.  Polled Herefords are called pollards because they don’t have horns.  I always thought it was because they took part in some survey.

Bonfire.  Please, will some of you stop saying “bomb fire!”  While I’m at it, it’s called Valentine’s Day, not Valentime’s Day,  supposably, er…  I mean, supposedly.

Aperture sight.  It’s not an “apature” sight as there’s no such thing.  But we say it so fast that it comes out that way.  If you’re sensitive about it, just call it a really-small-hole-that-you-peep-through-that-sits-on-the-receiver-end-of-a-firearm-through-which-the-front-sight-is-automatically-centered-in-the-fuzzy-ring-that’s-formed-while-you-squint-sight.  Now, doesn’t aperture sight sound better?  We’ll even settle for peep sight.

Deringer.  Thank you, Henry Deringer, for loaning us your name for a small, ultra-concealable handgun.  We’re sorry for vandalizing your family’s heritage by now spelling it “derringer.”

Etch.  I’ve heard old timers say “itch” when referring to the use of acid to form artistic designs in metal.  Hey old guys, scratch that one off the list, please.  The E is pronounced as in “head-ache.”  (Now they’re all confused because I didn’t tell them which E in headache to pronounce, or not.)

Powder.  Huge difference here between gun powder, an explosive, and a propellant, which is, uh, it’s, uh, well, it’s a propellant, which burns really fast and explodes only under pressure.  Go figure.

Patridge sight.  E. E. Patridge developed this type of sight after consulting with ophtomo…  ophthmolo…  oh heck, eye doctors.  It consists of a square front sight and square u-shaped rear sight, and is still one of the best target sights in use today.  Partridges, on the other hand, sit in pear trees, not on gun barrels.

Creep.  In the gun world, it applies to the movement of the trigger before it lets go and fires the gun.  In the real world, a creep also moves, either slumping down or running away, when an armed citizen properly understands the fundamentals of trigger creep and all that is involved in using a firearm for self defense against terrorists and thugs – creeps one and all.

Duct tape.  Yes, the authentic brand name has a little yellow duck on the packaging.  They’re just playing with our heads because we insist on calling it duck tape.

Barbed wire.  It’s also in the fast speech category in that we say it so fast it comes out bob-wire.  I said it just the other day.  Hey, I know a Bob Wire, and his wife, Barb, and their little boy, Bear.

Jake.  Russ, a lawyer, claims that he knows a guy who says “jake” when he should be saying “hen.”  Okay, I confess, it was a bearded hen but it was my first turkey kill.  Russ also has observed the mispronunciation of certain numbers.  For instance, in what should be a 14 inch bass, the four becomes an eight making it sound like it’s an 18 inch bass.  It’s a frequent occurrence when sizing deer antlers, turkey spurs, mileage, and the like.  Most outdoorsmen suffer from this speech impediment.

Trotline.  Mitch, a conservation agent, knows a lot of guys running “troutlines.”  He reports that he hasn’t seen a single trout caught on one yet.  Mitch also notes that a lot of those guys fish the Des Moines and Illinois Rivers, pronouncing all the “S’s” like the good ole boys they are.  Maybe we should have them say “Shibboleth” before crossing those rivers.

Strength.  My coworker, Bob, reminds us that there is a G in the word “strength.”  But it usually goes like this:  Hey Herb, the cord I use for my troutlines has a lot of strenth (note the missing G).

Water moccasin.  Gary, an editor, reminds us that not all water-loving snakes are created equal.  A banded water snake is not a water moccasin, which is also known as a cottonmouth.  There are two differences:  fang number one and fang number two.

Bowie knife.  Gary continues his observations by noting how some people call any large knife a Bowie knife.  Most big knives are not Bowie’s.  They’re just big knives.  A Bowie is distinguished by its long, broad, thick blade and an S shaped hand guard.  Oh no!  Not the dreaded S again!  The Bowie was actually designed by James Black in Arkansas (again with the S, this time it’s silent… whew!).  Gary also has Arkansas roots.  Hey Gary, say “potato.”

Automatic.  Gary, who had too much fun with this, correctly notes the difference between an automatic and an autoloader, yet we all say automatic, don’t we?  That’s fine if you’re hunting with an Uzi.  A fourteen year old boy I take hunting gets on me about this all the time when I refer to my .22 as an automatic, so I hunt with a single shot just to shut him up.  Now I have to hear about it being a break action, hinge action, top break, break top, break his neck…  Will the madness ever stop?!

Pistol.  Correctly stated, a pistol is a handgun having a chamber integral with the barrel.  This includes autoloaders and single shots.  If you get pistol-whipped with a revolver, you are actually revolver-whipped.  Either way, it’ll hurt.

Conibear trap.  Doug, a professional trapper (and fine statesman), just spoke with a guy the other day who uses a carnivorous trap, obviously meaning Conibear trap.  I’m laughing so hard that I can’t even say anything about this.  But can’t you just hear it:  Hey Herb, hand me that there carnivorous trap.  I need one with more strenth.

Primer.  The roughest, toughest reloader and the meekest, geekiest bookworm have one thing in common:  they both read primers to find out what’s happening.  Pronounced differently, of course, they also share this affinity with painters, who use primer, as well, but to cover up what’s happening.

And now for the grand finale:  Minnows.  Many moons ago, our friends in Ohio had a young son who wanted to go fishing with me.  Fulfilling my obligatory role as good friend, I took him.  At the river, The Boy pointed and asked, “Hey Don, what’s that?” referencing a school of minnows.  I said, “Why, Boy, they’re minnows.”

Young boys fishing for minnows, Nikolai Bogdanov Belsky (1868-1945), oil on cardboard

“They’re what?” he asked with a puzzled look.

“They’re minnows,” I repeated.

“What?” he asked perplexed.

Remembering that his dad came out of eastern Kentucky, I realized that The Boy had never heard the word “minnows.”  So I shuffled my answer.  “They’re minners.”

“Oh, that’s what they are!” He understood now since that’s what his dad called minnows.

A few seconds later, The Boy asked, “Hey Don, what’s the difference between minnows and minners?”

Again, fulfilling my obligatory role as good friend and now outdoor guru, I edified him by explaining that minnows always swim north and minners always swim south.  The small fry took the bait.

Later that evening, The Boy told his mom and dad what he learned on the river, all about minnows swimming north and minners swimming south.  I received a phone call and was sarcastically ribbed over my attempts at colloquial indoctrination.  Thankfully, our friendship could endure that type of comedic anxiety.

I’m just glad I didn’t tell the Boy the truth about how minnows are only found in creeks…  and minners are only found in cricks.

Building Foundations

  • Describe personality.  Now describe individuality.


  • In your own life, what barriers or difficulties affect how you share the Gospel with others?


  • There is a Biblical relationship between fear and love.  Read I John 4:18 and discuss your take on this matter.


Applying Truth

Personally meditate on these key words, or discuss these with your friends or small group.  What does the Bible say about each one?  Determine how you will interact with these subjects this week:

  • brother in Christ
  • diversity
  • unity