A common pronunciation of the name “Dr. Seuss,” has been canceled. Or has it?
Along with the news that Dr. Seuss Enteprirse willingly will cease publishing new copies of 5 racially insensitive books, it’s also been made clear, that something which much lower stakes is also being debated. Reportedly the fictional nom de plume, which Theodore Geisel gave to himself has been commonly mispronounced by everyone for the past half-century.
According to an article published in Slate, and apparently well-documented elsewhere, the “correct” pronunciation as Dr. Seuss intended is not Seuss-that-rhymes with “Zeus,” but “Soice,” as in a word that rhymes with “voice.” This all seems to be technically correct, but should you actually change the way you say it? Maybe not.
Slate cites a book called Becoming Dr. Seuss, and also a 2002 article in The New Yorker by Louis Menand in which she suggests that Geisel didn’t correct anyone because the incorrect pronunciation “evoked a figure advantageous for an author of children’s books to be associated with—Mother Goose.”
The real question is, can a fictional name, adopted by a real person — a real person who rarely corrected the mispronunciation — actually be incorrect? Well, Geisel intended Seuss to be a German name, meaning, the inflection should have been German. That said, the last time I checked, whenever non-English words enter the English language, they get an English pronunciation. In the original Star Trek episode “This Side of Paradise,” Spock was asked his “real” name and he replied, “You couldn’t pronounce it.” In real life, there was some confusion about how to pronounce the name Leonard Nimoy. Is it NIM-OY? or NEE-MOY? While he was still alive, Nimoy told the NYT it was “NEE-MOY,” meaning, most of us had thankfully, been saying it close to correct. But, the fictional Spock, lived his whole life accepting a mispronunciation, which was apparently what Geisel did with Seuss, too. In my book, good enough for Spock, good enough for Seuss.
While he was alive, Geisel didn’t make a habit of correct the version of “Seuss” we’ve all been saying. So, if you feel like correcting your kids when they read Green Eggs and Ham, go right ahead. But, realize that you’re splitting hairs much smaller than the small speck of dust on Horton’s trunk.