A Matter of Degrees

How many syllables are in the word degrees?

Yes, two — and that’s why my ears perk up whenever I hear the newscaster on our local right wing rant station say it like this:


Three syllables.

I notice these things because I once got turned down for a job over it.

In my college radio days, I once went and applied for a job part-time announcer job at WIRY, a local radio station in Plattsburgh. WIRY was a decidedly old school AM station. It was solidly middle of the road and as much a part of local culture as Michigans and the Jeezum Crow.

I thought I was hot shit and a shoe-in for the job until program director Gordie Little critiqued my demo tape. He played back certain words — one of them was degrees — over and over. “Hear what you’re doing there? You’re adding an extra syllable to those words. You need to pronounce things crisply and drop the sing-songy stuff.”

He told me to keep working on it and that I was welcome to come back and try again. It was nice of him to try helping me.

I never did go back, partly because I lost interest, but also because I realized that I was never going to sound like those people who worked there.

There’s a certain phoniness to that radio announcer voice, and for years the stilted, careful delivery was expected. Today, it’s coming full circle, and a more natural approach seems to be taking over, something some have derided as the “NPR voice.” Maybe I’ve always been more of an NPR voice guy.

Either way, when I hear that guy at the local right-wing rant station I have an urgent desire to call him and coach him on how to say degrees. Like Professor Henry Higgins, I’m pretty sure I could fix him.

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