Toons and tunes

At breakfast yesterday, my granddaughter Opal (aged 5) used the word tune in conversation, and I noted with some surprise that she said [tjun]. Surprise because these days around here, I would have expected [tun]; “yod-dropping” after alveolar consonants (including t d n) when they are in the same syllable is widespread  in “General American” and has been increasing for many years (though the details are very complex), despite mockery of pronunciations like “Toozday” in the media. Opal no doubt picked the yod up from her parents (and her mother, Elizabeth, from her mother, Ann; my usage is variable).

We moved on to the Warner Brothers series of animated comic short features (Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, the Roadrunner, and so on), the name of which Opal pronounced as [luni tjunz], and she was quite firm about the yod. My visual recollection was that the second word was spelled TOONS (as in cartoons), though Elizabeth was sure that it was TUNES (sometimes misspelled TOONS, so that I might well have seen that spelling) — and since Opal is fond of some of these cartoons, especially the Roadrunner, Elizabeth had seen the LOONEY TUNES logo many times. Of course she was right.

Then it turned out that Opal had [tjun] in cartoon (where [tun] is standard) as well, quite possibly as a carryover from the tunes of Looney Tunes. We didn’t press a correction on her; little kids are resistant to explicit correction in such things, and Opal is especially resistant (well, obstinant).

Now some rambling about Looney Tunes. First, notice the variant spelling of the first word, most commonly spelled loony (in its loony entry, OED2 has looney and luni as variant spellings, and indeed its earliest citations have these variants; AHD4 follows this practice, but NOAD2 has only loony). That’s been there since the series started under this name in 1930; the spelling might have been intended to call attention to the name, as was the play on tunes/(car)toons. (The variant spelling of the first word and the musical reference in the second were continued in the sister series Merrie Melodies, which started in 1933 as a vehicle for one-shot characters, while Looney Tunes had recurring characters.)

OED2 has the ‘crazy’ adjective loony (having to do with lunacy) from 1872 and the corresponding noun from 1884. Then comes the noun loon ‘crazy person’ (from crazy as a loon — with reference to the bird — possibly influenced by loony). The Canadian one-dollar coin the loonie (so-called because it has a loon — the bird — on it) is something else again.

Finally, NOAD2 (but not AHD4 or the OED) has an entry for the adjective looney tunes (with the variant spelling loony-tunes) ‘crazy, deranged’, derived of course from the name Looney Tunes.

4 Responses to “Toons and tunes”

  1. dw Says:

    I hear the hypercorrection [njun] for ‘noon’ on NPR all the time.

  2. Fernando Colina Says:

    I think hear iTunes pronounced as i-tjuns even by young people in the US, but maybe I’m wrong.

    See (hear) also this: http://www.forvo.com/word/itunes/ . There are two speakers one identified as UK and the other as US, but to my (foreign) ear, the US speaker sounds unauthentic. What’s your opinion?

  3. The Ridger Says:

    While ‘ “yod-dropping” after alveolar consonants (including t d n) when they are in the same syllable is widespread in “General American” ‘, I certainly hear tyun, nyuz, dyuty and many others quite a lot.

  4. Grant Barrett Says:

    What do you think of the pronunciation-spellings of chunes and choons?

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