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I Beg to Differ

July 13, 2023

Driving home from church the other day, I spotted this sign on Old Hickory Boulevard, and, for some reason, I said the words out loud. (By the way, the word ‘sonata’ denotes in Italian a three-movement orchestral piece that is sounded by instruments, not sung.) Right off, it hit me that I’d uttered something of a sentence, “It’s not a bank.” (Try it: Say “Sonata Bank” and see if it doesn’t come out sort of that way.)


I thought they might have done this on purpose, a clever way of saying it was a credit union or another sort of financial institution. But I didn’t pick up on that when I read, at their web site, “As both an FDIC-chartered bank and technology-focused financial services company, Sonata will provide a full suite of banking products and services to two distinct customer segments.” Reading on down, I saw that it’s rooted historically in Kentucky and is especially tailored to the needs of restaurant franchisees and their employees. So, I suppose the name is just a sonorous, classy one, the reason Hyundai chose it for one of their sedans.


It's one thing to be thrown by spelling to say “Edinburg” instead of the proper “Edinborough” for ‘Edinburgh.’ Or to correct a student’s spelling of ‘vengeance,’ thinking he slipped in an extra ‘e’ between the ‘g’ and the ‘a.’ I thought his version would come out as “vengeeance,” but I was wrong. But these are a matter of writing, not speaking.


Take, for instance, my name, ‘Mark Coppenger.’ Now and then when I identify myself over the phone, as when I’m ordering something, they’ll respond, “Thank you Mr. Hoppenger.” That’s what they heard, since the end of my first name is a ‘k,’ and my last name begins with a k-sounding ‘C,’ as in ‘cat’ and ‘cost.’ So, unless I insert a break between the two, the sounds elide, hence the confusion.


This sort of thing not only fools the human listener; it can throw machines off their stride as well. Not long ago, Sharon and I were watching an episode of The Inspector Lynley Mysteries (BBC) when one of the characters said there was a bit of argy-bargy between two other characters. When asked what that meant, the answer was “a set to,” but it came out as “I said to” in the subtitle, and it made no sense. (BTW, “a set to” means “angry quarreling.”)


When I read the previous paragraph in my computer’s voice-recognition software, it gave me “I sent to” instead of “a set-to” or “I said to.” Indeed, if you’re not in a hurry to get things right, it’s fun to mess around with the dictation feature, getting, for instance, “Chicken gumbo is tasty fair” instead of “. . . fare.”


This brings to mind a confusion I had during the hymn service in the church of my childhood. Every time we sang “The Old Rugged Cross,” I came out with “old buggy cross,” imagining a horse and carriage passing over a bridge in a picturesque setting, with a little church up the way. Again, the heard word can vary significantly vary from the properly-spoken word.


“Sonata Bank” you say? I beg to differ