A Problem Called Equivoque
By Hector Chadwick - Wednesday, February 8, 2023
I sometimes like to categorise magicians based solely on how they pronounce the word ‘equivoque’.
For example, if you say, ek-wi-vock, I think of you as a vocker, and, in my experience, you’re quite a rare breed. If you say ek-wi-voak, I think of you as a voaker, and if you say ek-wi-vokay, I call you a vokayer. I don’t judge you for your chosen pronunciation, by the way. I occasionally see sneering comments online, magicians aghast at their peers, utterly exasperated that anyone could possibly be stupid enough to pronounce the word that way. You’ll get no such awfulness from me. In fact, quite the opposite.
I hereby give you the unassailable right to pronounce the word however you darn well please, and if someone is brassy enough to tell you you’re saying it wrong, then they must have been entirely certain what you were referring to in the first place—and so your meaning was already perfectly clear, rendering the so-called correction redundant.
I’m a voaker myself (I come in peace!), although in French—and it is a French word—the ‘oque’ sound is pronounced closer to ‘ock’ than ‘oak’, which would seem to give the vockers the strongest argument. But no one can really lay claim to remaining true to the French pronunciation because we simply don’t say the word in the same way. In English, there’s a cheeky little ‘w’ sound hiding in any word with a ‘qu’ in it. Quick. Queen. Quiz. We pronounce these, ‘kwik’, ‘kween’, and ‘kwiz’. In French though, you don’t pronounce the ‘w’ sound in ‘qu’ words, and so ‘equivoque’ is pronounced ‘eh-kee-vock’. I’ve yet to hear any native English speakers quite cavalier enough to pronounce it that way, but they have my full support should they choose to do so.
What then of the vokayers? The dearly missed Max Maven was himself a vokayer, and I’ve heard it said that he enjoyed that particular pronunciation because it serves to identify one’s use of the term as a specific technique relating to the world of magic, as opposed to its more flexible meaning elsewhere. And if nothing else, as I point out in my own poem on the subject, ek-wiv-o-kay is fun to say.
And so perhaps, since we seem unlikely to ever come to a consensus, we should just call it magicians choice and be done with it. A sensible solution. Let’s do that. All we need to decide is where we put the apostrophe and draw a line under the whole silly affair. Except… where do we put the apostrophe? Let’s consider our options.
Before the S: Magician’s choice
We could make the case that the choice refers to a single magician using the technique at that particular moment in time. It is not the participant’s choice, rather it’s the magician’s. Apostrophe-S seems right then.
After the S: Magicians’ choice
But then surely the technique cannot belong to a single individual? Countless magicians have developed and used the technique over the years. We are, are we not, more than one magician? My laptop’s grammar-checker certainly wants the apostrophe after the S. S-apostrophe it is!
No apostrophe: Magicians choice
But then perhaps we don’t own the technique at all. Perhaps this is not a choice belonging to magicians, but rather a choice for magicians. And in that case, since no possession is involved, no apostrophe is required.
All three arguments seem equally sensible to me, but I prefer to omit the apostrophe altogether, because I’m a busy man and like to save myself time wherever possible.
So! There’s no agreed pronunciation of the word ‘equivoque’, and we have no unified approach to the use of an apostrophe in the term ‘magicians choice’. The terms are as slippery as the method they refer to. Satisfying as that may be, where does it leave us? Are we destined to fight the pronunciation war forevermore? Do we spend sleepless nights fretting over the best place for our apostrophe? Thankfully, I have the perfect solution. Consider the following.
Your pronunciation of the word ‘equivoque’ vanishes without a trace the moment you write it down. And—unless the light catches it just right—you will rarely see an apostrophe when spoken aloud. So the solution is simple: we write the word ‘equivoque’, but we say ‘magicians choice’, thus ending all related debate in its entirety forevermore. This is a new rule, effective immediately, that every magician without exception must adhere to from this day forth.
Now all I have to do is enforce it.
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