50 Incorrect Pronunciations That You Should Avoid

By Maeve Maddox

Fred Astaire drew laughs back in the Thirties with his song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” in which the lovers can’t agree on the pronunciation of words like either, neither, and tomato.

incorrect pronunciations

On a personal level, I cringe when I hear someone sound the “t” in often or pronounce pecan with a short “a,” but I have to acknowledge that both these pronunciations are widely accepted alternate pronunciations that can be justified by the spelling.

Alternate pronunciations, however, are a different matter from out-and-out mispronunciations. The latter, no matter how common, are incorrect, either because of the spelling that indicates another pronunciation, or because of what is widely agreed upon to be conventional usage. Word of caution: I’m writing from an American perspective.

Here are 50 frequently mispronounced words. The list is by no means exhaustive, but provides a good start.

1. aegis – The ae in this word is pronounced /ee/. Say EE-JIS/, not /ay-jis/. In mythology the “aegis” is associated especially with the goddess Athene. It is her shield with the Gorgon’s head on it.

2. anyway – The problem with this word is not so much pronunciation as the addition of an unnecessary sound. Don’t add an s to make it “anyways.” The word is ANYWAY.

3. archipelago – Because the word is from Greek, the ch is pronounced with a /k/ sound. Say /AR-KI-PEL-A-GO/, not /arch-i-pel-a-go/.

4. arctic – Note the C after the R. Say /ARK-TIK/, not /ar-tik/.

5. accessory – the first C has a “hard” sound. Say /AK-SESS-OR-Y/, not /ass-ess-or-y/.

6. ask – The S comes before the K. Say /ASK/ not /aks/.

7. asterisk – Notice the second S. Say /AS-TER-ISK/, not /as-ter-ik/.

8. athlete – The word has two syllables, not three. Say /ATH-LETE/, not /ath-uh-lete/.

9. barbed wire– Notice the AR in the first syllable. Say /BARBD/, not /bob/.

10. cache – The word is of French origin, but it does not end with an accented syllable. A cache is a hiding place or something that is being hidden: a cache of supplies; a cache of money; a cache of drugs. Say /KASH/, not /ka-shay/.

11. candidate – Notice the first d. Say /KAN-DI-DATE/, not /kan-i-date/.

12. cavalry – This word refers to troops that fight on horseback. Say /KAV-UL-RY/, not /kal-vuh-ry/. NOTE: Calvary refers the place where Jesus was crucified and IS pronounced /kal-vuh-ry/.)

13. chaos – The spelling ch can represent three different sounds in English: /tch/ as in church, /k/ as in Christmas, and /sh/ as in chef. The first sound is heard in words of English origin and is the most common. The second sound of ch, /k/, is heard in words of Greek origin. The third and least common of the three ch sounds is heard in words adopted from modern French. Chaos is a Greek word. Say /KAY-OS/, not /tchay-os/.

14. clothes – Notice the TH spelling and sound. Say /KLOTHZ/, not /kloz/.

15. daïs – A daïs is a raised platform. The pronunciation fault is to reverse the vowel sounds. The word is often misspelled as well as mispronounced. Say /DAY-IS/ not /dī-is/.

16. dilate – The word has two syllables, not three. Say /DI-LATE/, not /di-a-late/.

17. drowned – This is the past participle form of the verb drown. Notice that there is no D on drown. Don’t add one when using the word in its past form. Say /DROWND/, not /drown-ded/.

18. et cetera – This Latin term is often mispronounced and its abbreviation is frequently misspelled. Say /ET CET-ER-A/, not /ex cet-er-a/. For the abbreviation, write ETC., not ect.

19. February – Just about everyone I know drops the first r in February. The spelling calls for /FEB-ROO-AR-Y/, not /feb-u-ar-y/.

20. foliage – The word has three syllables. Say /FO-LI-UJ/, not /fol-uj/.

21. forte – English has two words spelled this way. One comes from Italian and the other from French. The Italian word, a musical term meaning “loud,” is pronounced with two syllables: /FOR-TAY/. The French word, an adjective meaning “strength” or “strong point,” is pronounced with one syllable: /FORT/.

22. Halloween – The word for the holiday Americans celebrate with such enthusiasm on October 31 derives from “Hallowed Evening,” meaning “evening that has been made holy.” The word “hallow” comes from Old English halig, meaning “holy.” Notice the a in the first syllable and say /HAL-O-WEEN/, not /hol-lo-ween/.

23. height – The word ends in a /T/ sound, not a /TH/ sound. Say /HITE/, not /hith/.

24. heinous – People unfamiliar with the TV show Law and Order: S.V.U. may not know that heinous has two syllables. (The show begins with this sentence: “In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous.”) Say /HAY-NUS/, not /heen-i-us/.

25. hierarchy – The word has four syllables. Say /HI -ER-AR-KY,/ not /hi-ar-ky/.

26. Illinois – As with Arkansas, the final “s” in Illinois is not pronounced. Say /IL-I-NOY/ (and /Ar-kan-saw/, not /il-li-noiz/ or /ar-kan-sas/). NOTE: Some unknowledgeable folks may still be trying to pronounce Arkansas as if it had something to do with Kansas. The pronunciation /ar-kan-zuz/ is waaay off base.

27. interpret – The word has three syllables. Don’t add one! Say /IN-TER-PRET/, not /in-ter-pre-tate/.

28. incident – Something that happens is an “incident.” Don’t say “incidence” when you mean a specific event. There IS a word “incidence,” but it has a different meaning.

29. “irregardless” – See the real word, regardless.

30. jewelry – The word has three syllables. Say /JEW-EL-RY/, not /jew-el-er-y/. The pronunciation /jewl-ry/ is common but not correct, as it removes one syllable from the word.

31. library – Notice where the R comes in the word. Say /LI-BRAR-Y/, not /li-ber-ry/.

32. medieval – The word has four syllables. The first E may be pronounced either short [med] or long [meed]. Say /MED-EE-EEVAL/ or /MEE-DEE-EEVAL/, not /meed-eval/.

33. miniature – The word has four syllables. Say /MIN-I-A-TURE/, not /min-a-ture/.

34. Mischievous – This is the adjective form of mischief whose meaning is “calamity” or “harm.” Mischievous is now associated with harmless fun so that the expression “malicious mischief” has been coined as another term for vandalism. Mischievous has three syllables with the accent on the first syllable: /MIS-CHI-VUS/. Don’t say /mis-chee-vee-us/.

35. niche – The word is from the French and, though many words of French origin have been anglicized in standard usage, this is one that cries out to retain a long “e” sound and a /SH/ sound for the che. Say /NEESH/, not /nitch/.

36. orient – This word has three syllables. As a verb it means to place something in its proper position in relation to something else. It comes from a word meaning “east” and originally meant positioning something in relation to the east. Now it is used with a more general meaning. Say /OR-I-ENT/, not /or-i-en-tate/.

37. old-fashioned – This adjective is formed from a past-participle: “fashioned.” Don’t leave off the ED. Say /OLD-FASHIOND/, not /old-fashion/.

38. picture – There’s a K sound in picture. Don’t confuse picture with pitcher. Say /PIK-TURE/, not /pitch-er/. Pitcher is a different word. A pitcher is a serving vessel with a handle.

39. precipitation – This is a noun that refers to rain or snow, or anything else that normally falls from the sky. As with prescription (below), the prefix is PRE-. Say /PRE-CIP-I-TA-TION/, not /per-cip–i-ta-tion/.

40. prescription – Note the prefix PRE- in this word. Say /PRE-SCRIP-TION/, not /per- scrip-tion/ or /pro-scrip-tion/.

41. preventive – The word has three syllables. A common fault is to add a syllable. Say PRE-VEN-TIVE/, not /pre-ven-ta-tive.

42. pronunciation – This word is a noun. It comes from the verb pronounce, BUT it is not pronounced like the verb. Say /PRO-NUN-CI-A-TION/, not /pro-nounce-i-a-tion/.

43. prostate – This word for a male gland is often mispronounced. There is an adjective prostrate which means to be stretched out facedown on the ground. When speaking of the gland, however, say /PROS-TATE/, not /pros-trate/.

44. Realtor – The word has three syllables. Say /RE-AL-TOR/, not /re-a-la-tor/.

45. regardless – The word has three syllables. Please don’t add an IR to make it into the abomination “irregardless”.

46. sherbet – The word has only one r in it. Say /SHER-BET/ not /sher-bert/.

47. spayed – This is a one-syllable word, the past participle form of the verb to spay, meaning to remove the ovaries from an animal. Like the verb drown (above) the verb spay does not have a D in its infinitive form. Don’t add one to the past participle. Say /SPADE/, not /spay-ded/.

48. ticklish – The word has two syllables. Say /TIK-LISH/, not /tik-i-lish/.

49. tract – Religious evangelists often hand out long printed statements of belief called “tracts.” That’s one kind of “tract.” Houses are built on “tracts.” Then there’s the word “track.” Athletes run on “tracks.” Animals leave “tracks.” Don’t say /TRAKT/ when you mean /TRAK/, and vice-versa.

50. vehicle – Although there is an H in the word, to pronounce it is to sound hicky. Say /VEE-IKL/, not /vee-Hikl/.

51. wintry – Here’s another weather word often mispronounced, even by the weather person. The word has two syllables. Say /WIN-TRY/, not /win-ter-y/.

Got any to add to the list?

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1,351 Responses to “50 Incorrect Pronunciations That You Should Avoid”

  • Sexy Cheese

    With all the other problems in the world why worry about someone pronouncing something right? Me personally, I think that butchering the language makes someone sound dumb. Everyone messes it up a little.

    My $0.02

  • GoingLikeSixty

    May I? Here’s my post using all your words. If I had the ambition, I would have used them alphabetically…

  • Buck

    Pecan is always pronounced with a short “a” as part of dialect subsets in the South (mainly North and South Carolina). Were you to pronounce it with a long “a” there you would be laughed at for the mispronunciation.

    One that you missed is “Iced Tea” – It is often pronounced “Ice Tea” and even has gained acceptance being written that way which is not only a mispronunciation but also a grammatical error.

  • Ryan Malm

    I must agree with the people on the “you’re being a bit snooty” side of the fence. Especially cases in which the so-called mispronunciation is simply a matter of where you’re at. Like Halloween. I’ve always said it /hol-lo-ween/, and quite frankly have never thought about it that hard.

  • kevin

    Several people I know pronounce the word “WHILE” like “why” – it completely blows my mind and irritates me. This is really the only mispronunciation that consistently makes me angry. “I’m going to type this letter why you dictate it to me” – ARGHH!!

    On the other hand, I am guilty of saying “preven-TA-tive”, but only because I use the word so rarely and have never noticed the spelling. Now I will be more careful with this word, thanks.

  • Charlie

    You missed my favorite mispronunciation, New-cu-lar. Don’t you just love the extra syllable in Nuclear? It’s New-Clear! Get it? Now just say it correctly Mr. Bush!

  • onscrn

    I agree on most of these, including softening often. But I’m not going to change the way I say clothes or vehicle.

  • mike

    How could you leave out MOOT/MUTE? (as in, a moot or mute point). That’s the bastardization I hear most often at the office.

    Also, I agree with Claire Lynch about February. Words don’t always sound like they are spelled, so your argument for that is weak, especially since you agree that everyone says it that way. Webster acknowledges both pronunciations as correct, so that’s good enough for me.

    Also, to buttoned-up.com, “Duck” tape is actually part of the etymology of the stuff… check it out on Wikipedia. Interesting stuff.

  • PurpleCar

    A friend just linked me to this brit thing online:
    preventive or preventative
    The words are often used interchangeably to denote whatever prevents something else happening or occurring, especially when it is undesirable. However, preventative is often applied to an actual object, especially in noun form, while preventive is mostly reserved for an abstract concept, and remains an adjective: Preventive medicine regards vitamin C as an effective preventative against colds.

  • Greg

    Preventive and preventative are interchangeable words, preventative is generally used to refer to a direct object (used as a noun), whereas preventive is used when discussing the abstract concept of prevention.

  • birdfarm

    Elitist tone is too much for me. It can be *extremely* useful to know how to talk like an Ivy League grad (I know, I am one). It opens many doors. BUT it is very…. stupid, for lack of a better word…. not to see that the whole idea of “correct” pronunciation (not to mention grammar and spelling) is utterly useless except for one purpose: to identify an “in group” (old-money establishment wealth, i.e., the ruling class) and an “out group” (everyone else). “She walk to table” or “she be walking to the table” are both perfectly understandable; they do, however, identify the speaker as “out group.” It is useful to be able to talk like “in group” because they hold the reins and have the power. But one should never fall under the delusion that the “in group” is “smart,” or that the “out group” is “dumb” (as the title of the list implies)……… in short……….. useful list, bad attitude.

  • Maeve

    GoingLikeSixty,

    COOL.

  • Michelle Hartz

    Some of these are valid, and some come off a bit snooty. But with that being said, the one that gets to me the most isn’t here: There is no “Q” in coupon.

  • Cyrus

    haha I made a blog entry about the, “anyway’s’,” problem. I agree with most your your observations, but there agreeably must be some leeway with certain words. One example would simply be, “asterisk.” (I just picked some of the top couple) Some patience for people like me, who when they try to pronounce the second “s”, slur it and sadly transform it into a small, “cat hiss,” if you may. It’s not a lisp, but I’ve noticed many people with tongue quivers. Great commentaries, though! Good research! You’re a credit to the grammatical culture of our apathetic world!

  • Eric TF Bat

    I consider myself a practicing peddant (watch as other peddan’ts brains explode on reading that statement) but perhaps the fact that I’m Australian explains the several discrepancies I can see in your list:

    10 – /KAYSH/, not /KASH/ — I think that’s a US-vs-UK thing
    21 – /FORT-ay/ is correct for both meanings
    24 – /HEE-nuss/ is much more common
    25 – /HI-rar-kee/ is quite normal
    30 – /JOOL-ree/ is common and acceptable
    41 – preventative is a word
    48 – /TICK-uh-lish/ is common and acceptable
    50 – /VIHR-kl/ (the -IHR rhymes with beer)

    Of those, #21 is the only one I’m uncertain enough about to check in a dictionary, but I don’t have one with me that I trust, so I’ll just have to wing it.

    And as for “elitism”: thankfully, the eight years of celebrating mediocrity in the US are now over. “Elite” means “better”, not “snooty”, and if there’s one thing the world needs it’s more elites, not fewer.

  • Skeetgun

    I think it’s a good ideal to have this discussion.

  • Neil

    I hear Ser-stiff-i-cate for certificate an awful lot, where they get the second ‘s’ sound from I have no idea!!

  • Neil

    ..oh and ‘Haitch’ for the letter ‘H’! It’s AITCH, not Haitch! People drop the letter so often, they feel it should be pronounced when talking about the letter itself.

  • Paul Russell

    aravah asks: I am the only person I know who pronounces February with the r, and people do look at me like I’m a bit weird!

    You’re not the only person as I always pronounce the ‘r’. But I don’t know if if people look at you a bit weird, or even if they think I’m a bit weird.

    As for the ‘t’ in often… I don’t pronounce it and yet my wife does. We are both Canadian of British origin, so I suspect there may be regional differences within the UK. I’m from the West Midlands whereas my wife is from London.

    Now though we live in Malaysia, where a common mistake is the pronunciation of the word southern. Everyone assumes it sounds like south and says south-ern, rather than suthern. Come to think of it, they drop the ‘r’ too, so it sounds like south-un.

    –paul

    P.S. Interesting topic. Can’t think why people would write things like “This article rubbed me the wrong way and smacks of elitism.” If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

  • Rete

    I have a co-worker who speaks of office etiquette – pronouncing the q like ‘etiquit’ instead of ‘etikut’ and it drives me nuts. She can hear everyone else say it correctly and still she persists.

  • Doug Rosbury

    I’m not sure its worthwhile trying to correct peoples speech.
    they seem to carry their pronounciations like a badge of honor.
    However, if I had a blog, I might insist on correct usage as a condition of membership.——Doug

  • Vince Winkler

    I’ve decided that the people who cry “Elitist!” when they read this found out that they were pronouncing things incorrectly.

    I myself found a handful of mistakes that I make, yet I’ve known for a long time that I was pronouncing it oddly.

    Now I actually know how to pronounce it, though. 🙂

  • Seo Co

    I hate it when people say FUSTRATED instead of frustrated. Or they add an S on the end of verbs like,

    So I goeS down to the store.

    But my biggest pet peave you mentioned that is

    AXED for asked
    Drives me nuts ;-0

  • Brad K.

    I learned that when you are in Nebraska, “Norfolk” is pronounced “NorthFork”, just like Chuck Connor did in the Rifleman. When in Virginia (Vuh-Jin-yuh), it is “Nau-fuhk”.

    “The pronunciation /ar-kan-zuz/ is waaay off base.” Since I moved here to Ponca City, OK, I have been amazed. The Arkansas (AR-ken-saw) river runs from Kansas (KAN-zuz) through Arkansas City (ar-KAN-zuz SIT-ee) through Kaw Lake, east of Ponca City, and on down to the state of Arkansas (AR-kun-saw). I bow to the good people of Arkansas City, about the correct pronunciation of the name of their fair town. No one around here seems bothered by the variety of pronunciations for what seems like the same word.

    35. Niche
    I gotta challenge that one. This should sound like the fiche in microfiche. Well, almost. I say fiche (FEESH) and niche (NITCH). For me, niche is almost like notch. In fact, a notch could become a niche (a small indention to hold something). But a notch (a nick or dent, or cut) would not always be suitable as a niche. Natcherly. Uh, ‘naturally’. Sorry.

    Nuclear – President Jimmy Carter was the first that I recall making me cringe with this one. Despite his service in the US Navy Nuclear Power program, he persisted in parading “NUK-lee-uhr” in public.

  • jipi

    @ Kerry –

    ES-presso is the Italian way.
    EX-presso is the french way.

    Both are acceptable ( ) . Just make sure to pick the more elitist one.

  • Alison Daugherty

    I love you forever for this. My mother was an English teacher I always correct peoples’ errors without thinking.

    One thing to note (you’ve done nothing wrong): Et cetera can also be pronounced et-KET-er-a if you learned Latin with an ecclesiastic accent.

  • CannedAm

    Hey, Paul, I’ve only ever heard southern pronounced like south – ern in Canada! Many, many variations on pronunciations from one side of the border to the other. Up here I hear “bean” for been as opposed to our ‘bin’ and ‘a’ is taught and pronounced like apple’s a instead of ape’s a. So when my son asks for a pencil my brain does a somersault.

    This is rather regional. You’ll have very different pronunciations from one part of the country to the next. And the whole rest of the English speaking world thinks we’re a bit slack jawed in our pronunciations.

    I enjoy differences in pronunciations. It lets me know where a person’s from. I hear so many accents and dialects, I begin to wonder what’s actually correct. So long as we understand each other, I don’t think it’s necessary to point out when someone pronounces something differently than I would. Also, hop across the pond or over the border and suddenly you’re wrong in many of your pronunciations that you don’t have listed here.

    I definitely do not think one’s pronunciation is indicative of either his intelligence or education. I’ve heard poorly educated people speak more properly than well educated people. I’ve heard professors of English speak with such thick dialect that I could barely understand them. It didn’t make them sound stupid. Just made me listen more closely.

    I have never heard /vee-ikle/. The ‘h’ sound is very soft and barely audible, but it’s definitely there. Even listening to the /vee-ikle/ pronunciation at dictionary.com I can still hear it.

  • Metroknow

    Oh, and one more for you non-Oregonians: It is not OR-eh-GAWN. OR-eh-gun.

  • ash

    While I agree that words have correct pronunciations vs non, I do think it is distasteful to say someone is “dumb” or “uneducated.” You use both of those words in this article.

    Words like “ask,” may have a correct prono., but I think have become part of some people groups. In the U.S., it is common for the black community to use it that way and it should be noted!

    There are others here that I realize I have said wrong or may say wrong, and perhaps as a writer, I should be more aware. But it does not make me uneducated. There are cultural norms, as you quickly referenced in the beginning, that are important to consider.

    Overall, I think this is an EXCELLENT list and certainly I will pass it on.

    Gracious!

  • hank101

    I think I will trust merriam webster on these, rather than you. Simply, you are wrong many times here.

  • Sheila

    In the early years of my marriage I corrected my husband’s grammar and pronunciation a lot. But I’ve changed my perspective through the years.

    First, I’ve learned about multiple intelligences and don’t judge intelligent/unintelligent by verbal skills.

    I’ve also realized that a lot of the things I used to make fun of in some people are merely the result of which country their ancestors were from. My husband’s Polish grandparents didn’t speak English, and his father didn’t speak English until he went to school. So he says tree instead of three and haich instead of aich. I never am unsure of his meaning when he speaks to me. And he’s bilingual, for heaven’s sake! A lot of the people I know who would make fun of him for his little pronunciation “mistakes” would love to be bilingual.

    And so his son has picked up on the haich. It’s okay. It has nothing to do with his intelligence and everything to do with his heritage. These differences in pronunciation give our language a wider, richer variety.

  • Patrick

    It is a curiosity — When my daughter was learning to speak and used words like “poink” (to poke with a pointed object or a pointy object) or “comfordy” (comfortable) I thought these were wonderful words. When I hear an adult say “chesterdrawers” (chest of drawers) or “pregnate” (pregnant) I cringe. I wish I had the same sense of wonder and delight for the adults’ innovative words that I had for my daughter’s — one great thing about English is that there is no Academy telling us we are doing it wrong — it is free to evolve and we can observe it happening.

  • Maeve

    ash,
    Upon reflection, I have to agree that “uneducated” was an unfortunate word choice and I’ve amended the sentence. As I wrote in a previous comment, “dumb” was not in my original headline. I would think, however, that the headline was written in a spirit of fun and was never intended to be offensive.

    The comments sparked by this post are entertaining and thought-provoking. Thanks to everyone who has commented. It’s great to have such a lively, passionate readership!

  • Brad K.

    About “elitist”. To those that are concerned about hoity-toity and “I speak *correctly*, and those that don’t are stupid” concerns – look again at the title of this article, and at the specific list.

    This is not a list of words that are commonly mispronounced. It isn’t nearly complete.

    Remember the dictum, “Hate the sin, not the sinner?” That is what is going on here. The particular words chosen make the speaker *sound* less aware, less careful, less respectful of themselves and others. We all know about dialect. And no one is using this list to call names – unlike a couple of comments.

    That is – using these mispronunciations may make the speaker *sound* dumb. No one is implying that using these mispronunciations means that the speaker *is* stupid.

    Notice how “dumb” in the title is deliberately used incorrectly, to convey the colloquial meaning of “kinda stupid”, rather than the “correct” meaning of “incapable of speech”? The point of this particular list is to avoid these dialect or colloquial usages and common mistakes, when correct speech is important,.

    For those that do understand about correct usage, and understand when it is appropriate to stress correct usage – say at a public speaking engagement with a mixed crowd – some of these common mistakes will detract from the respect your listener pays to you and to your words.

    When trying to persuade a boss, a co-worker, or a group, the onus on the speaker is to *be heard*. There is a responsibility there.

    You cannot affect what your listener hears. Your listener may or may not be paying attention, and will hear through filters – from hearing aids to dialects to background noises to distracting thoughts they are trying to wait for an opportunity to state. What we call “correct” speech is a dialect, that most people can understand. So if you break into this strange, weird, stuffy dialect – more people are more likely to understand what you are saying.

    We only have control over what we say – not what our listener hears.

  • Quiet Mr. T

    Auxiliary – There is a second I. It is not: AUX-il-ery.

    And of course – warsher. ug.

  • bad tim

    i think many of the words in your list are prejudiced toward the dialect i refer to as brokawese; the generic american speech pattern exemplified by tom brokaw and other mainstream journalists before they jumped on the dropped-verb bandwagon.

    i take particular issue with fussy words like ‘february’. the only people around here who say it your way are pretentious academics. ‘caramel’ is another example of regional dialects dropping a fussy syllable, and the english language abounds with dropped sounds.

    one you missed that really bugs me is the incursion of spanish on words of french origin. ‘cadre’, which i know as kay-der, has somehow become kah-dray. i remember hearing someone say ‘gen-ray’ recently, too.

    i have an issue with standardization of dialects. regional speech patterns should be encouraged. they enrich the language. brokawese is fine for national broadcasts, but i don’t go to places like savannah to listen to midwesterners.

  • Edward F. Gumnick

    If anyone’s keeping score, count me with the descriptivists on this debate, rather than the prescriptivists. And I enthusiastically concur with those who’ve noted the narrow regionalism reflected in the list.

    The only fresh thing I have to add: How does a list of pronunciation pet peeves qualify as a “Daily Writing Tip”?

  • Brad K.

    bad tim – nuh-uh. Letting the language drift invites divisiveness – and allows communication differences to become communication difficulties. Inability to communicate easily and clearly, as, say from inner city to city hall, invites violent confrontation.

    Look what the difference in dialect means to Israel and Palestine, or Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Look what the drift in language meant in our own Civil War.

    Letting dialects drift unchecked allows those that remain conversant with the dominant languages elsewhere control and manipulate the flow of information for often personal and petty ends.

    I was taught “Feb-roo-ary” in Junior High, about 1964. It was an unpopular pronunciation then, too. And I find myself, most often, slurring the first r into a y – Feb-yoo-airee. Mostly because I don’t use many “roo” words, so the consonant before “ru” feels odd to me. But I do recognize the word when correctly used.

    And that is the point. We all need to remain aware of both “correct” usage and how it relates to our community, family, and personal dialects. So we can share in a “Common” dialect.

  • Clayton

    I hear meme mispronounced frequently.

  • Ray

    As long as the dialect is in English, we’ll be fine. But bless the brave like Bill Cosby.

    One of my favorite quotes is still…….
    “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If it is in English, thank a Soldier”

    Now, feel free to flame me. LOL

  • Doug Rosbury

    I have run into conflict with certain indiviuals whos english usage
    creates confusion and resistance for me, the reader. they will invariably defend their usage and obfuscate the critical importance
    of correct usage. This points up a problem with those from another country who may wish to feel that they belong in the american society. What’s my point ? A pressing need for education. Well
    anyway, so it is.——-Doug Rosbury

    such an individual will invariably defend their usage especially whem I

  • Doug Rosbury

    I have run into conflict with certain indiviuals whos english usage
    creates confusion and resistance for me, the reader. they will invariably defend their usage and obfuscate the critical importance
    of correct usage. This points up a problem with those from another country who may wish to feel that they belong in the american society. What’s my point ? A pressing need for education. Well
    anyway, so it is.——-Doug Rosbury

  • Brandon

    At least two handfuls of words listed in the author’s pronunciation corrections are not putatively incorrect. Neither are they just American pronunciations; I glanced at dictionary.com, which includes the American Heritage dictionary, to verify this. Although certain of the variant pronunciations don’t reflect the spelling of the word, if they are common in educated speech, they are considered acceptable. For instance, glancing at dictionary.com on each of these, one finds:

    [ar-tik] for ‘arctic’ is okay
    [dee-is],[dey-is],[dahy-is],and [deys] for ‘dais’ are all okay depending on whether you’re Brit or American
    [kloz] for ‘clothes’ is okay
    [feb-yoo-ary] for ‘February’ is okay
    [hol-uh-ween] for ‘Halloween’ is okay
    [il-uh-noiz] for ‘Illinois’ is okay
    [med-ee-vuhl] or [mid-ee-vuhl] for ‘medieval’ is certainly okay!
    [min-uh-cher] for ‘miniature’ is okay
    [nich] for ‘niche’ is okay
    ‘preventive’ and ‘preventative’ are both words and they are synonymous

    Also, the [barb] in ‘barbwire’ could easily be heard as [bob]. Barbwire is a standard word and means the same thing as ‘barbed wire’.

  • Jesse

    Yes, I have something to add. It really bothers me when people say aink-chent instead of ain-chent for ancient.

  • saphira

    For me, the problem with this list isn’t so much the spirit in which it’s offered (though I do find it offensive, even as an English teacher!), but the fact that so many of the things on this list, which purports to be giving me the True and Proper way of saying things, are just wrong!

    For instance, “orient.” How does one get “orientate” out of “orient”? Simple–you don’t. “Orientate” is an actual word (if one I don’t especially like), according to the fine folks at Merriam-Webster, and people who say the word that way are undoubtedly not so ignorant that they look at “orient” and imagine a whole extra syllable on the end.

    “Realtor” is another case–and your “correct” pronunciation isn’t vaguely right (or even pronouncable, as far as I can tell–/re-a-la-tor/? Really??), as has already been mentioned here. As for “medieval,” is your issue with the vowel sounds or the number of syllables? Please make up your mind (and I have to add that I have never in my life heard “MEED-eval”, while “MID-eval” is quite common). “Old-fashioned” is a problem in print, and the result of indistinct pronunciation of the final “ed.” It’s a vicious circle.

    I’m especially offended by “vehicle.” M-W acknowledges that both pronunciations are correct, and to say that one makes you sound “hicky” is just snotty and rude.

    Do mispronunciations bother me? Yes. But my mother taught me that if I don’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. This article feels like someone taking out their own ill-informed frustrations on those who are different, and that’s just bashing, not intelligent discussion.

    You’ve lost a lot of credibility with me today. I used to recommend your site to my students, but I don’t think I will anymore. I want them getting unbiased, relevant information–and I still haven’t figured out why an article on pronunciation is relevant to good writing practices.

  • One Night Stanzas

    *applauds saphira*

  • Grace S.

    I believe, Brad K., that you have expressed quite clearly the advantage of having a dialect that most speakers of a language can understand. I was going to comment, bad tim, that while I have been “accused” of having a Midwestern accent when I have lived in other parts of the U.S., it seems that most national newscasters’ pronunciations match mine pretty closely, even when you’d expect a regionally influenced difference. (Although Peter Jennings, Canadian by birth, did pronounce “out” more like a combination of OAT and OOT, as do many in the UP of Michigan.) I had not, however, thought to call it “Brokawese.” I don’t believe this is “elitism” or “stuffiness,” but rather a move to be understood across the nation. When I listen to BBC reporters, I expect that they will drop certain words that Americans use (e.g., “in hospital” rather than “in the hospital,” or “prevent disaster happening” rather than “prevent disaster from happening,” because that is the British use of the language. While Henry Higgins certainly was snobbish in his study of pronunciation and education of Eliza Doolittle, the point remains that her use of language DID say a lot to him about where she had been raised and the people who had influenced her ear and tongue. His deplorable attitude does not invalidate what is fact.

    Having been raised in the Midwest by parents who very consciously taught us the difference between colloquial and more universally accepted speech, and teachers who often were heard to say things like, “Kids are baby goats–you are children,” the pronunciations I use mostly agree with “the list.” I do often check a dictionary for accepted pronunciation(s) when I hear a new one. My Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary allows both “preventative” and “orientate” (they are actual entry words), though they are considered variations of “preventive” and “orient.” And I am among those who pronounce the first “r” in “February,” though farther forward in my mouth than the second, so not so predominantly. (This awareness of placement of the sound probably comes from an excellent high school choir director who taught us how pronunciation of a word when sung may differ from the spoken word, and particularly in a large group as opposed to a solo.)

    Brad K., I do remember Jimmy Carter pronouncing “nuclear” as NOO-key-yer (no L at all); several Presidents since then have said NOO-ku-ler; and I remember observing that both Obama and Palin in the recent election run pronounced both NOO-ku-ler and NOO-klee-er, sometimes in the same section of a speech or answer. It appears to be a hard word for many people to pronounce as it is spelled; TV just allows us to hear and sit in judgment as it happens, and over and over. Yet we understand what these leaders are saying.

  • sharon

    Nuclear is another word I hate to hear George Bush (and many others who should know better) say. I have even heard nuclear scientists who don’t know how to pronounce their chosen profession. It’s noo-cle-ar NOT noo-cu-lar GW BUSH – get a clue!!

  • Covarr

    One that really bugs me is cliché. Cliché is a noun and a verb, not an adjective. Something can be “a cliché” or it can be “clichéd”, but not “cliché”.

    CORRECT:
    X is a cliché.
    X is clichéd.

    INCORRECT:
    X is cliché.

    I’ve noticed that quite a few people have corrected my pronunciation of the word “often”, regardless of whether or not I pronounce the T. So many people seem to think that only one way or the other is correct.

  • Steve Orris

    Next time choose a topic that people will respond to, no one is interested in this anyway. (ha-ha)

    I have heard garage pronounced gar-rooshj. I could do that with audio but I probably don’t know how to write the sound I’ve heard.

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