Question: What do Dr. Seuss and I have in common? Answer: One of the most mispronounced last names on earth. A German surname, Geisel is pronounced Guy-zul. Not Geezel. Geesell. Jesel, Guzel or southern-style Gi (as in Hi! long i) sul. Good efforts all, but incorrect. Of foreign origin, Geisel is immune to the grammar rule that governs “ei” : When two vowels go a walking, the first one does the talking. Once a year I can count on Geisel’s correct pronunciation, and that is on March 2nd, the Cat in the Hat’s author’s birthday. The rest of the year, I just wince.
So, as I’m slicing cantaloupe for tonight’s dinner and listening to the news, I almost cut off my thumb when the broadcaster announced “Raymond Hunter Geesell had been arrested today for plotting to kill Barack Obama.” Not that I know this guy Geesell – my almost dismemberment was a reaction to what I instinctively knew was a mispronunciation: Geesell is really Geisel. A quick hit to the Internet and my instinct is confirmed.
My German father-in-law, Albert Geisel, was always so proud that during his immigration procedure, he managed to spell his last name in English to the officials at Ellis Island. He, along with Dr. Seuss, must be rolling in their graves that their honorable surname is also that of a would-be assassin. Would-be. Thank God.