Mispronunciations—Written Words, Spoken Words
We (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.
Have you ever heard someone say “guh NOME” instead of “nome” for the word gnome? We’ve all had those moments.
Here’s a true tale told by a student from our days teaching a one-day grammar refresher through San Diego State University Extension. An English prof—engaging, funny, full of intriguing information—frequently read aloud to his students. One day, introducing Robert Frost, he read, “ . . . Then for the house that is no more a house/But only a ‘be-lilaced’ cellar hole/. . .”
“Excuse me, sir,” said a guy. “Might ‘belly-laced’ perchance be ‘be-lilaced,’ as in wreathed in lilacs?”
Sometimes when a person misspeaks, it’s cringe-inducing. At a solemn memorial service for a prominent citizen, a grieving friend read a poem about crossing the chasm, but three times pronounced the “ch” in chasm as in chair, rather than saying “KA sm.”
Edith grew up hearing and saying “ascertain,” “sword,” and “colonel” correctly. But when reading these words in books, they sounded in her head like “uh SIR tan,” “sword” with the “w,” and “CAH luh nul,” as in her book, The Little Colonel. To her, these were six words, not three.
Everyone has examples of words they’ve pronounced incorrectly for years.
The state of Illinois is “Il lih NOY,” not “Il lih NOISE.” Hyperbole is “high PER buh lee,” not “HIGH per bowl.” Epitome is “eh PIH tuh mee,” not “EH pih tome.” The Army Corps of Engineers is the “core,” not “corpse” of engineers.
Those who sell houses and properties are “REE uhl ters,” not “REAL uh ters.” There’s no “real” in realtor. Neither is there a “cue” in nuclear. Say, “NU clee er,” not “NU cue ler.” This month is not “FEB you air ee.” Note the “r.” We salute our sweeties on “FEB roo air ee” fourteenth.
Your chic outfit isn’t “chick.” It’s “sheek.” When seeking respite from onerous chores, you look for “RES pit,” not “re SPITE.” That diamond necklace isn’t “JOO la ree.” It’s “JOOL ree.” “Drowned” is just one syllable. “Drown-ded” is egregious.
Take care with measurement words. For height, say, “hite,” not “hithe.” For length, say “lengkth,” not “lenth.” For width, say the “d” in width, not “with.”
Some mispronounced words can be funny. Some people call the famous pie place Marie Colander’s (“COLL enders”—so handy for rinsing pie berries) rather than the correct Marie Callender’s (“CAL enders”).
A radio announcer said, “Let this music of Beethoven envelope you.” She read the word envelop (“en VEH lup”) as “envelope” (“EN veh lope””). Likewise, if you witness a clash of wills, pronounce the word conflict as “CON flict.” But if your views differ from another’s, say “con FLICT.”
Here’s one final example encompassing the whole kit and caboodle of this topic. You “pronounce” or “mispronounce” a word. But the very word mispronunciation is often pronounced wrong! The word “pronounce” does not lurk within. Say, “mis pro nun see A tion.” Both pronunciation and mispronunciation have “nun,” not “noun” in the middle.
May we commend to you The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations: The Complete Opinionated Guide for the Careful Speaker by Charles Harrington Elster. It’s funny. It’s thorough. You can even learn from the cover: “There is no . . . ‘berry’ in ‘library,’ no ‘store’ in ‘pastoral,’ no ‘ant’ in ‘defendant,’ no ‘x’ in ‘espresso,’ and no ‘home’ in ‘homicide.’ ”
For a more complete list of commonly mispronounced words, see pp. 157-160 of our More Nitty-Gritty Grammar guide.
Do send the mispronunciations you grew up with. Happy Valentine’s (not “Valentime’s”) Day! We love to hear from you.