Stressing THE wrong word

I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek lately, and I’ve noticed something that happens a lot:

A character is supposed to refer to some science or tech thing, but they put primary stress on the wrong word of the phrase.

For example, they might refer to the Omicron Theta star system, but they emphasis the word system: “the Omicron Theta system.” Or they might refer to a stasis field as a “stasis field.”

(Let us set aside the Trek writers’ habit of naming stars after two Greek letters. I assume that they heard star names like Alpha Centauri or Omicron Ceti but didn’t know about the Bayer designation system, in which a star name consists of a Greek letter followed by the name of the constellation it’s in. I’m guessing that at some point some Trek writers thought Okay, so star names consist of two Greek words, and the easiest Greek words to come up with are letters, so we can just string together pairs of Greek letters.)

The mis-emphasis throws me right out of the show. Every time I hear it, it reminds me that these are actors saying lines that they don’t necessarily understand. And it happens a lot; I haven’t been counting, but I would guess on average once every couple of episodes, in nearly all of the Trek series.

I wish that at some point someone had told all of the Trek actors, “Think about how you would say this phrase if it were an ordinary English phrase. Like if you’re referring to a baseball field, you don’t put extra stress on the word field. Or if you’re referring to a betting system, you don’t put extra stress on the word system. So even if some of this technobabble is nearly unsayable, try to say it as if your character considers it an ordinary phrase.”

(Yes, yes, you can come up with plenty of contexts in which one would put extra stress on those words. I’m not saying that’s never correct; I’m saying that it’s not usually correct, and it’s not correct in the context of these Star Trek phrases.)

3 Responses to “Stressing THE wrong word”

  1. A Viewer

    I was telling this same thing to a friend the other day and found your page when I went to see if this drove anybody else crazy. My experience is that it’s more specific than stress on then wrong word; it’s [nearly?] always stress on the modifIED word in “modifIER modifIER”, something that even if the speaker doesn’t know what he’s talking about should still set off red flags. In English, it certainly is sometimes the case that you’d say “red HOUSE”. But that’s pretty rare. Almost always, it’s “RED house”. “TALL man”. “SENSOR array”. “WARP core”. “PHASE inverter”. “PATTERN buffer”. So even if they don’t know what they’re saying, why don’t they just follow the normal English pattern and say “LATERAL array” and not the idiotic sounding “lateral ARRAY”? Ok… I’ve burned all my nerd energy (which I’d pronounce “NERD energy”, not “nerd ENERGY”) for the year…

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    • A Viewer

      Typo.. that’s “modifIER modifIED”.

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      • Jed

        Good point! I agree that the problem is usually or always specifically stress on the modified word rather than on the modifier—I hadn’t thought it through, but now that you say it, I see that that’s what’s going on in all the cases I’ve noticed.

        Addendum while I’m here: I’m seeing less of this mis-stressing in Voyager, and much less of it in Discovery; I wonder whether someone finally explicitly pointed out the problem, or whether the actors in those series were just naturally better about it, or what.

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