Correct pronunciation – we old (-er) folk are particular about this

In which Dr Aust starts worrying about the pismonunciation of worms

Sorry to have been off-line for so long. Pressure of work, and other not-quite-day-job writing projects with recent deadlines. Not to mention half-term holiday, teething/colicky Baby Aust, and intermittently manic Junior Aust, who is having a “You-Parents-will-PAY-for-having-another-child-apart-from-me” phase.

So blogging is slightly back-burnered. The ideas are there… it’s just the time to finish them, as I think I warned in the one-year round-up.

Anyway,apologies if today’s snippet is a bit short, slight, and Grumpy Old Man-ish, and not very Bad Science.

So what’s it about?

Well, as part of the day job, I have been tracking down useful bits of free animation that can be used to help with teaching my main subject of physiology.

It turns out there are some pretty useful ones… and some not so useful.

The one I want to tell you about came from a site which says it provides “Professional Resources for Teachers”, and this particular animation is supposed to be directed at A level Biology students.

The animation is for the cardiac cycle, and can be found here.

If you want to view it, click “play”, close the obtrusive “YOU MUST PAY!” window, and click “play” again. You will find an animation of the cardiac cycle – the chambers of the heart filling and emptying, and valves opening and shutting. WARNING – it has a rather too loud voiceover in a very authoritative voice.

Just one problem.

The words “systole” – usually used to refer to ventricular systole, the phase of your cardiac cycle where your ventricles, the big chambers, are contracting to eject blood – and “diastole” – referring to the time when the ventricles are relaxed and filling up with blood – are pronounced wrongly.

In the voiceover, systole is pronounced strictly as written – “sys-toal” or “sys-tole” – rather than the correct “sys-toe-lee” (which rhymes with “fiscally”).

Similarly, diastole is pronounced “die-as-tole” rather that “die-as-toe-lee”.

Well, you might say, so what? Only pompous grumpy old farts like Dr Aust insist on correct pronunciation these days. It is clear what the word is, pronunciation regardless.

Hmm. Not sure about that.

For generations, medical school teachers have been teaching medical students (and students from other health-related and bioscience degrees) to say “systole” and “diastole” with the correct pronunciation. We aren’t nasty about it, and we don’t publicly humiliate people – we just give them the correct pronunciation, if they don’t already know it, and everyone is happy.

So why aren’t I happy here?

Well, because this is a ”teaching package”, The site suggests it is a specialist resources for Maths and Science. For any teachers using this to teach A level Biology, the students they teach will be my next lot of volunteers, or clients, or whatever we are calling them this year.

And this might be the computer package their teachers use to teach them about the mammalian heart. But apparently, no-one involved in producing this package knew enough to know how to pronounce the words properly – or, at least, whoever was in charge wasn’t paying enough attention to detail to tell the voiceover artist how to say the word correctly.

[Which is not terrribly difficult-to-find information. You can, for instance, find it easily on the Internet.]

But someone couldn’t be bothered. Or was in too much of a hurry.

At which point you might think – well, if that’s how careful they are (or aren’t), what else might they have got wrong?

Finally, just to show I’m using the Web-technology to the full (not), how about a poll?


41 Responses to “Correct pronunciation – we old (-er) folk are particular about this”

  1. Dr Grumble Says:

    Well it’s not how anybody I know pronounces it. I counted 12 mispronunciations. He speaks with such authority but presumably he is just a hired voiceover. It grates every single time.

    Perhaps we are wrong Dr Aust? According this online resource of doubtful authority Americans and Australians both pronounce it the same rotten way.

  2. draust Says:

    Non-plussed by that online site, Dr G. Judging from various episodes of ER, “asystole” is still “aay-sys-toe-lee” even in the States. I suppose it is telling us something about the accuracy of Web-derived information, another of those topics one now has to educate the students about.

    Mrs Dr Aust makes an interesting point, which is that the wrong pronunciations of a “tech-y”/ “trade” word like systole might conceivably be the sort of thing that would be noticed in face-to-face interviews for things like medical school, or Oxbridge entry. The well-groomed candidate from the fee-paying school will, presumably, be more likely to have been schooled in the correct pronunciation.

    It is, of course, a general rule not to use a “fancy”, or tech-y, word unless you are sure what it means and how to say it. Yet another of those valuable first year University tutorial lessons for over-ambitious students who confuse using jargon with displaying understanding.

  3. dvnutrix Says:

    Dara O’Briain has a sketch about a Sat-Nav that is narrated by someone with an East London accent (presumably to save money on a standard voice-over artist).

    When that voice tells you to “Tahn Ri’ Nah” you turn right.

    Of course, he gestures a hard right turn, intimidated by the shouty tones that are not working in print. I wonder if this item was narrated by a non-professional/specalised voice-over artist who was unfamiliar with the vocabulary.

    It is one of those things that does form an impression. In Bad Science-the book-Ben Goldacre says that one of the things that tipped him off as to the likely qualifications etc. of Chris Malyszewicz was his mis-pronunciation of

    the names of some very common bacteria.

    It was at this point that I asked Dr Malyszewicz about his qualifications. I don’t like to critique someone on the basis of who they are, but it felt like a fair question under the circumstances. On the telephone, being entirely straight, he just didn’t feel like a man with the intellectual horsepower necessary to be running a microbiology laboratory…

    He told me he has a PhD…On a hunch I put a difficult question to him. He agreed that his was a ‘non-accredited correspondence course PhD’ from America. He agreed that his PhD was not recognised in the UK. He had no microbiology qualifications or training…

    I’ve just seen Bones for the first time. In one of the DVD features, the actors mention the difficulty of speaking dialogue in which they are unfamiliar with most of the words: well, it was obvious from the acting without anyone mentioning it. Even though they are portraying the lead character as someone who is on the borderline of Asperger’s Syndrome, the stiltedness and awkwardness does not lie in the social manner but an obvious unfamiliarity with the terms and no understanding of what it is that they are saying.

  4. She-Liger Says:

    What a horseshit! :(
    Don’t you have other (clever!) business besides this nonsense? Have found a problem! :( Your English language is used as a foorcloth by all and everything in the world. You could be used to it.

    Boring…. :(

  5. Dr* T Says:

    Ah! You’ve been She-liger-ed too. Phew, thought I was the only one.

    Anyway, I guess the point that Mrs Dr Aust makes is that these things could become shibboleth words, which can have implications as she suggests.

  6. She-Liger Says:

    To Dr*T
    And what next?
    Had She-Lider eaten away half of your side? ;)

    The theme is idiotic and paltry. Why can’t I say it if it is so?

    And both you are anonyms:

    I have a right to express my opinion, haven’t I?

  7. draust Says:

    “Paltry”… now there’s a good word.

    But you were warned in advance, S:

    “Anyway,apologies if today’s snippet is a bit short, slight, and Grumpy Old Man-ish, and not very Bad Science.”

    Plus, of course, the more thought-out stuff takes time, which is currently in rather short supply chez Aust. Ars longa vita brevis, and all that.

  8. She-Liger Says:

    English school abolished the corporal punishment only in 1987 (!!!). Your behaviour (and Dr*T’s) shows that you finished English school :P The victim of regime! :P :P

  9. Rob A Says:

    “paradigmatic”, anyone?
    I mean, how do you pronounce it?

    I ask because I’ve twice heard Ben Goldacre say ‘para dime attic’, when I was expecting to hear ‘para dig matic’

    But, it could just be my ignerunts…?

  10. John H Says:

    Dr Aust

    I think the salient point regarding that website is “YOU MUST PAY!” “YOU MUST PAY!” “YOU MUST PAY!”. All else is secondary.

    I see Svetlana of Moscow is bugging you as well. She just called me (due to me idiotically posting my mobile number by accident) and said “hello David” in her best From Russia With Love voice. I think she meant to call DC but cannot even get that right. She did promise not to call anyone again but my expectations on that are set low.

    Paltry is an excellent word. When I was circa 9 I told my teacher I wanted to run a poultry farm and she said why not run a really good one instead. Of course I had no idea what she meant but when I found out it undermined my respect for her and was my first instance of rejecting the argument from authority (Episode 1 of many).

    Nothing wrong with getting the occasional grumps. I am not sure how old the Aust-spring are but I found the first 21 years to be the worst.

    Rob A – it seems to have been para-dime/para-dime-attic since I was an undergraduate (and that was 11 generations of undergrads ago). Kuhn has a lot to answer for for moving it from linguistics to science in general (and indeed general usage – I read an article on “Changing Paradigms in Watchmaking” many years ago – the gist of which was basically that the Swiss failed to grasp digital watches would rule the world.).

  11. Svetlana Says:

    No, John. Don’t worry. I shall not phone you, surely. I am interested in neither you nor Doc. I am interested in only DC. He is best among you (though – not young). The rest are flat idiots. Such flat-flat… Like crocodiles…
    I hoped that David has played off me with your phone number and that it was his number. I played off him sometimes and I thought that he learnt at last to do it ;) But poor Dashechka is too simpleton :) (Nevertheless I hope still that it was trick ;) In ay case I’m capable to do so.. :) ) He is good lad! I love him. “from Moscow…” ;)

    And all of you are boring public!… :P

  12. Svetlana Pertsovich Says:

    And some serious words.
    All your fighting against quackery is wasting of time.
    Your stupid rotten society CAN’T without quackery and religion.
    The struggle against quackery and religion is useless.
    It is necessary to fight against wrong society, but not against quackery and religion.

  13. John H Says:

    Well that’s my ego shattered beyond repair.

    “Flat-flat – like a crocodile” – and I just never realised.

    And I thought afterwards that my comments might have been grossly unfair. I can only plead fair comment based on the above.

  14. Svetlana Says:

    I think it is in the style of this blog :)

    And why do you hang about here, Hooper? Come to DC, please. You too tranship local environment with your energy ;) Doc is light-minded person. And he likes tigers. He has it in his genotype :)

  15. Svetlana Says:

    “..flat like a crocodile..” It is from childish Soviet cartoon about Starukha Schapoklyack.
    “It is well that you are so green and flat!..” :P :)

  16. John H Says:

    Sorry Dr Aust.

    I may be partially responsible for inflicting this appalling nonsense on you. So please accept my apologies.

    I did say “why not post sensible comments on websites rather than phone people up and pester them”. It seems as if she took this as an and/and rather than an and/or.

    On the plus side as long as she is typing she is not dialling.

  17. draust Says:

    Hmm. Who knows why Avatars sometimes don’t appear correctly, or take ages to appear, in WordPress? I know I don’t – know why, that is.

  18. draust Says:

    And as to the nonsense – it is amazing how much of it can accumulate in the 90 minutes between leaving the office and turning on the home computer. The wonders (?) of blogging, I guess.

    To delete… or not to delete… that is the question.

  19. Svetlana Says:

    Mr. Hooper? Is it your blog? Not at all. Aust will decide himself what to do.

    Doc, I apologize too. Remove overabundant tigers ;)
    Simply today was heavy day … You are kind and cheerful person. So I try to recover a balance of mood for account of you. Though it is unsuccessfully still… :(
    I hope, you’ll understand and will not take offence.

    “To delete…. or to not delete” :)
    Print them, scissor out and present to your child :) :)

  20. draust Says:

    Right. Have deleted a number of the surplus-to-requirements tigers, as requested by several people.

    I dislike deleting comments – it makes me feel like Dr John Briffa, which is really not at all comfortable. But… I prefer a thread of conversation to a thread overwhelmed by distraction-posting. So I reserve the right to Edit, Delete and even (as a very last resort) temporarily bar people as necessary.

    Re tiger pix, Jr Aust is already well supplied with Tigers both pictorial and fluffy, but thanks for the thought.

  21. Nash Says:

    Crocodiles may be flat, but they are dangerous.

  22. draust Says:

    Yes – very dangerous. When Jr Aust and I play “dangerous animals” at home I like to get to be the crocodile, mainly because then I can claim that not moving very much is properly authentic (lying in wait for unwary prey and all that).

    The largest and most scary-looking croc I have ever seen was in a wildlife park in Queensland, and was named “Jack the Ripper”. It turns out he is (in)famous enough to have his picture online. He had to be kept on his own because whenever they put a female croc in with him the female would come to a nasty end – hence his name.

  23. draust Says:

    I have just deleted Svetlana’s last four posts. This is mainly because they are simply reproducing the same old jibes at Prof David Colquhoun, or crowing about having annoyed him enough to post an announcement on his blog. One post linked to her own blog where she portrays the fact that David has become (to put it mildly) exasperated with her as “a victory”.

    Svetlana – what sort of a victory is it if David Colquhoun, who I know personally as being both a first-rate scientist and a man of real integrity, is being driven to distraction by your antics? I cannot work out what point you are trying to make, and it is quite clear from the remarks made by others here and elsewhere that no-one else can either. Why don’t you just leave him alone?

    More posts along the same lines will be re-badged as Spam and/or deleted. You have been warned – again.

  24. Svetlana Says:

    “Why don’t you just leave him alone?

    Because he DON’T want I to leave him alone, Doctor ;)
    I have reasons to think so.
    By the way, do you know why he is “a first-rate scientist and a man of real integrity”, and you aren’t and will never be such person? Because he doesn’t fear to sell his soul unlike you… :P

  25. Svetlana Says:

    _By the way, you can delete all my comments from your blog, if you want, Doc. It will become better after this operation! :P

  26. Svetlana Says:

    I made mistake! It is Hooper, who is still crocodile (though old and absolutely toothless). And you, Doc, are not crocodile. You are a valise made of crocodile skin :P :P :P

  27. John H (Dentatus Intactus) Says:


    Is life so depressing in the Friedmanite economic miracle that is modern Russia that you have nothing else to do but pester people?

    I wouldn’t want to put words into Professor Colquhoun’s mouth, but I feel confident that he does not want your persistent and intensely tiresome annoyance. Nor does anyone else.

    Why not stop it and try something useful instead?

    [Edit: some small edits to decrease minor invective tendency]

  28. draust Says:

    “Why don’t you just leave him alone?

    Because he DON’T want I to leave him alone, Doctor
    I have reasons to think so.

    These “reasons” only exist in your mind, Svetlana. They are imaginary. I have good reason to think he wants very much for you to leave him alone – the most obvious reason being that he has said so, very clearly, both on his blog and privately.

  29. LeeT Says:


    I don’t think anything could confuse you with Dr Briffa. He is much more scarier than you. The key question is, would you accept an offer to lecture at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition?

  30. draust Says:


    I would not lecture at the IoN, because in my opinion it is not an institution which believes in scientific evidence, or understands the nature of it.

    Of course, it is a hypothetical, since they wouldn’t ask.

    I am not implying, of course, that I am a Man of Unshakeable and Unbending Principles, armed with the Sword of Truth, ready to burn at the stake for my beliefs etc etc. Life is all about shades of grey, and the older I get the more I believe that to be true. Crazy Svetlana has accused me several times of being “a coward”, to which my response is “Yes, a coward, like most people, though sometimes, when it really seems to matter, hopefully a bit less cowardly than the next guy”

    As an illustration of “shades of grey”, I knew a Professor at the Univ of Central Lancs who taught aspects of basic physiology to the the students on their Complementary Medicine “B.Sc.” degrees. He did the lectures because UCLan paid his salary, and because as he saw it he was teaching perfectly orthodox science. He used to say “it’s exactly the same mainstream lectures I give to the real B.Sc. students, so I just hope some of the Comp Med lot learn something”.

    Now, in his position, I would have done exactly as he did. But I like to think that if I worked at UCLan I would also have written to tell the VC I agreed with Mike Eslea’s recent campaign. The “B.Sc.” Alt Med degrees should not exist in their current form, but to refuse to teach your University’s students once they are there in attendance and paying fees would not be an acceptable form of protest, to my mind. It is not the students’ fault they have been duped into thinking the degree is “a scientific training”. The blame lies squarely with the University management who can only see pound signs.

  31. draust Says:

    Since I finally lost patience with Svetlana at about 6.30 pm yesterday and switched on the Spam Filters, another thirteen comments have arrived, most telling me, with various degrees of cursing, what a low form of life I am.

    I have decided to reproduce the last extended one here (with the tedious Emoticons deleted).

    “Ha-ha-ha! You is foul goat! You “wouldn’t read”!

    You would read if they offered you! But they will not ask you, because you are small dirty talent-less creature and even quacks understand it! They will ask “first-rate scientist”! And he will agree unlike you! Because he can see human even in quack! And because he don’t fear to soil his hands, cleaning dirt from human’s brains and souls!

    This Professor from UCLan is really honest man. And he didn’t sold his soul, though he received salary for the lectures in CAM courses.

    And you sold your low foul soul. Just now! And not for 30,000 pounds. You sold it for a red cent And not Ephistopheles Lucifer has bought it! Small devil Mephisto has bought your piddling soul

    You are coward, surely! Moreover, you are a **** and *******! Because you are capable only to blab, to **** ** **** of “first-rate scientists” and to ****, producing cowardly off-spring! We didn’t see you in real affair! We don’t know even your name! You fear to call it loudly! You make here idle talking!! But when a real war starts you hide your cowardly physiognomy! “If I worked in UCLan I would also have written to tell the VC I agreed with Mike Eslea’s recent campaign…”!! And why didn’t you it now?!! Look at THES! There the articles of people, who supported Eslea, were published! These people don’t work in UCLan! But they were not afraid!

    You have sold your soul…”

    As I see it, I have been exceptionally tolerant with Svetlana. Over the last year-plus I have replied politely, and only deleted the rants and non-sequiturs when they were full of personal abuse directed at people other than me. However, I have had enough. Personally I think that there is such a thing as an acceptable standard of behaviour, even in the Blogosphere.

    Svetlana, consider yourself barred.

  32. John H (Non Maternalus Amorus) Says:

    I think you are more than justified Dr Aust.

    I have only had to tolerate her since Sunday but she is a real pain.

    She called me this afternoon and suggested I had [EDIT – Details of alleged insult redacted in the hope that we can get back to something more useful that batting back Svetlana’s campaign of phone and email nonsense – Dr Aust].

    Message saved for posterity should anyone be interested (like Surrey CID or Vodafone).

  33. LeeT Says:

    I think it is a little unfair to criticise the way people pronounce things given how random the rules are in the English language. Some one may have gone to a lot of trouble reading books, journals and blogs (!) but never heard the particular technical term spoken. Now, just in case I ever meet any of you could you tell me have to say meta-analysis – is it meet-tah or met-tah?

    As for Svetlana – not sure the best way to help, though I think deleting her comments from every blog she attempts to post on would be a good start.

  34. John H (Non Mater Amore) Says:

    met uh

  35. LeeT Says:

    Excellent. That’s great. I can’t tell supporters of alternative medicine that meta-analysis is demolishing everything they hold dear if I can’t pronounce the word.

  36. draust Says:

    Agreed, Lee – it is a bit hard-line – which is why students who are meeting the words for possibly the first time just get gently told the correct pronunciation. They have to hear the words to know, which is partly why we have Old Farts like me to pronounce all this stuff. The issue with the website was that it was a “professional product.”

    But words can be tricky. Including names. One of my favourite jokes about this is the one about the (probably apocryphal) sociology student doing an art and culture module who writes an essay called “Feminist themes in the work of the artist Joan Miro

  37. John H (Lingua Pedantis) Says:

    How right you are Dr Aust. A bit like that bloke writer George Sand – his books were good.

    Could I briefly vent MY spleen about pronunciation.

    Worst of all – across all specialities – is darta instead of dayter (for that information type stuff).

    Next is project where the “pro” rhymes with the short version of the age old professional rather than the pro in prod.

    And as for doctors – I believe they deliberately fracture the English language to annoy me. Worst examples are:

    1) umbilical pronounced “umbi lye e cal” (i.e with an extra i in it) rather than “um-bill-e-call” (which it always was and still is in America and elsewhere.
    2) chemotherapy pronounced keemo-therapy – so that would be the form of therapy using keemicals would it. The word always was and still should be kem-o-therapy (because it uses CHEMICALS)
    3) cervical pronounced ser-vi-e-cal when it alwas was ser-vick-al – again it has gained another i. It is from the Latin cervix (for neck) not ser-vi-ix

    There are more but I haven’t had any coffee yet.

  38. Eileen Says:

    Bit late and all – but my husband points out that the lingua franca is not English but “English spoken as a second language and with a non-native-speaker-of-English accent”. Both he and I are responsible for sorting out mis-understandings (linguistic and scientific) for a selection of places for publications – if I hadn’t already been white-haired before I would be now! I get an awful lot of Svetlana-style gringlish to put into something eveyone will understand without ambiguity. Heaven help me but it can be quite amusing at times!

  39. Ed Wilson Says:

    Hello everyone. I’ve just come across Dr Aust on the GM Skeptics podcast and jumped in here because I’m a part-time linguist. I won’t join in the argument about pronunciation, since it was some time ago. For anyone who happens by, however, Svetlana’s offerings were fascinating (I say again, this is my first visit) as examples of a fairly extensive English vocabulary on a rather non-English grammatical structure. Also, she’d make a great sit-com character.

  40. oh wow it's nothing Says:

    Svetlana’s replies are absolutely hilarious. I find it extremely amusing that someone from Russia would come onto your website to curse you in English with such a strange vocabulary. I don’t see why you feel offended rather than entertained by her attempts at an insult.

  41. Nathan Says:

    My biology teacher pronounce it as
    Sissle and dissale

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