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September 24, 2011

I was watching a BBC3 programme about dinosaurs the other night, and the presenter kept pronouncing the word ‘dissect’ with a long i :  die-sect. Well, nearly everyone pronounces it that way now, of course, but why is that? All the other words I can think of starting with ‘diss’ have the first syllable pronounced like the Norfolk market town: disservice, dissonant, dissolution, dissociate etc. My hunch is that it’s by analogy with ‘bisect’. Actually I remember being taught these words together in primary school, and feeling mildly disappointed that they didn’t rhyme, as, back in 1970, they didn’t. Well, now they do. I’m still continuing to say ‘dissect’ with the traditional pronunciation, but I may change soon; it is starting to sound rather prissy and pedantic and, as Simeon Potter said, a man (sic) can and should change his language habits. Clinging to old pronunciations is a bit like insisting on wearing 1970s clothes.

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