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Today is a first on the Search for Love in Manhattan.
Someone has written me and asked me for advice.
And so, my first advice column.
I have a unique predicament involving both etiquette and pronunciation, so naturally, I turn to you.
I know the correct pronunciation of Ayn Rand’s name, but every time I use it, I feel pretentious. I realize the ideal course of action is not to use her name at all, but sometimes it is unavoidable, as she often makes a good punchline.
I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be asked at last for my opinion, and how doubly thrilled I am that the request should come from someone as fabulous as you. I have received any number of calls for assistance from people like Peter Ighene of Zimbabwe, whose father had the foresight to put $24,000,000 in a bank in Johannesburg before President Mugabe’s Land Act Reform apparently led to the massacres that killed him. Yet there has always seemed to be a touch of–how shall I say it?–the dramatic in these cries for help, and so I have found myself regrettably unable to come to the aid of Mr. Ighene and his ilk.
You are wise to have turned to me. The world is, alas, full of people who fail to navigate successfully the Scylla of incorrectness and the Charybdis of pretension. This leaves us with, on the one hand, people who pronounce “forte” (meaning “strong point”) “fortay” instead of “fort,” and, on the other hand, Alex Trebek. Those who do not wish to be part of either group have a very narrow strait to sail.
That said, you have asked me a question to which I do not have an easy, ready answer. Nevertheless, it would be churlish of me not to attempt a reply, and so I have compiled a list of some of your options.
1) You can just mispronounce her name and call her “Ann.” This is, in fact, what I do (hence my lack of an easy, ready answer), because my hatred of Ms. Rand and her shallow and morally destitute works is so vast that I am unable to express it except by pronouncing her name in a way to which she objected. However, I understand that not everyone may be capable of such boorishness.
2) You can call her by her given name, Alisa Rosenbaum. In the quite likely event that your conversational partners express confusion, you can give them either a) a condescending “oh, of course you don’t know that, you’re cretins” smile or b) a “God, I knew you were losers, but this is beyond ridiculous” eyebrow lift (with voiceless laugh), and then pronounce Ms. Rosenbaum’s chosen name with painful correctness. If you want to be really patronizing, you can even do that little quote-unquote gesture with your fingers.
While effective as a way of scoring points off rivals, this method leaves something to be desired when what’s called for is a punchline.
3) You can say her name correctly but very quickly and casually. This way a) the listener who thinks it’s pronounced “Ann” will hear what he or she expects to hear, b) the listener who knows it’s pronounced “Ine” but thinks it’s pretentious to pronounce it that way won’t be exactly sure what he or she has heard and will have to give you the benefit of the doubt or risk accusations of being unAmerican because of the whole innocent until proven guilty thing, and c) the listener who knows it’s pronounced “Ine” and thinks people who pronounce it any other way are morons will immediately include you among the cognoscenti.
I suspect that this last option is the most appropriate for your purposes. The problem, however, as my friend A.N. (who is smarter and funnier than both of us put together) reminded me, is that Ayn Rand, having been born in Russia, had an accent so thick as to be nearly incomprehensible, and actually pronounced her own name more like “Awn” than anything else.
Which is, in some ways, the most attractive choice of all.
I hope this discussion has been of some assistance to you. I encourage other readers who have questions about anything and everything to write me.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go fantasize about how Chris Meloni, John Stamos (who, I just found out, is divorcing his wife), silver diving medalist Alexandre Despatie, and I might pass an evening together.