It’s time to make New Year’s resolutions, and, rather than vow to eat healthier or exercise more, I’ve decided to do something I might actually manage to accomplish: pronounce the word “vegan” correctly.
I have this mental block, you see. I know how it’s supposed to be pronounced, or, rather, how vegans want it to be pronounced, but then I think about how it’s spelled, and “vay-gan” comes out of my mouth. Every time. Sometimes there’s an expletive before it.
Can I help it if vegans don’t know how to pronounce themselves?
I mean, you’ve got a star called Vega (the fifth brightest in the night sky), and if anyone ever came to Earth from there, he or she or it would be a Vay-gan, unless they were Vay-ganese. Further, if those Vay-gans were gamblers, they might visit Las Vay-gas and maybe even abduct a Las Vay-gan or two.
Not only is there a star named Vega, there was once a car named Vega. It was a crummy car, to be sure, but if there are any left on the road, and the people who owned them wanted to start a club, it would be the Vay-gan Club.
So where do these animal-loving herbivores get off being vee-gans? And how in the world did they get there from “veh-getable?”
I looked up the entomology of the word “vegan” and discovered that those people don’t eat insects, either. Then I remembered that what I wanted was the etymology. And it turns out that there’s a very good reason why “vegan” doesn’t conform to any of the etymological rules of English pronunciation.
It’s not a real word.
Well, it is a word in that it’s recognized by dictionaries and such, but it’s not a word in that it didn’t come into being through the usual channels, beginning with Greeks, or Latins, or Germans or Sumerians or some ancient people and getting all jumbled up when those people conquered some other people, and then the spelling changed, and then the pronunciation changed after a game of telephone that lasted hundreds of years and you end up with a word like “assassin” deriving from the word “hashish.”*
None of that happened with “vegan.” What happened was, some guy made it up.
That guy was Donald Watson, and he came up with the word in 1944. I’ll let him tell you how:
“I invited my early readers to suggest a more concise word to replace ‘non-dairy vegetarian.’ Some bizarre suggestions were made like ‘dairyban,’ ‘vitan,’ ‘benevore,’ ‘sanivore,’ ‘beaumangeur’, et cetera. I settled for my own word, ‘vegan,’ containing the first three and last two letters of ‘vegetarian’ — the beginning and end of ‘vegetarian’”
This fellow may have been a pioneer in unnatural eating habits, but he was clearly an idiot when it came to words. How do you take the “vej” and the “an” of “vegetarian” and wind up with “veegan?” There is no long “e” sound in any way connected to an offshoot of “vegetable.”
So whenever I say “vay-gan,” I may be wrong, but I’m also right.
And, by the way, if we can have non-dairy creamers, why can’t we have non-dairy vegetarians?
See you soon.
*True story (according to Business Insider): Members of a fanatical Muslim sect during the Crusades used to smoke hashish and then murder leaders on the opposing side. They started going by the name “hashishiyyin,” meaning hashish-users in Arabic. Through centuries of mispronunciation, English arrived at “assassin.” Oh, and “avocado” comes from the Aztec word for “testicle.”