Worth Repeating: Why Chaucer Said 'Ax' Instead Of 'Ask,' And Why Some Still Do
[Source: The Code Switch Blog on NPR.org]
The most common stereotype of black vernacular is the pronunciation of the word “ask” as “ax.” “Ax” has gotten a bad rap for years. Pronounce “ask” as “ax,” and immediately many will assume that you’re poor, black and uneducated. New York City’s first African-American schools chancellor, Dr. Richard R. Green, put it on his list of “speech demons.” He insisted that “ax” be eradicated from students’ vocabulary.
Garrard McClendon, a professor at Chicago State University, is the author of Ax or Ask? The African American Guide to Better English. He says his parents were well-aware of the stigma attached to “ax” and taught him there’s a time and a place to use it.
“When you’re with your little friends, you can speak any way you want to speak, all right? But the minute you get in a spelling bee or in a job interview, switch it up quick,” McClendon recalls. “I’ve taught my children to do that as well.”
Sketch comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele joke that because they’re half-white, they’re constantly switching back and forth. “If it happens four times in a sentence,” Key says, “[you’re] probably going to get two axes, two asks.”
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