Accented buttocks

Following up on my buttocks posting, Wilson Gray reminded people on ADS-L on June 21 that some people pronounce buttock(s) with a secondary accent on the final syllable (as if it were a compound), rather than with the unaccented final syllable that’s recorded in all the dictionaries I’ve seen.

Perhaps the pronunciation comes from interpreting the spelling as representing a compound, and perhaps also from treating the word as unfamiliar and therefore resistant to deaccenting — the opposite of the Familiarity Breeds Deaccenting principle that I mentioned in an April posting on metrical feet (a principle evidenced, for example, in “insider” pronunciations of the state names Wisconsin and Oregon).

I haven’t a clue as to the social or geographical distribution of this variant; it could be sporadic.

I’m sure I’ve heard other examples in which a normally unaccented syllable is elevated to secondary accent. (This is a separate phenomenon from accent shifts, where there is variation as to which syllable in a word gets the primary accent.) For the moment the prime example that comes to my mind is a British vs. American difference in the treatment of a final -ard in family names (like Willard, Woolard, and Pollard): this syllable is unaccented in American English, but British speakers regularly (though not, I think, invariably) give it a secondary accent.

(Additional complexity: I’m sure I’ve come across British speakers who have Willard as a family name with secondary accent on the final syllable, but Willard as a personal name — think of Willard Scott — with an unaccented final syllable.)

(Further complexity: Some British speakers use the secondary accent for British family names, but reproduce the preference of Americans with -ard family names — like the linguist Carl Pollard — for an unaccented final syllable.)

4 Responses to “Accented buttocks”

  1. Eamonn McManus Says:

    The word that never fails to strike me is Python (as in the snake or the language or the Monty). In American English it has a distinct secondary accent on the second syllable, while in European English it doesn’t, as you can tell in the canonical John Cleese pronunciation at .

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The OED records this Br-Am distinction for python: unaccented second syllable in BrE, secondary accent in AmE (with the unaccented pronunciation listed as an alternative).

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    On ADS-L, Larry Horn suggests influence from “botox” ([bo.taks], with quasi-compound stress).

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    On ADS-L, Wilson Gray tied this to Forrest Gump (in the previous posting):

    What about the influence of Gump’s Reply? :
    “In the buttocks [b^.tOks] / [b^.taks], sir.”

    (Similarly, Loren Billings on Facebook.) Without knowing about the distribution of the secondarily accented variant and its history, we can’t say what influence the movie might have had (as opposed to the movie’s reflecting a regional pronunciation).

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