Friday, 12 October 2012

In which debate is fierce

Counterintuitively, it’s the least important things in life that seem to spark the most ferocious of debates. You might assume that it would be the rights and wrongs of legally-assisted suicide; stem cell research; or universal rights for women – after all, they’re just a few of life’s Big Questions. And, yes, they are all topics that garner strong opinion. But if you want to provoke someone into a really fierce fight, ask them to pronounce scone.

It’s a phenomenon I’ve been aware of for a while. Almost two years ago now, whilst I was mired in the sinking sand that is London’s dating scene, and working my way through a few truly terrible specimens of mankind, I was on a date with an accountant.

We’d been seeing each other a while, and – his penchant for truly horrid man-jewellery aside – it was all going rather well. Going rather well, that is, until one dinner during which my date declared, over herring and lingonberries, that he was pro-capital punishment.  

Yes, that’s what I thought too.

But, when I blogged about it later, it wasn’t his frankly prehistoric views on retribution that caused a ripple. No, the overwhelming majority of the responses, both those left after the post and those on Twitter, barely raised an eyebrow about his rather right-wing judicial views, and instead focussed on a throwaway comment I’d made about our earlier disagreement about our preferences for skimmed vs. semi-skimmed milk.

Yes, skimmed milk, according to the internet, if not a greater evil than state-conducted killing of its own citizens, is at least a more hotly-contested subject. Go figure.

I was reminded of the same phenomenon last week, when there was a heated debate on Twitter about the names people give to their meals. Lunch, dinner, tea and supper all made appearances for the latter two meals of the day, but in different orders and for slightly different things. The passion with which people defended their linguistic choices was a thing to behold (of course, unless they were arguing for breakfast, lunch and supper, they were wrong).

Much the same happens if you try and tell someone they should put the milk in their tea first (they shouldn’t), or that cats are better than dogs (they are), or whether Jon Snow is hotter than Robb Stark (the jury’s still out on that one).

It’s probably unsurprising, really, that people get wound up to an extraordinary degree about things that – in the grand scheme – really don’t matter. People can relate to a preference for skimmed milk (or otherwise), or a linguistic habit of lunch being in the middle of the day: it takes next to no intellectual capacity to have a view, and whilst the differing opinions are hotly contested, you know you’re on safe ground, and won’t mortally offend someone by rubbishing their deeply-held belief on a topic of real substance leading to a falling-out of Trojan proportions.

All that said of course, it’s pronounced “skon”. And I won’t hear anything to the contrary.


@OliFranklin said...

It's 's-cone'. It's not Star Wars Attack Of The Clons, is it? Or the Rolling Stons.

I realise grammatical reductionism is a losing battle - but when it comes to the pronunciation of baked goods, I'm immovable.

@OwlsandFlowers said...

No, Oli, it skon. You are a lovely bloke, but you are also wrong.

Blonde said...

OliFranklin: Ah, but 'gone' isn't 'g-oh-ne', is it? And immovable you might be, but as OwlsandFlowers says, you're also wrong.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...


Overruled, Oli. Overruled.

@OliFranklin said...

According to the OED, both are legitimate.

Which proves one thing: the OED knows nothing, because IT'S S-CONE.

Giulia said...

It's "skon" - said the American (with Scots dad).

Redbookish said...

Um, it's "skon" as in the preposition "on".

Trust me, I'm a doctor.

And I was brought up by one grandmother who taught me that made bowties are only worn by cads, and that a lady always uses a butter knife even when she lunches alone. And a surrogate grandmother whose finishing school in Switzerland taught her to peel an orange with a knife and fork. And a mother who says that champagne is a tonic and it's good for you.

nuttycow said...

It's "skon". "S-cone" is for people who say "plaaa-stic" instead of "plas-tick".

Sorry Oli, you're wrong. The internet says so.

Andrew & Lindsey said...

I'm a Journalist and Writer, I have a way with words as they are my craft. I am, thus, a higher authority on words than a doctor is (unless perchance they are a doctor of english or languages, or something else that blows my superiority out of the water).

I say it's sk-own.

*sticks out tongue*

Redbookish said...

Sorry, out-of-water-blown you are. I am a proper doctor of English Literature ... Aha! I win the internet!

Andrew & Lindsey said...

Damn, foiled again!

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