Let’s face it, tyranny is one of those words people pronounce wrong. To state the problem succinctly, the first “y” in “tyranny” makes a short-I vowel (like “twig”) sound rather than a long-I vowel sound (like “tie”) as some people mistakenly pronounce it. It might have something to do with the fact that the adjective form, “tyrant,” does in fact have that long-I vowel sound. This is a little too much for some people to handle!
In fact, the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre happened to make this mistake at a press conference the other day. She was referring to the “tyranny” of Hamas or some such thing, fielding a question from one of my colleagues from The Daily Caller. The problem is that Jean-Pierre used the long-I sound. It was frankly a shocking mistake, given her prominent position as a spokesperson no less.
In reference to Israel, KJP said:
“Let’s not forget, they are dealing with terrorism and tyranny. That’s what they’re dealing with.”
She might have thought that “terrorism and tyranny” was a nice alliteration, if not for her little faux paus.
We all make flubs. The point is not to nitpick and criticize. Well, maybe it’s to criticize a little bit. But when you flub a word, you know how to say it, and it just comes out wrong. In the case of “tyranny,” this is one of those words in which pronouncing it correctly distinguishes one as having a certain minimal amount of literacy; a level apparently above the White House press secretary.
Tyranny is an abstract noun, which could be defined simply as “an abusive dictatorship.” Merriam-Webster defines “tyranny” as an “oppressive power.” The fact that the “y” makes the short-I vowel sound is an indicator that the word derives from Ancient Greece, as much of our government-related vocab does. I suppose this vowel sound is what causes so much trouble.
Furthermore, this penchant for calling other powers tyrannical really has to be in our American DNA. Think back to George W. Bush describing the supposed tyranny in Iraq, or one could go back to the Founding Documents such as the Declaration of Independence, in which Thomas Jefferson used the “tyrant” label for King George III:
“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”
Notice the random capitalization; well, it was the 18th century so the grammar was not set in stone.
I guess the point of calling everyone else a tyrant is that we’re good and everyone else is bad. It does signify our lack of nuance in thinking about foreign affairs, I’m afraid. But for crying out loud, can our chief spokesperson at least pronounce it correctly?
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