or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 9/21/14

   September 27th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Grammar Police Badge - To Serve and CorrectThis week's question is a two-fold cautionary tale: first, it illustrates the importance of annunciation enunciation, and second the importance of the reference interview. What I thought I heard initially was certainly not what this patron actually wanted.

A male patron calls the desk and says,

One of my wives' books is overdue - can you renew it for her?

Of course, what he meant was "One of my wife's books..." - it loses a little in the translation to typing it out, but it was pretty clear over the phone. Clearly wrong, though, and it made me laugh. It also reminded me of the joke about the importance of the Oxford comma.

But, item renewed, so everyone is happy (in a very non-polygamous sort of way).

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Reference Question of the Week – 4/10/11

   April 16th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Bryn TerfelThis question is actually similar to last week's Qatar question, but with a new resource.

A patron calls in and says needs to know how to pronounce the name of one of his favorite singers. He spells is out B-r-i-n-t-e-r-f-l, a name which didn't sound at all familiar to me. I search for that and get no results, but Google recommends "bryn terfel."

The first result for that search goes to Wikipedia, but I'm disappointed when I get there, because the Bryn Terfel article doesn't have a pronunciation audio clip.

It does give a pronunciation note of (Welsh pronunciation: [ˈbrɨn ˈtɛrvɛl]), which, on the surface, was not at all helpful. But, by linking to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) pronunciation guide, I can kind of sound out the unfamiliar characters:

IPA Examples English equivalents
ɨ̞ gwyn, punt pin
ɛ perth well

While I was sounding this out, and the patron was trying out various pronunciations (Brinn, Brine, Brian, Brianne, Bran, Brawn - I think he could have gone on for hours). After a bit of back and forth, we thought we had the first name down, but were still unsure about the second name.

I tried to find another authoritative source that gave pronunciations, but really couldn't. For pop culture questions, sometimes the best answer comes from polling the wisdom of the crowd - and there were lots of search matches for how to pronounce bryn terfel.

The most helpful website was http://www.pronunciationguide.info/thebiglist.html which is a long list of names, phonetic spellings, and an audio clip of the pronunciations. It sounded more or less like what I expected after reading the other websites, and I played it for the patron by holding the phone up to the computer's speakers.

What will the internet think of next?

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