Amy Coney Barrett recently delivered a speech in which she pronounces poignant as “POIG-nunt.” (Here’s the clip.)
Mispronouncing a word doesn’t make you “dumb” or “less than” or anything of the sort. But it does suggest that you are not routinely engaged in vigorous discussions with brainy sorts. And that strikes me as a real problem for someone whose job relies on good judgment and access to a wide variety of perspectives, and whose job performance directly affects the well-being of many.
It’s not a guarantee. But it’s a strong indicator. It’s hard to imagine that someone living a life of the mind, routinely debating or discussing with others, would get to age 48 without noticing a habitual mispronunciation of an 11th-grade word. It points to educational quality and more. A sort of dog whistle that gets blown for you. The only tricky part is noticing it when it happens.
This leads me to question her “fine legal mind” PR. Elitist? Sure, I’ll cop to that. Reading too much into one tiny thing? Maybe, sure. But what worries me is that maybe this is an early warning, a “canary in a coal mine.”
For my money, Amy Coney Barrett pulled back the curtain on something very important about her background and experience in the time it took her to say that single word.
What do you think?
(See also Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.)