As Arsenio Hall said on his old talk show, the world is full of things that "make you go, 'Hmmmm.' "
For instance, in the 1934 film The Thin Man,William Powell says, "I'm going to throw a party and invite all the susPECTS" -- emphasis on the second syllable, as in the verb suspect. Myrna Loy responds likewise: "Invite all the susPECTS. But they won't come."
Pronunciation is a minefield -- you say to-MAY-to, I say to-MAH-to, you say long-lived with a long i, I say long-lived with a short i. Were The Thin Man actors using an aberrant pronunciation, or did a subsequent cultural event shift the emphasis on the noun to the first syllable?
I turned to Charles Harrington Elster's 1999 work, The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations, which let me down: no entry for suspect. It did, however, upbraid me for pronouncing long-lived with a short i (rhymes with give) and informed me that the term was formed from the word life, not live. "The popular but erroneous [mispronunciation]. . . has been disparaged in pronunciation guides for most of the 20th century," Elster writes.
Ah, but what's this? He adds that the short i is "the usual British pronunciation. Thus it may be asserted that the true-blue American pronounces long-lived and short-lived to rhyme with revived, while the Benedict Arnold turncoat uses the short i of give." I promptly turned to the Gage Canadian Dictionary, which offers both pronunciations and puts the one with the short i first, unlike the Nelson Canadian Dictionary,which is based largely on The American Heritage Dictionary and puts the pronunciation with the long i first. Hmmmm.
On April 16, a panelist on CBCRadio's This Morning talked about a book that teaches children to see letters in city scenes -- X in a window, G in a grate -- and to look closely at details. "And after all," she said, "that's where God is."
He may well be, but isn't the aphorism that the devil is in the details? Well, no and yes. The expression that makes it into the reference books is the heavenly one: "God is in the details," attributed to architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (quoted in The New York Times in 1969) and, more speculatively, author Gustave Flaubert.
The sense here is that if attention is paid to the details of a work, it will be transcendent, truly inspired rather than pedestrian. It is a positive standard, as in Kitty Bean Yancey's reference last month in USA Today to an airline: "David Tait, Virgin Atlantic executive vice-president for North America, thinks 'God is in the details' when courting today's premium passengers."
Yet the expression "the devil is in the details" has given God a run for His money. The suggestion here is that unless you pay careful attention to the details, somebody will sneak something in to your disadvantage. "As usual," wrote The San Francisco Chronicle in an editorial on July 25, "the devil is in the details of legislation that has been crafted by a special interest." Greg Terry, chief executive officer of Brierley Investments, said last year of an investment his company was contemplating: "The devil is in the details . . . but we're not far apart."
God helps those who help themselves, and the devil takes the hindmost, but when it comes to the details, they are still working out the division of labour. Not so much hymn or harm as hmmmm.