Category: Linguistic Etiquette. Answer: Hypercorrect. Question: What is so right, it’s wrong?

On Jeopardy last night, Alex Trebek, the natty host of the popular game show in which three contestants vie for cash by buzzing first then questioning correctly to a given answer, pronounced Don Juan, “Don Joo-on,” quickly clarifying (no doubt so the phone didn’t ring off the hook) that the Joo-on pronunciation was correct in the context of the answer, which referred to the poem “Don Juan” by the English poet Lord Byron. Wikipedia provides the following detailed support for Alex’s argument: “In Castilian Spanish, Don Juan is pronounced [doŋˈxwan]. The usual English pronunciation is /ˌdɒnˈwɑːn/, with two syllables and a silent ‘J’. However, in Byron’s epic poem it rhymes with ruin and true one, indicating that it was intended to have the trisyllabic spelling pronunciation /ˌdɒnˈdʒuːən/. This would have been characteristic of his English literary predecessors who often deliberately imposed partisan English pronunciations on Spanish names, such as Don Quixote /ˌdɒnˈkwɪksət/.”

Wikipedia defines hypercorrection: “In linguistics or usage, hypercorrection is a non-standard usage that results from the over-application of a perceived rule of grammar or a usage prescription. A speaker or writer who produces a hypercorrection generally believes that the form is correct through misunderstanding of these rules, often combined with a desire to seem formal or educated.”

Byron also rhymed “want” with “cant,” and “tounge” with “wrong” and “song.” Anyway, must rhyme always be perfect? Jeopardy, the game show, which I do enjoy, is often mistaken for a game of education, of smartness, but it’s not, at least not in the sense that smart involves critical thinking skills. In any case, my ear, hyperwrong as it often is, doesn’t hear “ruin” and “true one” as a perfect rhyme. And even if we accept Alex’s pronunciation, I don’t hear “Joo-on” as rhyming perfectly with “true one.” But rhyme need not be perfect to be musical. Then again, from Canto XVII, Verse V, of Byron’s “Don Juan”:

There is a common-place book argument,
Which glibly glides from every tongue;
When any dare a new light to present,
“If you are right, then everybody’s wrong”!
Suppose the converse of this precedent
So often urged, so loudly and so long;
“If you are wrong, then everybody’s right”!
Was ever everybody yet so quite?


  1. Yes, rhymes with “lounge,” as in “lounge lizard,” “lounge music,” or “lounge post.” Good eye. The plural of “tounge,” by the way, is “tounges,” as in “lounging around in one’s lounge underwear before heading out for an evening of waltzing lounges.” Then there’s this, from Wiki, where I’ve spent far too much time this morning: “Thy tounge runth before thy wit” (Heywood,1562). I think you’ve given me an idea for a new Sestina. I’ll keep you posted. (And no wonder I couldn’t get it to rhyme with wrong.)

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