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One Writer's Ravings:       A Logophile's Blog for Language Lovers      

A Pronouncement on the Pronunciation of "Pro Tempore"

Yesterday, California State Senator Toni Atkins was the first woman and the first gay person to be sworn in as president pro tempore of the state senate. It was a thrilling moment in California history, but it was marred somewhat by the continual mispronunciation, by various speakers on the floor, of the honorific "pro tempore." Perhaps misremembering their high school Latin, or simply fudging it, they said proh-tem-POR-ee or proh-tem-POR-ay. Both those variants are egregiously wrong.

The term "pro tempore" — which is called "postpositive" because it always comes after a noun (in this case a title), like "majeure" in "force majeure" or "general" in "attorney general" — comes from Latin and is historically used in law of judges who preside temporarily.

Law Latin is traditionally anglicized (made to conform with English-speaking conventions), so the traditional pronunciation is proh-TEM-puh-ree — the accent falling on TEM because in Latin the /o/ in -por- was short so the antepenult is stressed. All sources, to my knowledge, favor the traditional stress on TEM, and no reference I know of gives a variant with stress on -por-.

But, over the years, the revived interest in classical Latin pronunciation has had its influence on the term, hence the prevalence of the variant proh-TEM-puh-ray, with -ray in the final syllable. Many dictionaries countenance this pronunciation, and some list it first, before the traditional
-ree, or, like the Oxford English Dictionary (which is British), give only this classical Latin variant. Nevertheless, some prominent sources, such as Merriam-Webster, America's bestselling dictionary, which has historically been shockingly permissive on pronunciation, still sanction only
-ree (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pro%20tempore), and proh-TEM-puh-ree is the only pronunciation in Black's Law Dictionary, 8th edition.

So, in short: If you are a traditionalist, like me, say it in English: proh-TEM-puh-ree. If you think showing off a little Latin is a lovely thing, say proh-TEM-puh-ray. But never, never say proh-tem-POR-ee or proh-tem-POR-ay. Those variants are neither English nor Latin, and make you sound as if you are trying to order food in a Japanese restaurant.
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