Nudie tales

The One Big Happy from 6/11 (in my comics feed today), in which Ruthie mishears a stock expression from tv news reporting:

Said: new details. Heard: nudie tales.

The stock expression is new details (sometimes more details, occasionally just details), frequently at 11 (because 11 p.m. is the conventional time for the late evening news in the US), but other times are of course possible (e.g. at 6), as are continuations like soon, later, and coming.

Ruthie, like all children (and language learners), is inclined to interpret expressions that are unfamiliar to her in terms of expressions she encounters in her daily life; she’s looking for some kind of sense in what she hears. This is the motive behind eggcorns. (For instance, in my 5/19/17 posting “Ruthie faces the unfamiliar, again”, she understands Rockefellers as rocky fellows.)

But new details should not be remote from Ruthie’s linguistic experiences, and nudie (though entertaining in the cartoon) surely is, so what we’re looking at in the cartoon is an ordinary mishearing — which, as I regularly note on this blog, frequently involves bizarre or unlikely interpretations. Three examples from my files:

SAID lobster and shrimp tacos HEARD lobster and shrimp compost

SAID Sleeping Beauty Suite HEARD Sweeping Beauty Suite

SAID Canadian seal hunt HEARD comedian seal hunt

and some from Ruthie in OBH, for instance:

SAID Grey Poupon HEARD Grape Poopawn

new details at 11. Three examples from a great many easily found on the net:

[WSB 2 Atlanta GA] Authorities search for man accused of kidnapping elderly woman, locking her in trunk: | New details, at 11 (link)

[News 5 (WEWS) Cleveland OH] 6 teens killed in early morning crash in Warren, new details at 11 (link)

[KPRC 2 Houston TX] 11-year veteran Julissa Diaz is accused of stealing drugs during traffic stops. NEW DETAILS at 11 on @KPRC2. (link)

The mishearing depends on details being produced with accent on the second syllable; both accentuations are standard, but only final accent produces near-homophony between new details and nudie tales:

new details /ˈn(j)u  dǝˈtelz/ (not /ˈn(j)u   ˈdiˌtelz/)

vs. nudie tales /ˈn(j)udi  ˈtelz/

The first syllable of detáils might have [ɪ] rather than [ǝ], and the second syllable of núdie might have a vowel closer to [ɪ] than to [i]. In any case, in connected speech, where the two words of new details and nudie tales are unified into single phonological words, the two expressions are both realizable as


In a two-word phonological word, in English a sequence of two primary word accents will normally be realized with one accent subordinated to the other: in an Adj + N composite, the default is for the head element, the N, to receive the primary phrasal accent:

new details [ˌn(j)udɪˈtelz] (default)

while in a N + N compound, the default is for the modifier element, the first N, to receive the primary phrasal accent:

nudie tales [ˈn(j)udɪˌtelz]

However, in discourse, the phrasal accent shifts to a modifying Adj when that is especially informative or significant in the context, yielding:

new details [ˈn(j)udɪˌtelz] (emphasis on the Adj new in the context of the stock tv expression)

— and this is homophonous with nudie tales.

So new details and nudie tales can be homophonous, but in any case, in entirely natural pronunciations, they will be phonetically very close and therefore easily confusable. Phonetically, mishearing new details as nudie tales is entirely plausible. Semantically not so much, but that’s the way of mishearings.


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