Friday, July 30, 2010

Ambiguous pronunciations

I don't know how to pronounce the title of the Luc Besson film I reviewed earlier this week.

Before watching it, my default pronunciation had been "Angel A," with "Angel" said exactly as Americans would say it (as opposed to "On-hell," as Spanish speakers would say it), and the "A" rhyming with "bay." You know, like this was Angel A, to be followed shortly by Angel B and Angel C. It's kind of a weird title when spoken as such -- no wonder my wife gave me a skeptical look when I named the movie as a viewing option -- but I had no other cues to suggest another pronunciation.

But the movie's main character is named Angela, and since it's French, the name is said as "On-zhu-luh," not "Anne-juh-luh" as we dumb Americans say it. However, the hyphen tells me I can't say Angel-A like that either. If I just said it as a name, it wouldn't be instantly recognizable to other people as this particular film. (A quick search shows me at least five other features named Angela in film history.) When we talk to other people about film, our goal is to be able to communicate a title to them with as few modifiers as possible. We'd rather say "Have you seen Angel-A?" than "Have you seen the French film directed by Luc Besson called Angel-hyphen-A?"

I could pronounce the whole thing with a French accent, pausing to denote the hyphen, and then finishing with a short "A" (rhymes with "raw"), as they would say it. However, this has two problems: 1) It sound pretentious, and 2) The word "Angel," in French, does not mean anything. I don't mind telling you that the reason the title is constructed as such is that Angela is an angel. But "angel" is an English word, so if I said Angel-A with a French accent, I would just be french-izing an English word. When you come right down to it, the movie should really be called Ange-la, because "ange" is the French word for "angel." I guess it just shows you how dominant American marketing considerations are, that the film doesn't even have a separate French title -- only the one intended to coddle American viewers.

So, how would you say it?

Reminds me a bit of the movie What the #$*! Do We Know?! This half-documentary, half-fiction, half-spiritual, half-scientific consideration of existence -- which has its weak points, but is overall pretty interesting -- could not really be pronounced in spoken language as written out. You could call it What the Fuck Do We Know?!, because that's essentially what it's called -- if they intended it to be called What the Hell Do We Know?!, they would have just called it that, and no other swear words fit into that spot grammatically. But What the Fuck Do We Know?! is quite impolite, so the movie quickly picked up What the Bleep Do We Know?! as an alternate title. That's in fact probably the only way to search it, unless you have memorized the exact sequence of punctuation marks they use in place of the word "fuck."

One of my favorite examples of this outside of the movie world is the band called !!!. That's right, that's the name of the band: "!!!" Three exclamation points. You are supposed to pronounce it as "chik chik chik." But that's just annoying, isn't it? Every time you need to reference it, especially to people who have never heard of the band before (which is probably most people), you have to have this whole semantic discussion about the band's name and how to say it. If you are a fan of the band, it must be a real relief to meet another fan of the band, so you can just say "chik chik chik" and be done with it.

Then there's
Koyaanisqatsi, a movie whose title comes in and out of my life, always disappearing again because I can never remember how to spell it (let alone say it). It's a 1982 documentary scored by Philip Glass and featuring images of nature juxtaposed with images of man's toxic influence on nature, and it's supposed to be great. However, even just to talk about this movie in this piece, I had to dig three pages deep into the status updates of a friend of mine on Facebook, who mentioned it a couple weeks back (hence bringing it to my brain's foreground once again). I guess I would pronounce it "coy-annis-cotsy," if I had to venture a guess. Hey, I just looked it up, and whaddaya know -- that's pretty much it.

Now that I've written about it, I guess I'll always have a place to ascertain the spelling if I ever want to actually schedule a viewing.


Simon said...

I've heard of !!!. Never really heard anything of there's, I really don't like when people make these impossible names for themselves. I could very well say their name as 'Gasp!', and who could argue?

Don Handsome said...

I saw !!! play, and the club that they played at listed them as "Chik Chik Chik (!!!)". I thought it was a clever way of skirting around all the awkward conversations about the pronunciation of the band's name. Personally, I think !!! is pretty awful and thus I'm convinced that their pretentious name gimmick is only being used to hide the fact that they have little musical talent. Something similar can probably be said about Angel-A (which I always just assumed was a clever way of saying "Angela" while making reference to the fact that the character was an Angel...and I assumed that title was only the US release title (was it not? was it also called Angel-A in France?)). Anyway, I thought the title of the film was the cleverest part of the whole experience.

Vancetastic said...


I will begin calling them Gasp! from now on. Unfortunately, I never talk about them, so I probably won't use the name very much.


But what about the surreally tall Rie Rasmussen as Angela? I thought she was pretty clever. (I checked the sources that usually show original foreign titles for films, such as wikipedia and IMDB, and found none for Angel-A).

Anonymous said...

i would say it the way you said it originally.
it is indeed an english word ;)
and since besson makes movies addressed at an international audience, it makes even more sense.

Vancetastic said...

That works for me!