The shtruggle on the shtreet is real.
When Obama was President, some folks rolled their eyes whenever Michelle Obama spoke. That’s OK, other folks had rolled their eyes when George W. did the same thing.
What thing? Pronouncing words that begin with S-T-R as if they began with S-H-T-R.
Shtrange. Shtrong. Shtraight. Shtrip.
I find it shtrenuous to say these words this way — as if I’m trying to articulate past a plastic mouthguard or a wad of dental gauze — but apparently that’s not the case for everyone.
Linguists call this pronunciation S-retraction or S-backing,
because the SH sound is made
with the tongue slightly farther back inside the mouth than it is for the S sound.
So you’re moving the S farther back in your mouth: S-backing.
– Neil Whitman, Quick and Dirty Tips
Once you start listening for it, you’ll hear it everywhere. It’s most common at the beginning of words, but I’ve started to hear it from some American commentators even when the S-T-R comes in the middle of a word.
Inshtruction. Deshtroy. Reshtrict.
Where does it come from? Opinions vary. (I bet you didn’t see that coming.) It’s pretty clear it isn’t a shtructural thing in the language. Some mention Sean Connery (who got an odd start in life by having to come to terms with the contradiction between the spelling and the pronunciation of his own name) but a more-serious shtream of scholarship thinks it might be a transfer from similar pronunciations in German or Polish. Others think it started in the shtreetwise African-American community and spread shtrategically from there.
Where is it going? While I shtrive to be down with changes to the language (Or was that “Down with changes to the language!”?), I think this one is long gone. The horse has left the barn: Across North America this pronunciation is gaining shtrength, making big shtrides. Indeed, as noted (perhaps ironically) by some linguishts, the SH sound is spreading to S-T words without the R.
Shtill. Undershtand. Shtudy. Plashtic. Shtart.
Will it shpread to S-P-R words? I wouldn’t bet againsht it, but we’ll have to keep an ear on the Shtates.
But although I’ve shtretched enough to learn to live with this — I’ve shtopped wanting to shtrangle or shtrike shpeakers of this ilk — I can’t say I’ve learned to embrace it. I admit it shtill causes me some shtress.
On the other hand, I’m shtunningly grateful that this wasn’t wideshpread when Elvis was recording. Imagine him trying to hold the line in Stuck on You. By the time he’d done shake-a, shake-a, s(h)ugar, how else would stick and stuck have come out?
You can shake an apple off an apple tree
Shake-a, shake-a, sugar,
But you’ll never shake me
No-sir-ee, uh, uh
I’m gonna shtick like glue,
Shtick . . . because I’m
Shtuck on you
No-sir-ee. I shtill have something to be grateful for.