Pronunciation: Liszt

When I was 11, my teachers taught me to say ‘Dvorak’, ‘etude’, and ‘allargando’ to keep me from sounding like a yokel. I can tell you who my favorite pianist is, and it’s suitably obscure. I know where to find the unicorn musical direction ‘beklemmt. I know the story of the Shreveport Tosca. I can chat about modulation styles as they changed over the 19th century.  In other words, if I feel like it, I can use language to flash my in-crowd street-cred at any classical music event, anywhere. I can drop names, make inside jokes (I’m very proud of some of them) add meaningful trivia, and fight over chaconnes with the very best of them. I have a nemesis, though, something that can make me feel like I don’t and never will belong with the in crowd.

Franz Liszt

*stares into middle distance, displays hands conspicuously*

This is Franz Liszt. His name comes up from time to time.

How in Euterpe’s name should ‘Liszt’ be pronounced?

I do whatever has to be done to avoid saying Liszt. If I can’t get around it, I make a joke and get all crazy with the z. Liszzzzzzzzsst…zzzzz…st.

Time to stop all that. I met a Hungarian physicist a few weeks ago, and while we walked along a lake, he kindly, if amusedly, explained the rule.

In Hungarian, and Liszt, folks, is Hungarian,

S = shhhh, nice and harsh. As in “shit”. I’m just quoting my friend.
Z = zzzzz… they’re not total heathens.

SZ =….. sss. just s.

So go out there, and casually call him Franz ‘List’, and if anyone (hopefully your attractive date, but I can’t help you with that…) points it out, just tell them.

“Oh, in Hungarian, ‘sz’ just says ‘s’.”

Tough questions in Greek Class

You need a little background for some of the stories I’d like to tell. Last year, I audited a conversational modern Greek class at the hoity toity university where my husband works. It was a tiny class, so I wasn’t off the hook for anything; I did the homework, took the tests and participated freely. Which was great, of course. It was marvelous. But…

I am 8-10 years older than the other 5 students.
I have 2 completed degrees.
I was recently married.
I was pregnant and, while not puking (good), wasn’t sleeping much (bad)

So there may have been a gap between the other students and me. Maybe just a chasm with fire and snakes. We didn’t always understand each other in English, things got dicey in Greek.

One day, I dragged my insomniac bum to class, and found that several of the other students had decided to skip. This left me alone with the teacher, the teacher’s decaying patience, and the quietest of the male students. The student who claimed to enjoy reading, tennis and Kafka. Right. The order goes forth: Talk to each other. ‘Οχι. Στα ελλενικα.

The other student exhaled, flipping through his notes. He inhaled. He exhaled. He looked at me pointedly and asked, “Eiste pantremenos?”

I panicked. He wanted to know something about me. Something I know I knew. Something we talked about…recently…something I …was? wasn’t? was? AM I PANTREMENOS? I beat my brain with a stick and peered at the dust that shook out. My brain didn’t oblige. I flipped violently but fruitlessly through the week’s notes. Nothing.

The teacher sighed deeply. She repeated the student’s question. She looked at me pointedly. She sighed. I forgave her the double sigh. I deserved it.

I gave up entirely. I wasn’t going to get it. If it meant “tired”, I was that. I didn’t think I was anything else. Just tired. I didn’t know what it meant, so I said so. I don’t know. “Den Κsero” (Prettier in Greek: Δεν ξερω)

The teacher exploded, slapping the table and laughing hysterically. The other student laughed audibly and looked like I had just told the funniest joke he’d heard in a year. I goggled.

When she recovered herself, the teacher told me what had been asked. “Are you married?”

Oh.