In a recent post, a friend of ours asked her readers to submit lists of “top fives” (see Catherine’s Feb. 4 post). One such list was of pet peeves. I will admit that, though this probably makes me a geek (or nerd, or something – I always get them confused) a number of my pet peeves have to do with grammar and pronunciation. For example, misuse of I and me – especially the use of I as a direct object (it should be, “she gave Alaina and me some candy,” not “she gave Alaina and I some candy” – just like you wouldn’t say “she gave I some candy”).
But the one about which I set out to write – when people say often and pronounce the t. It just shouldn’t happen. How do you say “soften,” or “listen”? I’ve never heard anyone pronounce the t in those words. I learned this from Gary S. several years ago, but didn’t know the why behind it until recently, when I discovered the following usage note on Dictionary.com:
Usage Note: During the 15th century English experienced a widespread loss of certain consonant sounds within consonant clusters, as the (d) in handsome and handkerchief, the (p) in consumption and raspberry, and the (t) in chestnut and often. In this way the consonant clusters were simplified and made easier to articulate. With the rise of public education and literacy and, consequently, people's awareness of spelling in the 19th century, sounds that had become silent sometimes were restored, as is the case with the t in often, which is now frequently pronounced. In other similar words, such as soften and listen, the t generally remains silent.
I concede that this gives some support for the proposition that pronouncing the t in often is now becoming more frequent. Nevertheless, I agree with Gary that it should not be, just as you would not pronounce it in chestnut, listen, or soften. So I wonder, are there other similar words where it is not pronounced?
Finally, a word to those of you reading this who practice these pet peeves of mine: as far as your grammar around me goes, don’t change a thing for my benefit :) I don’t want you walking on pins and needles around me, and certainly don’t want you to avoid me because of a foolish pet peeve on my part! Furthermore, I’m not perfect, and make similar mistakes myself, so am in no position to judge!