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Why the 'moderate' pedant has never had it so good

IT IS a fact known to anyone working in an organisation with a public profile that the e-mail provides too-easy access for all manner of loonies.

Whereas once they had to phone and interface with a living being, and so face their own shortcomings, now any spontaneous gripe can be composed and clicked off in a second.

I am one such looney. It comes from spending much time on the Internet with the radio on, and my bugbear is pronunciation of the names of foreign people and places. I predominantly loon to the poor old ABC, and their responses have been so exemplary as to me make feel a little ashamed.

I last looned ago when a routine perusal of the ABC website drew me to the feedback button and set in motion the following stream of consciousness:

''Hi. I'm only a moderately pedantic person regarding pronunciation, but . . . Now that Tony Eastley will be reading the TV news nightly in NSW, can your ABC person-who-knows-these-things find out if his habit of pronouncing Osama as 'Ozama' is correct. If it is, then perhaps we should all be doing it. If not, is there any way of getting him to pronounce it with an 's', as it grates, and we shall, of course, be hearing the word regularly for the next year at least. All the best, Peter.'' Only a few days later, a kind lady responded: ''Dear Peter, Thank you for your e-mail pointing out the pronunciation error made by Tony Eastley. I have arranged for an appropriate person to draw the error to Tony's attention. We appreciate your interest in pronunciation on the ABC, and I hope you will continue to tune in to the ABC with a critical ear. Yours sincerely . . .''

See what I mean? Self-indulgent smart-arsery meets impeccable reasonableness.

So impressed was I that I fired back another, thanking her and providing some tips on Indonesian pronunciation in general and ''Megawati'' in particular. (For the reader's benefit, when saying the latter, the second "a'' should sound like the first, that is, like the "u'' in "bus'' rather than like an "o''.)

That one got a polite response too, though with a touch of frost to discourage further correspondence. I took the hint.

Why should I care if Tony Eastley gives Osama a hard "s''? Does it hurt anyone? These things don't interest me because I am a looney.

My first loon was a fax to ABC radio news and current affairs circa September, 1999. The topic was "Falintil'', the East Timorese independence fighters. An epidemic was sweeping the airwaves that rendered it ''FalAntil'' with an emphasised second "A'' that should have been an "i''! Worse, this disgraceful condition was creeping into the written word in newspapers. Obviously action was needed.

So I informed them that as FALINTIL is actually a Portuguese acronym there can be no question of the spelling. I named the worst repeat offender a reporter called Rafael Epstein and finished with the joke that perhaps Aussie journalists were too used to ordering (and pronouncing) falafels. I also mentioned, needless to say, Megawati.

Again a prompt and courteous reply, this time a letter from Mark Colvin, anchor of current-affairs show PM. He failed to mention my witticism, but commiserated with my frustration and informed me that Rafael had actually been reprimanded for this bad habit already and would be reminded to behave. ''We shall all try harder with Megawati,'' he concluded.

Effective looning requires a balance of spontaneity and self-restraint. So restrained am I that there is one man who has long been in need of a jolly good looning which he has not yet received. He is a radio announcer, let's call him John Highfield, on an ABC current-affairs show, we'll call The World Today. His offence is the very opposite of those mentioned above, in that he arbitrarily gives foreign names any old combination of bizarre cadence and intonation just to make them sound exotic.

So President Wahid was habitually given a large dose of "h'' with his "W'', as if Indonesia lies somewhere near Panama. (Anyone with an interest in our region knows, of course, that if anything our northern neighbours give "w'' a softer emphasis than we do, adding perhaps a touch of "v''.)

And ''al-Qaeda'' gets some very weird treatment that for all I know may actually be correct. (I doubt it, though.)

These are just two examples of many, Mr Highfield. You know what I'm talking about. You must do it right or not at all, or the mother of all loonings will be visited upon you.

Peter Brent is the editor of mumble.com.au.

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