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Quite a few words are mispronounced by under-educated people, or people learning English as a second language. Some words are often mispronounced by quite educated people who read, and began reading high-level literature before they heard the vocabulary spoken.

This can lead to a vocabulary dissonance, occasionally leading to the belief that there are two words (the known spelling of one, and the verbal hearing of the same) where only one exists. Epitome is a common example that springs to mind.

Answer with a word and its proper pronunciation (and potentially, the commonly mistaken punctuation).

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Can we have sources for all answers. Cuz this is SERRIIOOUUSSS business we are dealing with there – Midhat Sep 14 '10 at 12:41
    
@Midhat ~ You mean like SRS BSNS – jcolebrand Nov 19 '10 at 2:56
    
Pretty much every third word in any Harry Potter book. – Bill the Lizard Nov 22 '10 at 23:00
    
As pronunciations vary between British English and American "English", which should the answers reflect? – Orbling Nov 25 '10 at 0:12
    
@Orbling: Where the pronunciations differ, the difference should be noted. – Kosmonaut Jan 10 '11 at 21:00

124 Answers 124

I stumbled upon this thread today and I am so pleased that someone resurrected it just a few hours ago.

I grew up in a small town in the deep South, which didn't create a lot of opportunity to hear the words I was reading in spoken form. I was in my twenties before I learned that hors d'oeuvres (ôr dûrvz) was NOT pronounced (whores duh vree).

Recently, I discovered that my own teenager was having similar difficulty with a word that she had seen written but never heard aloud. This discovery was made when she jokingly called me a twat (pronounced to rhyme with brat), lol! Not only did I corrected her pronunciation (twot), but also told her the meaning of the word since she had no idea. Her response? "Oh my gosh!! Why are people calling each other THAT??"

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Hahaha. I forgot about "hors d'oeuvres." I pronounced them "horse doovers." – kitukwfyer Feb 5 '11 at 0:15
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Umm... twat does rhyme with brat where I come from! – psmears Apr 1 '11 at 20:44
    
Where I come from both pronunciations occur, and many who don't even know the anatomical referent use it as slang for 'idiot' (exactly as with berk). Some who would normally say twat for 'idiot' actually distinguish and use twot for the coarser meaning, but I've not come across the reverse. – FumbleFingers Apr 6 '11 at 2:32
    
I had to google quite a while to find out what Luda meant by whore-derves youtube.com/watch?v=Ur4QfJrrj84 :-) – Ruben Feb 19 '12 at 10:08

Askance. Not ASK-ance, but a-SKANCE. When you look askance at someone, you're giving them a sideways look, not a questioning one, as I used to think.

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This question calls for a mention of The Chaos by Gerard Nolst Trenité:

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you'll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

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+1 for mentioning this, a great inventory of English stubbornness. – Cerberus Mar 18 '11 at 2:18

Paradigm |par-uh-dahym| (OED: Brit. /ˈparədʌɪm/, U.S. /ˈpɛrəˌdaɪm/)

I've winced a couple times when people have said |par-uh-di-jum|

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Or Para-dig'em :) – Benjol Sep 8 '10 at 6:37
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"par-uh-dahym" seems a strange pronunciation to me. I say "pare-ah-dime". – Gary Sep 19 '10 at 2:40
    
Correct pronunciation is PAR-a-dim – Tim Sep 23 '10 at 16:08
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Just use the paradigmatic pronunciation. – jbelacqua Apr 3 '11 at 7:23
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And what is the paradigmatic pronunciation of 'paradigmatic'? – Jonathan Leffler May 6 '11 at 6:23

Rapport /ræˈpɔr/

Pronounced ra-PORE, not ra-PORT. French, but not obviously so.

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That's just because the French never pronounce the end of any words. Chateaux -> Chat-O. – Oldcat Feb 26 '14 at 2:08

Inventory. I (and no doubt many others who spent a significant amount of time playing text adventures), thought it was in-VENT-uh-ree, not IN-vuhn-tree.

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I just listened to the pronunciation on Merriam-Webster and it definitely sounded more like the first one to me. I'm also pretty sure I've heard the first one on TV, not the second. – kitukwfyer Aug 27 '10 at 20:20
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M-W clearly pronounces it IN-ven-tor-y, with secondary stress on tor. Just like me. – moioci Sep 1 '10 at 3:09
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I think this may be a UK/US thing, with the UK using the first pronunciation, and the US, the second. – Steve Melnikoff Nov 30 '10 at 13:17
    
I pronounced it like "infrantry" for a while. – Christopher Mahan Jan 11 '11 at 0:37
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Seems common to hear both "in-ven-tree" and "IN-ven-tory". I like the latter since the former sounds too much like "infantry". – TM. Feb 9 '11 at 7:10

Height sounds like high+t, which is logical I suppose, but I used to think it rhymed with eight. Like another poster, I got 'recipe' wrong too, rhyming it with 'ripe'. And when I told a native speaker about that, he said that 'recipe' followed a common pattern, like 'Hebrides' - that's how I learned that wasn't pronounced he-brides.

And how is a poor foreigner supposed to know whether 'ea' is pronounced 'ee' or as 'ea' in 'bear'? For example, if an activity wears you out (ea), you get weary (ee). Yeah, that makes sense(!)

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Wait. "weary" has an "ee" sound? Apparently knowing what sound "ea" makes isn't something native speakers necessarily know either... – kitukwfyer Dec 4 '10 at 0:08
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@kitukwfyer: Weary ("weer-ee") means tired. You were probably saying "Wary" (rhymes with "bear-y"), which means cautious. – RodeoClown Feb 14 '11 at 23:29
    
@RodeoClown: Indeed. I'm well aware of the difference in meaning. I don't pronounce "wary" and "weary" identically, but it doesn't rhyme with...say "bleary" when I say it either...The vowel sounds more like a short i than anything else. Who knows why? – kitukwfyer Feb 15 '11 at 0:25
    
@bbleeker, I hear you. And to further confuse you, "ea" can also be prounced short "u" as in Earth and "ah" as in "hearth". – Kevin Apr 21 '11 at 16:01

I'm guessing French words are at the top of the list.

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Any foreign imports, really. I remember once someone pronouncing the German "nicht" as "nitch-tee." O.o – kitukwfyer Aug 20 '10 at 18:45
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Yeah but French words are really messed up if you don't know French. I mean who would think that rendezvous is pronounced rondeyvoo. – user706 Aug 21 '10 at 8:52
    
That's true, I forgot about that "ren-dezz-vuss" incident, but I still don't pronounce any of the names in Troy correctly. I only pronounce latin words correctly because I took a couple years of latin. I had an English teacher who pronounced "Pompey" as "Pompeii"...Whatever. This is really a matter of perception/opinion, I suppose. :) – kitukwfyer Aug 21 '10 at 13:50
    
Part of the difficulty with French is that it appears in many cases as if a word could be a legitimate English word, but the rules of pronunciation differ. Forget. Mallet. – mickeyf Aug 23 '10 at 14:44
    
@mickeyf: I think it's the other way around... Lots of English words look like a legitimate French word. That's where many of the words came from, after all. French rules for pronunciation are, dare I say, more consistent than English – OneProton Sep 1 '10 at 23:38

Moot, as in The point is moot. I often hear people say The point is mute. Not only mispronounced, but misunderstood.

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I actually think this is more from people using the wrong word than mispronouncing it. – JohnFx Aug 27 '10 at 14:34
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Joey from Friends said the point is moo, it's a cow's opinion.... – Motti Sep 1 '10 at 6:31
    
This is actually an eggcorn – histumness Feb 9 '11 at 16:23

I too had several of these while growing up. Two that spring to mind:

Integer — pronounced with a soft ‘g’, but I used a hard ‘g’.

Elite — rhymes with ‘delete’, but I would rhyme it with ‘delight’.

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Integer is pronounced in-te-jer (hard g) and Integral is pronounced as in-teg-rul or in-te-grul depending on the context. – John Gietzen Jun 7 '11 at 22:10
    
@John Gietzen: I meant soft g as in "George" and hard g as in "go". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_and_soft_G – Nefrubyr Jun 8 '11 at 10:05
    
Ah, my mistake. – John Gietzen Jun 8 '11 at 23:58

Many mythological names. The one that stands out for me is Terpsichore (rhymes with "hickory").

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Not to mention Persephone. Rhymes with phoney, not "pursey phone." – Potatoswatter Jan 31 '11 at 10:50
    
Ah, and Penelope, not pronounced Penny-Lope. – ChrisO Mar 30 '11 at 21:59
    
Ouch. Funny to think that I've been able to pronounce 'terpsichorean' correctly, but would've missed badly on 'Terpsichore'. – jbelacqua Apr 3 '11 at 7:26
    
People just need more Greek in their lives. – tchrist Feb 21 '12 at 2:54

Infrared. Took me a while in my early teens to figure out that this is not equivalent in construction to words like "inflamed", and therefore is not pronounced "in-FRAIR'd"; the prefix is "infra-" and therefore the word is pronounced "In-fruh-RED".

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Nice. "My foot itches but it doesn't look red. It's not inflamed; it's only infrared." – Potatoswatter Jan 31 '11 at 10:34

Shibboleth.

Maybe not anymore.

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just don't pronounce it Sibboleth – Conrad Frix Apr 25 '11 at 20:01
    
Something untimely might happen – Thursagen Jul 5 '11 at 4:46

Arkansas - Americans may get it right, but to most of the rest of the world it looks like "Are Kansas"

Potpourri - I've heard it called Pot-pour-ee. Though, admittedly, it's not common

nuclear - Many say "Nyuu-kyuh-lur"

foyer - It's "foy-ay". Not "foy-er"

Leicester square - (Less-ter square) Only added because it's a famous place in London, otherwise place names are always unpredictably difficult.

Best I could come up with at the moment. Of course, there are Britishisms, or Scottish words like ceilidh or niobh (pronounced "Kay-lee and Neeve" respectively) but these words aren't common enough to enter into most people's regular lexicon and are borrowed from other languages.

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All the American dictionaries I checked (Merriam-Webster, Random House, American Heritage) not only list “FOY-er” as a valid pronunciation for foyer, but they list it first (read: preferred). – nohat Aug 26 '10 at 0:12
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Residents of Kansas usually pronounce the name of the Arkansas river as "are KAN ziss". The state is always "ARE can saw" – Joel Spolsky Aug 26 '10 at 18:32
    
Funny that... I always thought that Americans knew it was "ARE-kan-saw" as they'd have learned it in school, no? I know in Canada, you hear both the right and wrong pronunciation, and I'd imagine it's the same in UK. As for foyer... it comes from a French word, so I'm not surprised American dictionaries get it wrong (from a French point of view). – OneProton Aug 31 '10 at 19:27
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@Atømix: Americans know it, but the Arkansas River in Kansas is different. It's our Kansas River. (If that doesn't sound right, keep in mind that our generally sounds like are in mid-America.) – mmyers Sep 1 '10 at 15:14
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It is all named after the Kanza indians, so it should all be pronounced ar-KAN-zas. (Full disclosure: I'm from Kansas.) – John Gietzen Jun 7 '11 at 22:16

Ubuntu |oǒ'boǒntoō|

I always thought it was oo-BUN-too.

(source)

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I always thought it was so natural to say it the right way, and then had absolutely no idea what people were talking about when they said "oo-BUN-too" or "you-BUN-too". True story. – Jon Purdy Oct 19 '10 at 14:51
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I live in a central African country where that word would be pronounced "oo-boon-hoo", with a silent T, if you can imagine that. – Rosey28 Dec 15 '10 at 6:33
    
Uh-oh... I have been mispronouncing this for years... – George Edison Jun 5 '11 at 3:22

Carotid. /kəˈrɒtɪd/ It is a big artery in the neck. Not sure where the stress goes, but it goes in an unnatural place.

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I think it's pronounced "cuh-RAW-tid." I originally thought it was "KAY-row-tid." – kitukwfyer Aug 27 '10 at 20:21
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US: cuh-ROT-tid. Cuh-RAW-tid sounds British to me. – moioci Sep 1 '10 at 3:10
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In RP (British English), it's also cuh-ROT-tid, not cuh-RAW-tid. Amusingly, RAW would seen to most RP speakers to be indicative of a drawl, which would seem decidedly American. – wyatt Sep 26 '10 at 13:58
    
Y'know, my parents did go to veterinary school in Georgia... Oh dear. It could be a Southern/ East coast thing. Some dialects pronounce the words "hawk" and "hock" identically. I don't. The "o" in "carotid" rhymes with the "aw" in "hawk" when I say it. The "o"s in "hock" and "rot" rhyme when I say them. Who knows why? – kitukwfyer Nov 19 '10 at 20:37
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I intuitively want to pronounce it as "carroted" which I suppose is what happens when you have just had a lot of carrots thrown at you. – glenatron Nov 30 '10 at 23:19

Two for me:

parsimony Brit. /ˈpɑːsᵻməni/ , U.S. /ˈpɑrsəˌmoʊni/

boatswain /ˈbəʊtsweɪn/ , usually /ˈbəʊs(ə)n/

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The British pronunciation of "vitamin" must have been based on someone reading it. Note that the word was invented by an American, and it's a contraction of "vital" and "amine", so it should have been pronounced "vai-tah-min" but British people read it as "vit-ah-min".

As it happens, the British pronunciation has actually gone into other languages, so e.g. Japanese has a word "bitamin" based on the British mistaken pronunciation.

"In 1912 Polish biochemist Kazimierz Funk isolated the same complex of micronutrients and proposed the complex be named "Vitamine" (a compound of "vital amine").[12] The name soon became synonymous with Hopkins' "accessory factors", and by the time it was shown that not all vitamins were amines, the word was already ubiquitous. In 1920, Jack Cecil Drummond proposed that the final "e" be dropped to deemphasize the "amine" reference, after researchers began to suspect that not all "vitamines" (particularly vitamin A) had an amine component."

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@cindi: Thanks for the info. I have added a quote to the article from Wikipedia which was too long to fit into a comment. That might be wrong of course though. – delete Aug 26 '10 at 13:06
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@cindi: don't give up! – delete Sep 4 '10 at 0:41
    
@Cindi, I always pronounced "vitae" with a long i...which is consistent with the proper pronunciation for vitamin. Actually, I've never heard anyone pronounce vitae without a long i. – Gary Sep 19 '10 at 2:26
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Several Japanese dictionaries state that the Japanese word “bitamin” came from the German word “Vitamin,” where the first vowel is short (rather than the said British pronunciation of “vitamin”). If you read Japanese, please check dic.yahoo.co.jp/… and dic.yahoo.co.jp/…. – Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 22 '10 at 14:53
    
Another british pronunciation that came as a shock to me when I went over there is yogurt. Americans say yo-gert (long o) and the British say your-gert (short o), with less 'r' in 'your', and a clipped 'gert'. I prefer the long o. – Sky Red Feb 4 '11 at 18:33

Buoy. The number of people I meet who pronounce this boo-ee (instead of boy, as I pronounce it) staggers me. Is "buoyant" to be pronounced "boo-ee-ant" also?

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Nope, the adjective is almost always "boy-ant". Similarly, "bouy" is pronounced much closer to "boy" when used in its verbal forms. It's only the noun that is very clearly "boo-ee". – res Nov 19 '10 at 16:32
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@res: I've looked it up and it's only in the UK where "boy" is the standard pronunciation. I guess I'll let the Americans off, in a to-may-to/to-mah-to kind of way. But it still sounds so wrong to my poor English ears! – thesunneversets Nov 19 '10 at 16:37
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Strange, I've only heard boo-ee, then again I speak west-coast American English. – crasic Nov 24 '10 at 22:31
    
It's "boo-ee" on the East coast, too. – kitukwfyer Dec 4 '10 at 0:13
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@ogerard: and the words are queueing up to exhibit five vowels in a row...Funny; that gets a red wiggly line. – Jonathan Leffler May 6 '11 at 6:26

Adage.

I hear this spoken so rarely even right now I question whether I remember the right pronunciation. I always want to say a-dage (with "age" pronounced like the actual word "age").

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You mean it has another pronunciation? – neil Feb 1 '11 at 12:27
    
@neil: Yes, the original french one :-) – ogerard May 10 '11 at 13:28

I literally just learned a month ago (25 years into my existence!) that the h IS pronounced in herbivore. There are two kickers to this-- the first one being I was corrected by a 5 year old, and the second one being I have been vegetarian for 15 years!

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@Rhodri: Right, General American has it with silent /h/ in all but a few rather urban accents. – Jon Purdy Jan 17 '11 at 17:19
    
I've pretty much given up on words that start with 'h'. I was taught in school a million years ago that 'hour' and 'honest' were exceptions to the general rule of sounding the 'h', except in Britain, where leading 'h' was rarely sounded. Fast forward 50 years and now I've got people telling me I'm pronouncing these things incorrectly. – Ron Porter Apr 6 '11 at 20:57
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British English always pronounces the H on herb. – Kaz Dragon May 25 '11 at 13:13
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In the central US, this is certainly pronounced erb-i-vore more often that herb-i-vore, tho both are frequent. – John Gietzen Jun 7 '11 at 22:27

The US state of Oregon is commonly mispronounced, even by Americans, as "Oh-ree-gawn." I've even heard this mispronunciation on national news programs. It's actually pronounced "Ory-gun".

I also come from the Willamette Valley of Oregon, which produces some great wines. To those vinophiles out there, please note it is "Will-lamb-it", emphasis on second syllable, not "William-etty" as some mistakenly say.

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In Virginia, we pronounce Oregon more or less like organ. If I were to pronounce it very slowly, it would come out as "Or-rig-unn." I'd probably laugh if I heard "Oh-ree-gawn," though. That's funny! – kitukwfyer Dec 10 '10 at 15:46
    
For the life of me I can't get the stress on the second syllable of Willamette. I say WILL-uh-met, and it's really hard to stress "uh". – JPmiaou Mar 30 '11 at 4:40
    
@JPmiaou: just think godDAMmit, Willamette. – moioci May 11 '11 at 22:43
    
@moioci That's awesome! And a great way to remember how to say it :) godDAMmit and willAMette both rhyme! – morganpdx Aug 26 '11 at 23:00
    
@Rosey28 You are very wrong: /ˈɔrəˌgɑn/ is not a mispronunciation; it is a regional one, and quite a common one at that. I suppose you say ‘France’ with an æ, too, don’t you? Did you know that that’s wrong? – tchrist Feb 21 '12 at 2:57

Albeit - pronounced "ahl-bee-it", and not "ahl-bite"

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Even harder to guess if you know German :) – mplungjan Apr 3 '11 at 6:16

Can't believe no one has mentioned "cache". It's pronounced "cash". It's like nails on a chalkboard every time I hear someone say "cashay"

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The /cash-ay/ pronunciation is a different word, cachet – Marthaª May 6 '11 at 22:18

Disheveled /dɪˈʃɛvəld/

I always read it as dis-HEAVE-eld. I was wrong.

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Antipodes /ænˈtɪpədiːz/

Apparently it's not pronounces anti-podes

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en.wiktionary.org/wiki/antipodes lists that as an acceptable alternative pronunciation. – Potatoswatter Feb 6 '11 at 9:20
    
Though the singular is pronounces like that. – Allon Guralnek Oct 14 '11 at 22:58

I'm so late to the party, but I can't resist.

Words with silent letters like subtle, (not sub-tel), receipt, (not reseept).

And others like lettuce (not lett-yuse).

Panacea ( Brit. /ˌpanəˈsɪə/, /ˌpanəˈsiːə/, U.S. /ˌpænəˈsiə/) Besides "pa-ne-see-ya", why can't it be "pe-nay-shuh"? Or "pa-ne-ka" like Q. Boudicea,

Finally, when I was a kid, Don Kwikzote for Don Quixote (kee yo tay)

IPA: /dɒn kiˈhoʊteɪ/, /dõŋ kiˈχote/

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Quixote is not "kee yo tay" but more like "kee ho teh". – CesarGon Feb 6 '11 at 0:03
    
@CesarGon: Yes, you are right. I've been thinking about it since I put it up because I realise there's more of an 'h' sound in Quixote.Thanks. – Sky Red Feb 6 '11 at 19:05
    
No problem. :-) – CesarGon Feb 6 '11 at 19:06
    
Unlike quixotic, which is derived from his name but is most commonly kwig-ZOT-ik. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 19 '14 at 22:07

Years ago, I was familiar with (and sometimes used) the spoken word superfluous. I also sometimes read the word spelled “superfluous” but pronounced it /SOO-per-FLOO-us/.

I had no idea that these were the same word.

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Really, the only thing different is the accent. – John Gietzen Jun 7 '11 at 22:35

Goon Show

Mispronounced as the "Go On Show" by the Governor of the BBC (or maybe it was a BBC Head of Department)

Quote:

“Those Crazy People”, leading one BBC governor to ask what, exactly, this "Go On Show" was all about.

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Beribboned

"Be-ribboned", not "berry-boned"!

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You should have known to split it at the bb so it would have been Berib-boned. – Oldcat Feb 26 '14 at 2:14

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