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How do you say it?

The name "Plesums" is Latvian, and means a split in the earth or a piece of plowed ground. Therefore it is fitting that the Latvian Agricultural University school newspaper is named "Plēsums." This is the logo of that school newspaper.

It also means a split in a seam - not a tear in fabric, but a seam that is coming apart. As one Latvian said, if the seam is opening or separating, we would say it is plēsums.

Note that Plēsums is written with a line over the letter e, which makes the e sound like an long A in English. That brings us to "Play Sums," the pronunciation that I was raised with, that my brother and his family use. But there must be something hard about it in English, since many people seem to have trouble saying or spelling it.

Then someone told me that the real pronunciation is a sound I couldn't make - "Plaah {sound of clearing your throat} sums." Well, if I can't do it right, why should I worry about how other people say it?

In English (and in most Latin alphabets) there is no option to put a bar over the letter e (it was quite a trick to get a line over the e above). Therefore most people look at the name and use a soft/short e sound to say "Plesss sums." If you can't beat them, join them. For the last 50 years I have simply told people my name was pronounced with the short e. My wife and son thought that was how it was supposed to be. Don't tell them!

Having used the pronunciation that most people use, I have created a new problem. If you hear Plesums with a short e, how do you spell it? Probably "Plessums" and if you say it fast, probably without the final s - "Plessum" rather than "Plesums." So a common question is "are there two 'S' in your last name?" Answer: "Yes, but only one in the middle, and the other at the end."

Everybody has their name misspelled and mispronounced sometimes. If you use the original pronunciation above, you may get "Please sums." The worst spelling I remember was "Flesma". We had a neighbor for 15 years who always called us "Pless - see - yum." So call me anything you want, as long as you smile when you do it!

In 2009 I visited Latvia, and asked everyone who spoke enough English to help me pronounce the word "PLĒSUMS." I now believe it is really "Phaah Sums" (without clearing your throat in the middle). I wrote "PLĒSUMS on a paper placemat in a restaurant, and below it, "PLESUMS" without the bar over the E. I asked the waitress "how do you pronounce this?" The waitress said "Plaah sums, of course" (like most Latvians had said it). "Okay, (pointing to the name without a bar over the e) how do you pronounce this?" "That isn't a word. It is misspelled. It needs the bar over the 'E'."

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©2001, 2009 by Charles A. Plesums, Austin, Texas USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.