Thursday, December 4, 2008

38 - Mispronunciation

Just to clear out all of my own major slips of the tongue, let me just mention that I have pronounced the names, Peter, as Pet-ter, and Steven, as Steh-ven. Sometimes, my brain just doesn't calibrate the letters and process the order of those letters. The part of my mind that helps with pronunciation just blanks out. I remember there was a time I went to the movies with some friends. I was confused by a sign they had hanging on the wall and I turned to my friend with a very dumbfounded look on my face and asked, "What does no smocking mean?"

I felt very stupid when I made those mistakes and I believe I felt rightly so. I've always admired those that could read very well. Their trick is simply to read carefully and to stop briefly when they come to a longer or trickier word. There are some others that I've met who don't seem to have much talent in speaking correctly. I don't get awfully angry at these people. I just inhale deeply and sigh, sort of like my own method of therapy. People shouldn't open their mouth unless they know how to speak properly. It's annoying to listen to someone's thoughts when the words they're using aren't really words at all. Mispronunciations often occur when one is reading quickly so everybody should practice taking their time to read.

Here are some of the most annoying/amusing/common mispronunciations that I can recall:

Word: Mispronunciation (Comment)

actor: ak-tore (It's spelt that way but it's meant to be 'akter'.)
ask: ass/aks (You're an ass if you mispronounce such an easy word. Let's give the axe to ass and aks.)
clothes: close (Plain sloth.)
dog-eat-dog world: doggy dog world (Tragic mistake.)
environment: enviroment (There's an 'n', isn't there?)
espresso: expresso (I heard this at Starbucks the other day. My, my...)
et cetera: excetera (I have the impression this one is thanks to the King of Siam in The King and I.)
every: eh-ve-ree (It's a two-syllable word.)
February: Feb-ury (There's an 'r' after 'b' and an 'a' after 'u'. Pronounce them.)
government: guver-ment (Similar to enviroment. Even news reporters get these wrong.)
harass: her-ass (Scots never get this one right.)
helicopter: hel-ri-cop-ter (Asians do this. It's not good.)
hungry: Hungary (Hungry is the sensation of wanting to eat. Hungary is the Eastern European nation.)
idea: i-dear (Oh, dear. Do you see an 'r' at the end? I don't.)
José: Jozay (Spanish words require an 'h' sound as opposed to a 'j' sound. That's probably one of the worst misunderstandings you can have for other cultures.)
karate: ka-ra-tay/ka-ra-tee (The word is spelt exactly how it's meant to be said in Japanese. 'ka-ra-teh')
Ku Klux Klan: Klu Klux Klan (Sure. If there's a 'l' in 'Klux' and 'Klan', why not change it to 'Klu'?)
library: li-bry (Refer to 'February'.)
mayonnaise: may-naise (I love mayonnaise.)
nuclear: noo-coo-lah (George Bush says it this way and it sounds sort of dorky.)
parliament: parlament (There is an 'i'.)
probably: probly/prolly (This is horrible, especially when spelt in that haphazard way on paper.)
pronounce: pro-noun-ciate (I hate this one. It makes no sense at all.)
pronunciation: pro-noun-ciation (Ditto.)
snuck: sneaked ('Snuck' isn't a word, people.)
succumb: suck-cum (One should not succumb to laziness if one wants to avoid this awful, awful mispronunciation.)
supposedly: supposably (This is just stupid.)
the/this: duh/diss (Diss is more common dan you dink it is.)
toward: tor-ward (There's no 'r'.)
valve: volve (I don't understand how this happens. It's sort of like a bad attempt at sounding British.)
W: dubba-you (I dub you bad at pronunciation if you fail to say 'double-U'.)

Are there any that you can think of?


Douglas said...

I can think of many but you have hit on more than a few of them.


It is properly pronounced ak-tore. It is incorrect to say "ak ter" or the way most actually pronounce it in the US "ak-tur" (subtle difference from yours)

Environment is often pronounced "an-vi-er-ment" Even by the eco-friendly.

Every is a three syllable and should be pronounced that way.
Government is said two ways wrong here: Guv-ment or your way.

Had a friend once by the name of Jose. We called him "hoze", not "ho zay

For many years in my youth, I pronounced "awry" "aw-ree" as opposed to "ah-rye". So many years, in fact, that I have to force myself even now to say it right.

Oh, one more:

Business is not to be pronounced "bid-ness", it is "biz-ness" and not even "bizzy-ness"

Super Mom said...

In the US we pronounce the word "Herb" as "urb"... the freakin' H is SILENT!!!!! If you are not from the UK, then you do not say HURB! :)

That's one of my pet peeves... my husband does this ALL THE TIME! I think he watched too much Harry Potter or something.... :)

And "Crooked" is not pronounced "Crik-id"... I am actually guilty of this one, but I can't stop. I have a problem...

Michael said...


I checked the Internet for quite some time for those!

It really depends on what dialect you speak. Ac-tore sounds strange to me, so it seems wrong to me and to a lot of other people, experts even, as well.

Environment and government are more commonly said without the 'n' although I did learn to pronounce the 'n' at school if I was to be proper.

You say 'very' with two syllables, so add an 'e' and you get 'ev-eh-ree'. I get that. However, I believe the middle 'e' is omitted. It's like the 'o' in 'chocolate'. If that was really the way everything went, then I should pronounce 'cone' like cun since it's 'one' with a 'c'. Is it personal preference or are there rules governing this?

About José, just call a man the way he prefers his name to be called.

'Awry' and 'business' are good ones to note.


Michael said...

I find the differences between the UK and the US slightly amusing, Super Mom.

Herb and 'erb is a fairly common one. I personally pronounce the 'h'.

I'm not from the UK.


Douglas said...

I am going to concede the "ev-ree" pronunciation. I went to various dictionary sites that had audio and that's how they do it. I am aghast since I was taught to say it it "ev er ree" and will likely to continue till I die.

Cone is pronounced the way it is because of the e on the end making the "o" an "oh" sound.

The "ak-tore" is pronounced with the accent on the "ak". When you do it that way, softening the "tore", it sounds fine. At least to me. IOW, "ak' -tour"

Most pronunciations seem to be consensus based rather than traditional or fitting with the original. Give etymology a look and you will find a number of words which came about by the mangling of pronunciation of another word. Fascinating stuff.

BTW, we called him "Hoze" in affection, not cruelly.

Christine said...

Hey there ... every time I hear this one ... my skin crawls ....

ask: ass/aks (You're an ass if you mispronounce such an easy word. Let's give the axe to ass and aks.)

ash said...

I sometimes hear the word misdemeanor pronounced as "mister-meanor" and that really irritates me.

Anonymous said...

what about..

hamburger as HAMBURJER? hahaha. now it makes me feel slightly annoyed. :|


Michael said...


I agree with you for the most part after checking up several pronunciation dictionaries myself. You're a rational guy and I think I am too and so long as we know what's clearly right or wrong, regardless of dialect or accent, then pronunciation of words should not be something worth butting heads about too much. It all depends on each individual person in the end and their own personal preference but it's good to keep an open mind to the ever-changing manner in which the English language is said and written.


Michael said...

Christine: I know. 'ask' is such an easy one. Why mispronounce it?

Ashley: LOL. I'd love to hear that one day. That's a hilarious mistake.

hrix: hamburjer? Why would anyone pronounce it like that?

Anonymous said...

I must admit, I am guilty of a few of those...but that is just part of my Aussie accent! Still, a lot of those annoy me as well.

J.J. in L.A. said...

My word pet peeve is 'often'. I always here 'offen' and it annoys me. I pronounce it 'off-ten' but my boyfriend says 'offen' is actually the correct way to say it. Regardless, I'm not changing. lol!

Anonymous said...

well, I must say, this must really be annoying to you..or you are very observent to take the time and write an entire list of them

Comic Superzero said...

The only one I've ever had a problem saying, while not exactly on your list is "asks". I hate it. I don't say "axe" or anything, I just avoid saying it at all costs, which is surprisingly easy.

Michael said...

Liz Sedai: Aussies have great accents, don't ever thing it's annoying 'cause I love them. :)

J.J.: Ah, I think it's funny how words that are used so offen/often can be pronounced so differently.

Emmett32: It's annoying to me and I just noticed it a lot recently so decided do a post on it. :P

Comic Superzero: Ah, the method od avoiding. "Asks" is a funny one. So is "physicists".

dennis hodgson said...

Hi Michael

Interesting post, but you missed out on some of the mispronunciations in your own backyard (i.e. Hong Kong). I know plenty of Chinese who say "greem" for "green". And I have a post about how many Cantonese people do not pronounce their own language correctly:

If you're feeling homesick, there are quite a few other posts about Hong Kong on my blog, although they are, of course, from a gweilo's perspective.

...should make you yearn for some decent Chinese food. You can't get any of that in the U.K. (not even in Gerrard Street).