The Changing Pronunciation of “Leisure”

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When I was about ten years old, my aunt gave me a subscription to a Disney comic. I remember one issue in which Donald Duck and his nephews had a treasure map.

Overheard saying that he was “in search of buried treasure,” Donald tried to deceive the villain who’d heard him by claiming that what he’d really said was “in search of hurried leisure.”

That was in the Fifties.

By the time the “leisure suit” craze struck in the Seventies, not many Americans were pronouncing “leisure” to rhyme with “measure.”

Come to think of it, I don’t know of anyone who pronounces “buried” to rhyme with “hurried.”

Here are the current American pronunciations of these words:

buried [bĕr’ēd]
hurried [hûr’ē]
treasure [trĕzh’ər]
leisure [lē’zhər] –although some folks still say [lĕzh’ər]

What pronunciation changes have you noticed since your were a child?

Here are some quotations from newspapers that illustrate the use of this word:

… travel company sells weeklong, small group trips to Costa Rica, Morocco and Nicaragua. The journeys are part leisure, part service: itineraries include between two and three days of charity work, in collaboration with a local … (www.nytimes.com)

A Tuscan vacation gives travelers a chance for an urban adventure with visits to the art museums of Florence, the architecture of Pisa and the traditions of Siena. Tuscany also is a destination for a leisurely trip that meanders through the countryside, stops at wineries for tastings or takes a leisure break in a spa town.

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19 thoughts on “The Changing Pronunciation of “Leisure””

  1. I guess this makes me a little classical, but I actually pronounce all those words the “old” way! Keep in mind that I’m 18. I’m also Canadian which may have something to do with it. I know that pronunciation can vary regionally.

  2. Not sure about Americans as I only know a few, but here in the UK we still pronounce ‘leisure’ to rhyme with ‘measure’. And I know I pronounce ‘buried’ to rhyme with ‘hurried’, that might be a Scottish thing but I can’t guarantee it as my accent is fairly mixed up. I lived in a few places as a child and tended to pick things up from all over. It’s definitely a British pronunciation though.

  3. I pronounce “buried” so that it rhymes with “hurried” — and I assume other people I know do, too. (Wondering about it now!) It actually bugs me when I hear it pronounced like “berried”. I wonder if it’s a regional thing. I’m in Montreal…

  4. IN-sur-ance instead of in-SUR-ance (although I think this is regional), the second one being preferred.

  5. This isn’t a pronunciation thingee, but it does involve words….I remember back in the 70s, “java” meant coffee…and that’s it.

    “Hoe” was a gardening tool…and that’s it.

    “Cookies” were only for eating….and that’s it.

    Oh yes – I DO remember this – “route!” Nowadays, I hear it rhyme with “boot” – back when growing up, it was pronounced the same way as “rout”.

    Data points, Barbara

  6. I’m in my mid-twenties, so I doubt that pronunciation has changed that much since early days, but I’ve noticed that I pronounce envelope differently than most people I know (but as people have been saying, this could be regional). I say ahn-velope, instead of ehn-velope. Not sure where that one came from.

    As for leisure . . . I hear and use both pronunciations, depending on context. I use my “leezhure time” to read books, but a new movie I buy will be watched “at my lehzhure.”

    And I’m from the U.S., so I’m not sure about elsewhere in the world.

  7. A major change I’ve noticed in the pronunciation of British English is the apparent shortening of words, as though there was some major rush in trying to impart information.

    I regularly watch news broadcasts on BBC World, and am astonished at some of the pronunciations. Government becomes guvmunt, secretary is sectree, and my all time favorite word-shortening is innovative, which somehow gets contracted to innvtv.

    There was a time when BBC broadcasters spoke good and unhurried English, but these days I have to switch to CNN to figure what’s happening in the world.


  8. Barbara mentioned the word, “route.” My experience with that word is just the opposite. When I was growing up, it was pronounced “root.” Now, I cringe when I hear the ever-popular pronunciation, “rout.”

    Here’s another one: I’d always heard har-ass’-ment. But nowadays, it’s just as often pronounced har’-ass-ment.

    Finally (and probably attributable to Ebonics) — “ask” becomes “aks.” And even Michelle Obama mispronounced “birthday” as “birfday.”

    A couple of commenters raised regional differences. I have no doubt that where we are from greatly influences how we speak.

  9. I’m not a native speaker of English. Reading the above comments ,I find myself in confusion. Are we supposed to pronounce English the way we learned at school ( according to the RP) ,or are we obliged to follow the the new trend to look fashionable and up to date ?
    Learners of English face considerable difficulties related to pronunciation.

  10. barouche,
    There’s no way to keep up changing pronunciation. You can’t go wrong with the RP you learned at school. I plan to continue to pronounce “leisure” to rhyme with “pleasure,” but I’ll understand what another speaker means when I hear the other pronunciation.

  11. My husband actually pronounces “buried” to rhyme with “hurried.” He grew up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota and we currently live in Northern Minnesota. I found it extremely funny at first, but seeing this has shown me that it is probably more common than I originally thought. (He also pronounces “bag” with the long A of “phase.”) Not everyone up here pronounces it that way (indeed, not even most people do), which is why it threw me a bit when we were dating. (I’m originally from Illinois and had never heard that pronunciation.)

  12. I am so glad I’m not the only one who pronounces “buried” to rhyme with “hurried” in my social circles. I’m from southwest NM and I have yet to meet someone who pronounces “buried” the way I do.

  13. I myself find that I always rhyme buried with hurried. I really wish I could remember where I picked that up from. I said it the other night and my wife gave me some crap…

    “Do you mean berried?”

    “That’s what I said, buried.”

    It felt like an exchange between Brian and Stewie on Family Guy. Glad to hear I’m not the only one that pronounces it this way though. BTW, I live in Iowa. So, if region is a factor, I think I must have picked it up from somewhere else. I can’t think of anyone else in my location that pronounces buried the way I do.

  14. Hm, I pronounce “bury” to rhyme with “hurry”, the “sor” in “sorry” like “sore”, “aunt” like “ont”, “leisure” like “treasure” and “caramel” like it’s spelled; I’m the only one I know of who pronounces most of these like this though; I’m from southern Missouri, so I have no idea how I got these pronunciations.

  15. I have always pronounced leisure to ryme with treasure, and lately people haven been getting on my case for it. I suppose I picked it up from my grandmother, who recently came back from England. (I currently live in America) I think it’s weird when people pronounce caramel as “care-ah-mel” but maybe it’s because I lived in the city?

  16. “I” before “e” except after “c” and when sounded as “a” as in “neighbor” and “weigh” and, may I add, “leisure.”
    We always followed this rule in my Iowa education in the ’50s & early ’60s. I still say lay-zhure. I happened to see this article when I was doing a search for “when did the pronunciation of ‘leisure’ change?”; now I see that it was probably brought about in the days of the leisure suit. If this pronunciation was not addressed in one’s days of schooling, no doubt the pronunciation was a mystery. (I had that impression during those “leisure suit” days.)

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