The curse of King Tutankhamun's tomb, the disappearing Hope Diamond, Donald Trump's gravity-defying combover -- all of these are mysteries that have confounded and captivated audiences for centuries. Add this one to the list: Boston Public Radio host Jim Braude's inability to properly pronounce his co-host Margery Eagan's name.
Allow us to explain.
Hardly a day goes by without a dismayed listener insisting that Jim pronounces Margery's name with a wayward hard 'G' (as in goose) instead of a soft one. Here's a selection:
And here's an observation from WGBH producer Abbie Ruzicka while interviewing people in line at a Hillary Clinton book signing:
When I tell a lady I'm from WGBH, she doesn't want to talk Hillary, she wants to know why @jimbraude pronounces Margery's name w/ a hard "G"
Braude maintains that he consistently pronounces the soft 'G,' and both Eagan and all of the Boston Public Radio staff maintain they have never heard the mispronunciation.
Theory #1: The Wild Wonderful World of Radio
Could the problem have anything to do with the way microphones capture sound or the way sound is transmitted over the radio? Edgar asked WGBH radio engineer Jon Frank if distortions ever occur during transmission. And, indeed, he said that sounds like hard 'P' or a particularly sibilant 'S' can often sound garbled over the airwaves.
There was one issue with this explanation, however. "I've never heard of 'G' being a problem," Frank points out.
"I used to respect him, by the way," Jim retorted. "But no more."
Theory #2: Jim's Philly Kid Roots
Another factor could be Jim's Philadelphia roots. The archetypal Philadelphia accent includes a few sounds that are quite different from what we're used to hearing here in New England, like pronouncing 'human' like 'u-man' and 'streets' like 'schtreets' (as in, "schtreets of Philadelphia.")
Here's a crash course:
You may have noticed, however, that there's no mention of a discrepancy between a hard and soft 'G' in the typical Philadelphia accent. Unfortunately, we may have to conclude that this theory does not hold any "woder." (Sorry.)
Theory #3: Linguistic Acrobatics
Clearly it was time to consult the professionals. Edgar asked Boston University linguist Tyler Perrachione if the science behind the way we say or hear things could shed any light on the situation. He pointed out that, of all the sounds in the English language, the hard and soft 'G' are among the most complex, involving a full stop and release of air. That means, if you have high frequency hearing loss, or if you're listening to the show on headphones that have difficulty discerning high frequencies, it could distort the sound.
Theory #4: But Wait--It Might Not Even Be Jim?(!)
But what if the problem wasn't Jim at all?
Perrachione said expectations can play a big role in what we believe we hear.
"If you have an expectation you're going to hear a hard 'G,' it might change the way you actually perceive that sound," he said.
Spelling also comes into play, and Margery, of course, spells her name with a 'G' instead of a 'J.' So, according to Perrachione's theory, seeing that 'G' can bias us toward hearing the hard 'G' in 'Margery, suggesting that the hard 'G' may just be a figment of all of our imaginations.
In short, as Perrachione puts it: "It's like the perfect storm of hearing the wrong sound."
Listen to the full story behind the case of the mysterious disappearing hard 'G' above.