What in the World is Earf Day?
Earf, aflete, and wif have got to go!
Let’s start wif earf. If you say that out loud, it sounds like you have a speech impediment. There is no such word as earf and yet I hear this type of mispronunciation all of the time: wif, aflete, and now earf!
Unless you are speaking of a cockney accent from back in the day where the “th” in the word earth is pronounced like a V, I have only heard mostly black people make this linguistic blunder. Here’s an interesting tidbit that could explain it.
Did you know that of all of the countries and isles that make up the United Kingdom that Scots were treated as the lowest of all of the immigrants? Very few Scots immigrated to the U.S. in the 1600s and 1700s. Not until slavery’s cotton industry was at all time highs in the early and mid 1800s did Scottish immigrants begin to flood America – and boy did they ever!
Scottish immigrants became so prevalent in the system of slavery that over the course of the 1800s, Scots who had no chance of elevating themselves out of extreme poverty back in Scotland were able to turn their fortunes completely around and become aristocrats here in America.
Of those Scottish Americans, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “You were oppressed in your own land and now you want to oppress us!”
Something Old, Something New…
The enslaved often adopted a variation of the English that they heard spoken by slaveholders; slaves were legally unable to learn how to read or write under penalty of death. Today, many of the most common American last names (for both blacks and whites) have their roots in Scotland, including:
- Smith - occupational, as in 'blacksmith or goldsmith' (English)
- Brown - descriptive, from the colour (English)
- Wilson - patronymic - 'son of William' (English/Norman/Germanic)
- Anderson - patronymic - 'son of Andrew' (English/Greek)
- Thompson - patronymic - 'son of Thomas' (English/Hebrew) the normal spelling in Scotland is Thomson
- Clark - occupational, as clerk (Latin)
- Walker - occupational, from 'wealcere' meaning a fuller (Old English)
- Young - descriptive (English)
- Scott - (1) a Scotsman (English) or (2) descriptive, from 'scutt' (English)
- Mitchell - patronymic - 'son of Michael' (English/Hebrew)
So let’s say that the wif and earf mispronunciation is one of those things that are remnants of America’s slave and Scottish immigrant past. Well then it’s high time we fix it, no? Every weekend during football season, sports announcers who went to some of the top universities and colleges in this country and are now professional on-air commentators, constantly pronounce words like athlete as aflete and with as wif. It’s incorrect, plantation talk – “Why can’t the English learn to speak!”
The “th” Sound
This use of “wif” is wrong in multiple ways. First, phonetically, it doesn’t work. We only have one common (multisyllabic - having more than one syllable) word that ends in ‘if’ and it’s derived from French and hence, the “if” in the word motif is pronounced MO-TEEF.
Secondly, there already is a word pronounced wif; it’s spelled “whiff” and it means something totally different than with. First of all, they are both different parts of speech. Whiff is an action verb. It is an act – you whiffed (barely missed a football kick); you took a whiff (of a stew or soup).
There is No F in W-I-T-H!
“With” on the other hand is a conjunction. It’s like the glue that you put between two pieces of paper to make them stick; the word “with” puts one part of a sentence together with the other part. The “th” in the word with (just like in the word “the”) is pronounced by putting your tongue between your teeth – not your bottom lip. In American English, “th” is always pronounced by putting your tongue between your front teeth – your lips are not involved at all. Get your lips out of the way.
“GH” is sometimes silent (though) and sometimes pronounced like an “f” (rough and tough). “PH” is almost always pronounced like an F (philosophy, phony, elephant, etc.) But “TH” is never, ever, ever pronounced like an “F” – Never! So once and for all, there is no such thing as earf day. It’s Happy Earth (tongue between your teeth) Day. Fank you!