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You Betta Pronounce it Right

Posted: February 20, 2014, 10:50 a.m. EDT

By Elizabeth Creith

Between the bottom row of aquariums and the fluorescent light fixtures above the tanks there’s just enough room for a row of bettas in rose bowls—those little jars with the fluted edges. We order several dozen bettas every two weeks.

I remember when bettas came in two colors—deep blue and red. Now, in addition to the classics, they come in hot pink, peacock blue, almost-maroon to almost-pink reds, yellow, green, purple and even white. They make quite a colorful display.

Some of my customers feel sorry for the bettas in their spherical one-quart worlds. In the wild they breed in puddles, and those rose bowls are way bigger than the plastic cups the fish come in when we get them. They travel from the distributor to us in about half a cup of water apiece.

It's "Betta" not "Bayta"!

But that’s nothing compared to how they’re shipped to the distributor. We once visited one of our suppliers’ sites and saw several young women transferring bettas into those little cups from little bags the size of a ketchup packet. I still can’t figure out how they survive shipping, but the instant they were liberated into that half-cup container, they were flirting their fins and looking for food. After the whole ketchup-packet experience, I’ll bet a rose bowl feels like a mansion to them.

They’re lovely, undemanding, peaceful fish. A little clean water, a little heat and a little food, and they’re happy. The problem I have with bettas isn’t with the fish. It’s with people’s inability to properly pronounce the name.

I’m a word nerd—always have been; always will be. But I would be so much happier in the pet trade if I could leave my word-nerdery at the door. 

The pet trade is rife with phrases like "koi fish” and "budgie bird” and, of course, "Nemo fish.” But the single thing that bugs me most is the way people pronounce "betta.”

It’s simple—a double consonant after the vowel makes the vowel short. Apple, battle, cannon, ditto—I could write an alphabet of examples. Nobody mispronounces "Betty” as "Bayty,” but nine out of 10 of them say "bayta” for "betta.” That’s how you pronounce the second letter of the Greek alphabet—alpha, beta, delta—and that’s exactly what goes through my mind every time I hear it. Look—I said I was a word nerd.

It’s one of the things I instruct my staff about when I hire them—right up there with the dress code. I make them hew to the line. It takes a bit of hewing.

"It’s my own little quirk. It matters to me that words are pronounced correctly. Double consonant, short vowel,” is what I say the first time I hear "bayta.”

"Um, okay.”

"Just like ‘Betty,’ right?” I say the second time.

"I guess ... ”

In the end I usually say, "Just call them Siamese fighting fish.”

Of course I can’t do anything at all about the customers. You can’t correct customers unless they’re making a mistake that’s going to hurt their animal, and even I have to admit that bettas don’t give a fish fart about what they’re called.

I know I need to relax about this, and I’m taking steps. I remember to breathe, and of course there are the special drugs. But the word-nerdery still surfaces if I’m not careful.

A few weeks ago a customer mused aloud, "I wonder what a good name for a bayta would be?”

"How about Alpha?” I asked.

"Oh, yeah!” she said. "They’re called baytas, just like the second letter of the Greek alphabet! Great idea!”

She left happy.

And I wasn’t altogether unhappy myself. At least she knew the Greek alphabet, and that makes my little rose bowl half-full right there, you betta.



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