#1118: You Say Kilometer

Apr 30, 2011
This week on Car Talk, Penny in Oregon is feeling a bit "stroppy" over a semi-automotive linguistic matter: the correct pronunciation of "kilometer." Penny may feel better, though, when she hears the tale of woe from her fellow Oregonian Curtis, whose shifter and linkage both got mysteriously walked from his VW Vanagon. Meanwhile, Bob in Massachusetts just bought his wife the perfect birthday present--a brand new Beetle. Alas, it doesn't come in her perfect color, so Bob's trying to figure out how make it "Mary Kay Pink"-- sans rollers. Also, Georgia's Chevy is making a noise that sounds like either an amorous couple or Darth Vader, depending on your demographic; and, will a bigger carburetor in a '67 Plymouth Fury improve Allon's MPG from 13, to say 13.5? All this and lots more, this week on Car Talk.

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Repairs gone awry: how one listener got his head stuck between his MG's pedals!

This Week's Puzzler

How many times does the same digit appear at least three times, on a digital clock? Is the new puzzler deceptively easy... or not?

Last Week's Puzzler

What's the fewest number of weighings you need to make to determine which of the seven stacks of coins, if any, are counterfeit?

As Read on Car Talk


Show Review - 1601

I love your show and have listened since I was a student with an old bug in 1976. I heard the program about not needing to clean off bugs and wanted to mention the problem with "love bugs" in Florida. Apparently they mate in flight and land on cars and then produce an acidic guts that eat through any car paint but especially plastic bumper and mirrors. You might want to rethink any advice about the dangers of bug guts until you look into these horrible creatures that come out spring and fall in Florida. They were imported by the University to supposedly eat mosquitos but they don't have any natural preditor and unfortunately, they don't have any affect on mossy's. Earl from Lakeland
Favorite Moment: 

Dear PENelope,

I totally agree with Dufay2. I wanted to write an entry like that myself, but Dufay2 did a much better job than I would have. Tom and Ray surprised me by letting Penny off the hook on this one. That's why I only rated the show three out of four wrenches on the wrenchOMeter.
Favorite Moment: 

You say "THER-mo-meter, I say "ther-MO-meter"

Caller "Penny" complained that pronouncing the word kilometer as "ki-LO-meter" (with the stress falling on the second syllable) is incorrect. Without even referring to the dictionary I personally was inclined to accept both pronunciations as common. But beyond that, her argument is, frankly, whacko. At least the grounds upon which she made her assertion were ... bogus. (Insert here standard disclaimers: I am not a professional pronunciationist; there are many exceptions to pronunciation "rules", etc. etc.) Following Penny's claim, the following familiar words would be pronounced thusly: THER-mo-meter, BAR-o-meter, TACH-o-meter, SPEED-o-meter (the thing that measures the distance from the navel down to the top of one's swimming shorts, which in some cases I've seen is a great distance like unto a great-circle polar route); and there are others which I will leave for others to offer. Penny based her claim on the common pronunciation of the word kilogram (KI-lo-gram), with the stress on the first syllable. But kilogram has a single syllable affix "gram", and when a single-syllable affix is attached to a two-syllable prefix, the stress indeed is often (maybe not always) on the first syllable as she claims. But this is not usually the case when two-syllable affixes are involved. Are you ready for this: Kilometer has a two-syllable affix "meter" and often in such cases the pronunciation for such words (i.e. one with a two-syllable prefix such as "thermo" followed by a two-syllable affix such as "meter") takes the stress on the second syllable of the prefix (ther-MO), not on the first syllable as Penny claims -- she would say THER-mo-meter; the rest of the world says "ther-MO-meter". INTERESTINGLY, however, we all know of other instances in which that same prefix "thermo" indeed DOES take the stress on the first syllable, such as "THER-mo-coupler" or "THER-mo-stat". I could go on a bit more about two-syllable prefixes followed by a single-syllable affix (kilogram, microdot, minivan, etc.), but because I am not a licensed or-THO-grapher (that is to say, "OR-tho-grapher" in Penny-speak, I'll quit now. The moral of this little commentary is this: When a listener calls CarTalk to complain about pronunciation, hang up. Here's the link to the entry on "kilometer" and its pronunciation in the online Merriam-Webster dictionary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kilometer (Name withheld because I don't want the orTHOgrapher's union to come get me for practicing without a license.)

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