Axe vs. Ask

I know what you're thinking.  Probably.  You're thinking what I have been thinking for the last 20 some odd years.  

"Axe" is not an acceptable replacement for "Ask."

"Axe" is uneducated.

"Axe" is urban.

"Axe" is lower class.

Yes, I have thought these things.  I've even gone to great lengths to get students and assistants of mine to change the way they say the word "a.s.k." I have explained to them that they can speak how-so-ever they choose when they are with their friends, but if they are going to present themselves in the professional world, they simply can not use the pronunciation "axe."  No explanation needed besides "it just isn't acceptable (to me)."  To me, yes, and to hundreds of thousands of other language protectors (read: snobs) like me.

But now, I stand corrected.  

Professor Anne Curzan, of the University of Michigan, whose many, many credentials include serving on the Usage Committee for the American Heritage Dictionary, states that, historically, the pronunciation "axe" for the word ask, is actually more accurate than our current pronunciation.  That the "k" and "s" sounds were flipped at some point to create our current pronunciation "ask."  That perhaps those of us who get our panties in a wad over the current "mispronunciation" of "axe" should let up on the judgment some.

In fact Chaucer, in The Canterbury Tales used "ax" for "ask."

This new information doesn't change the mainstream expectation that "educated" people use "ask" and "uneducated" people use "axe."  But it does change my expectation.  And maybe, it could change yours.

Maybe we should spend way more time focusing on what people say rather than how they say it.

I axe you, whaddya tink?

Leave a comment

Add comment