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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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124 Answers 124

hyperbole /haɪˈpɜrbəli/

(Evidently it's not the next step after the Super Bowl.)

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The mispronunciation is HY-per-BOWL, and the correct pronunciation is hy-PER-bo-LEE. –  andyvn22 Aug 24 '10 at 16:23
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Wow, new to me... –  Benjol Sep 8 '10 at 6:10
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OK, it's a greek word (ὑπερβολή) so its pronounciation is close to the greek pronounciation; what I find funny is, me being Greek but never having heard the english word spoken out loud, I also thought it rhymed with “superbowl” :) –  ΤΖΩΤΖΙΟΥ Oct 13 '10 at 8:23
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I'm going to start calling it the Su-PER-bol-EE –  Seamus Nov 30 '10 at 12:02
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@smirkingman -- Seriously? –  Malvolio Mar 30 '11 at 6:41

I had quite a few of these growing up. The one I think is most common is segue. Did you know it's pronounced "segway"? I didn't for a very very long time.

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Actually, I think I got that one straight before I ever tried to use it myself, but I did say "tongoo" instead of "tongue."...For the record though, I was, like, six. :) –  kitukwfyer Aug 19 '10 at 21:58
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"Segway" isn't quite the correct pronunciation (seg - WEH is closer), but it's definitely better than seg - goo. –  Noldorin Aug 29 '10 at 12:19
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I always thought it was "seeg" or "seyg" in the same way "The Hague" is pronounced "hayg". –  DisgruntledGoat Sep 8 '10 at 12:37
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@Noldorin: I used to think it was seg-yoo, like "argue", "continue", etc. Don't ask me what I thought about "fugue". –  ShreevatsaR Nov 23 '10 at 14:34
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@Noldorin: I think it’s pretty fair to say that in English the pronunciation of segue is \seg-way\. The general rule is that borrowed words get their closest approximation within the native phonetic stock; and word final \-eh\ is fairly foreign to English, so approximating it to \-ay\ seems quite reasonable (compare English pronunciations of café, forte, cum laude, which all have slightly different vowels in the original but become \-ay\ in English). –  PLL Jan 12 '11 at 16:29

colonel /ˈkərnl/

This has to be the worst word for me - I know that is pronounced ker-nil, but EVERY time I read it the pronunication in my head is col-o-nel. How is colonel "ker-nil" anyway?! :)

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Was bothering me so I found out why: straightdope.com/columns/read/752/… –  bryan Aug 27 '10 at 16:13
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I think we should give up the joke and go back to spelling it "coronel". :P –  Jon Purdy Oct 12 '10 at 19:18
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I knew I was at the point of dropping off in one of my maths lectures when I started writing about the colonel of a function. –  Rawling Nov 2 '10 at 14:12
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A colonel of truth? The Linux colonel? –  Stein G. Strindhaug Dec 15 '10 at 10:46
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@Stein, the Linux colonel is lower ranked than the MS-DOS General Failure. –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jan 31 '11 at 9:46

victuals

I always thought it was VICK-chew-als, while it is actually VITT-les.

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Another case of "colonelisation", where the orthography was changed from the original French loan (vittaylle) to reflect its origin in Latin (victualia) despite no change in pronunciation. Sigh. –  Jon Purdy Oct 19 '10 at 14:57
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Wait, those are the same word‽ –  eswald Nov 1 '10 at 20:51
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More on victuals and other latinised French-loans: english.stackexchange.com/questions/34568/… –  Hugo Jul 17 '11 at 9:30

epitome /ɪˈpɪtəmi/

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An epi"tome" would be the tome-length epilogue at the end of a book. –  Jared Updike Aug 23 '10 at 1:55
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This is really the epitome of these words. I had an epiphany when I realized my error. –  Joshua Karstendick Nov 4 '10 at 15:53
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Why do the English language insist on keeping the spelling of loanwords? If you mean "epittomy" can't you just write it that way? ;) –  Stein G. Strindhaug Dec 15 '10 at 10:37
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Incidentally, in Italian it is written exactly the same, but pronounced in a different way. –  Lohoris Jan 31 '11 at 13:03

Uggh, as one of the over-literates you mentioned, I have a lot of these. However, I have no idea as to how common mine are or may have been.

Facade should be pronounced "fuh-SAHD" (/fəˈsɑːd/). At first, I pronounced it "fack-AID."

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+1 funny. I'm going to say FACK-AID from now on, especially when talking to the DESIGN PATTERN evangelists. –  Ed Guiness Aug 24 '10 at 8:15
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French: façade. –  niXar Aug 24 '10 at 12:53
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is that an ant-eye-pattern? –  Taldaugion Aug 24 '10 at 20:19
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This is why English words should keep the accents (and cedilla in this case) of foreign words. –  Noldorin Aug 27 '10 at 15:17
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@Noldorin: That really wouldn't help, IMO. I'd seen a cedilla on the place-name "Caracau" and I still thought that was "Carah-cow." Accents don't help unless you know what they mean....kind of like the whole "ueber-" thing a while ago. If you aren't familiar with German, you won't know what the umlaut means. If you haven't heard "facade" before, you won't know how to pronounce it if you read it. Sometimes "c"s sound like "s" in English. Facade is just one of those words to most people, and you learn it by hearing it. Same way you learn "face" or "incise." –  kitukwfyer Aug 27 '10 at 20:01

Greenwich is "grenitch", not "green-witch".

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Well, there's a million British placenames that are traps for the unwary. Leicester is another famous one, but I remember there was once a dance troupe called "The Cholmondeleys and the Featherstonehaughs" (pronounced, The Chumleys and the Fanshaws")! –  thesunneversets Nov 19 '10 at 1:10
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worcestershire is another good one –  jk. Jan 11 '11 at 13:43
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Good lord people. How in the heck do you go from Featherstonehaughs to Fanshaw?!?! –  morganpdx Apr 1 '11 at 23:06
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@morganpdx - it's deliberate. It lets people know if you are really in 'our set' or if you just read the name. –  mgb Aug 13 '11 at 17:30

I have a hard time avoiding pronouncing the word 'gaol' with a hard 'g', when it's really a homophone for 'jail'.

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Wait, so it's not pronounced "gowl"...? Whoopsie. Not only do I have a lot of these, I also apparently haven't discovered some of them yet...This is educational AND saving me from some possible future embarrassment. Awesome. –  kitukwfyer Aug 21 '10 at 2:59
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Anyone who reads Dickens in high school would come across this word. I always thought, "gosh, I'm glad we don't have gaols in America, they sound horrible." –  Jared Updike Aug 23 '10 at 1:53
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Fr.: geôle; like most words related to justice, a legacy of William the Conqueror. –  niXar Aug 24 '10 at 12:52
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@Konrad, the Guardian still did, last time I read a copy. But they are uncommon. –  Brian Hooper Nov 23 '10 at 12:17
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@Brian: Most amusing: site:guardian.co.uk +gaoler vs. site:guardian.co.uk +jailer –  Konrad Rudolph Nov 23 '10 at 12:38

Awry /əˈraɪ/

Wrong: AWE-ree

Right: uh-RY

Omnipotent /ɒmˈnɪpət(ə)nt/

Wrong: Omni-Potent

Right: omNIPPOtent (think "hippo")

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I still do this... –  kitukwfyer Aug 25 '10 at 21:12
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common English pattern: stress goes on the antepenultimate syllable –  moioci Sep 1 '10 at 3:01
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Omnipotent comes from omni (all) and potent (from posse in latin). I understand people who say omni-potent. There's no etymologic reason to say om-nippo-tent :s –  Elenaher Oct 13 '10 at 8:25

Ennui /ɑ̃nɥi/, /ɒnˈwiː/

Imagine my surprise at learning that it's pronounced "on-wi" and not "eh-new-ee"!!

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Oh...I can imagine it really, really well. –  kitukwfyer Aug 26 '10 at 2:21
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You mean it's not pronounced eh-new-ee? –  Marthaª Oct 13 '10 at 3:29
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Isn't it "on-wee"? –  MGOwen Jan 11 '11 at 2:32
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I originally thought it was "in-you-eye". –  Joey Adams Jan 17 '11 at 2:21
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@MGOwen: this is the father-bother merge. For many US speakers, “ahn” and “on” represent the same vowel. For me (and presumably you) they’re completely different — so “ahn-wi” is accurate for them, though incorrect for us. Editing it to “on”, though, since that’s I believe accurate for everybody… –  PLL Apr 2 '11 at 21:13

Draught.

as in draught beer - pronounced as draft and not dr-aw-ght

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But you spell through T-H-R-U, and I'm with you on that; cos we spell it "thruff". -- Eddie Izzard –  Stein G. Strindhaug Dec 15 '10 at 10:54
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@Stein G. Strindhaug: Reminds me of Bernard Shaw's ghoti pronounced fish en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghoti –  JoseK Dec 15 '10 at 10:57
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mind = blown ... I feel a bit embarrassed now. –  xdumaine Mar 30 '11 at 3:18

Late addition, but one I've just learned of: viscount. Apparently it's pronounced VYE-count. Who knew?

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Everyone who likes chocolate biscuits... –  CJM Nov 23 '10 at 11:33
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There goes my great joke about the viscount's discount. –  mmyers Jan 10 '11 at 21:42

The one that always gets me is quay.

I still tend to pronounce it "kway", even though I know the correct pronunciation is "key".

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I've heard a professional voice actor pronounce it "kway". In fact, Merriam-Webster gives both pronunciations plus a third, "kay". –  mmyers Sep 17 '10 at 15:06
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I've never understood why it's "key". Isn't this word from French? In my French we'd say "kay". –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Nov 25 '10 at 14:15
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Professional voice actors make plenty of mistakes. I have a couple of science audiobooks with some shocking mispronunciations. –  user774 Feb 6 '11 at 19:02

Worcestershire, as in the sauce. The obvious pronunciation is "wor-chest-er-shy-er", but apparently the correct pronunciation is "werst-er-sher".

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Ditto Leicestershire (obvious: lie-CES-ter-SHI-er, correct: LES-ter-sher), Warwick (obvious: WAR-wick, correct: WAR-rick). –  Gaurav Aug 24 '10 at 8:36
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Place names; there's a well with no bottom. Consider also Alnwick (an-ick, but don't forget Alnmouth is al-un-mouth), Bosham (bozzum) but Cosham (cosh-um), Marylebone (mar-le-bun) and Holborn (ho-bun). And that's not counting exotica like Woolfardisworthy (woolsery) and Kirkudbright (kik-oo-bry). –  Brian Hooper Aug 24 '10 at 16:19
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“werst-er-sher”? I believe that’s wrong. It’s /ˈwʊstərˌʃɪər/ or /ˈwʊstərˌʃər/ (the first vowel is like the one in foot). –  Timwi Nov 7 '10 at 16:28
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@cindi Alas poor worick. I knew him, Horatio. –  glenatron Nov 24 '10 at 15:13
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I remember being told once that it's supposed to sound like "what's this here" mumbled and slurred together. Such as if a confused person looked at the sauce, pointed to it, and said "what's this here sauce?" –  jbpjackson Jan 31 '11 at 15:50

Biopic, which does not rhyme with myopic (stress on "o"). It's pronounced like bio-pic (primary stress on "bi"). Even after I found that out, I still don't like it.

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I did not know that until just now. Good one. –  JohnFx Aug 19 '10 at 22:48
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I still don't like it! :) –  Kosmonaut Aug 27 '10 at 3:13
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Er, doesn't myopic rhyme with bio-pic? (I see there are two pronunciations for "myopic", with different vowels for the 'o', but doesn't one of them rhyme with bio-pic?) –  ShreevatsaR Aug 29 '10 at 9:00
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Myopic has stress on the second syllable, while biopic has primary stress on the first syllable and secondary stress on the final syllable. –  Kosmonaut Aug 30 '10 at 2:56
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Apparently, I've been pronouncing "myopic" wrong. :) –  Marthaª Oct 13 '10 at 1:26

Yosemite, as in the national park in California.

For the longest time I thought it was pronounced "Yo-sem-ite" instead of "Yo-sem-i-tee"

Cartoons failed me, I never made the connection to "Yosemite Sam" from the Bugs Bunny Show.

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@Sam: Really? When I told people how I lost my Vegemite a while back, I thought I must have mispronounced it, cause I got some weird looks. –  intuited Apr 9 '11 at 4:12

Linux.

Many people pronounce it "LYE-nucks" (I do) but, as it's based on the Swedish name Linus (Linus Torvalds is Finnish but speaks Swedish). Thus the pronunciation should be "Leenux" or "Lihn-ucks" (/ˈlɪnəks/).

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As a reference, here's the classic linux.au clip: "I'm Linus Torvalds and I pronounce Linux as /ˈlɪnəks/." –  Jonik Nov 22 '10 at 21:17
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Oh, and check out this too; a nice Youtube clip with Linus saying both his name and Linux. –  Jonik Nov 22 '10 at 21:24
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Same goes for Ubuntu, which should be pronounced /Oo'boontoo/. –  Konrad Rudolph Nov 23 '10 at 7:34

Hiccough

Apparently this is not pronounced to rhyme with cough, but in exactly the same way as "hiccup". Which fooled me for many years, for obvious reasons!

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I love archaic spellings. Lets bring them back. :-) Plough, for example. –  Sister Sep 22 '11 at 1:19

Here's one I only recently learned I was saying wrong all my life.

The name of children's book author Dr. Seuss

It does NOT rhyme with Goose. It is pronounced like Soyce.

You’re wrong as the deuce  
And you shouldn’t rejoice  
If you’re calling him Seuss  
He pronounces it Soice  
     -Alexander Liang  (Colleague of Geisel)
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Actually, he's right...sort of. The man's name should be pronounced "soyce," and that is how Seuss pronounced it. However, he adopted the "soos" pronunciation since he thought it was advantageous for a children's author's name to rhyme with Mother Goose and most people pronounced it that way anyway. I'm stealing all of this from Wikipedia btw... –  kitukwfyer Nov 29 '10 at 2:47

lieutenant

This is a word that is pronounced logically by Americans, but in Britain we pronounce it as "lef-tenant" which is not at all obvious.

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Because that's how it was originally pronounced in Norman French, with an 'f'. Modern French changed and the english spelling followed it - while of course keeping the old pronounciation –  mgb May 6 '11 at 4:39

'Read', as in

John is dry (read: boring).

I believe there's a fair amount of agreement that the correct pronunciation is /rid/ ("reed").

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This one is great because so many people are convinced that they knew the right one all along, even when they are wrong. Crazy ask.metafilter thread from yesterday: ask.metafilter.com/162666/… –  Kosmonaut Aug 19 '10 at 22:45
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Annnd a nearly identical thread from two years ago, heh. Good times! –  ladenedge Aug 19 '10 at 23:26
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If only more people learned foreign languages, there wouldn't be so much confusion. There are identical constructions in many languages where the verb form is not a homograph and clearly imperative ("lees" in Dutch, "lies" or "sprich" in German, "читай" in Russian, to name but a few). –  RegDwigнt Aug 20 '10 at 0:19
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strange, I always thought it was pronounced "red". As in, "that last word that was just there, that should have been read 'boring'" –  Claudiu Oct 12 '10 at 22:54
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Definitely sounds like "reed". It's an instruction to the reader. "read the previous statement as meaning ____". –  TM. Feb 9 '11 at 7:07

Names are tricky too.

  • Freud is pronounced froid, when it looks like frude.
  • Wagner is vagner which is different in English names pronounced whagner.
  • Euler looks like u-ler rather than oiler.
  • Job in the Bible is Johb, not job like work.
  • Sade the singer sounds like sha-day.
  • Eritrea looks like e-REE-tria rather than er-re-TREE-a.
  • All of the Spanish names and French-spelled native names in America.
  • Versailles, Kentucky is pronounced ver-sales rather than ver-sigh.

As a teacher I have heard "infrared" pronounced in-frared rather than infra-red. I heard "stomach ache" pronounced "stomatch atch" by non-native speakers rather than stomik ake.

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sepulcher /ˈsɛpəlkər/

Correct pronunciation is "seh-pul-ker." I first said "seh-puhl-chur."

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Misled

When I was a kid I thought it was pronounced like a strange combination of "miser" and "tiled". You know, mise-uld!

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Or rhyming with "bristled". –  mmyers Sep 1 '10 at 15:16
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My husband recounts that for the longest time, he thought it was myzled, past tense of myzle... –  JPmiaou Mar 30 '11 at 4:44

Ironically, I find that pronunciation is frequently mispronounced.

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Boolean /ˈbuːlɪən/

  • Wrong: boo-LEEN
  • Right: BOO-lee-en
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This is easy to remember when you realise that it's named after George Boole. So it's Boolean as in Herculean. –  user774 Feb 5 '11 at 19:12
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@Kit: If your "-lian" suffix sounds the same as it would in the words "mammalian", or "Mongolian", then I think you were pronouncing it correctly. Herculean is pronounced hur-kyuh-lee-uhn or hur-kyoo-lee-uhn, so Boolean is pronounced BOO-lee-uhn –  e.James Apr 2 '11 at 0:29
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Herculean is pronounced hur-kyuh-LEE-uhn, so it follows that boolean should be pronounced boo-LEE-uhn. –  John Gietzen Jun 7 '11 at 22:06

Behemoth. (OED: /bɪˈhiːməθ/, /-ɔːθ/)

I always stress the first syllable (BEE-heh-moth), even after hearing it with the stress on the second syllable (buh-HEE-muth). I just can't get seem to get past it.

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The correct pronunciation is BEH-heh-moth as far as I'm concerned. –  Noldorin Aug 27 '10 at 15:20
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This is a Hebrew word, and in Hebrew, the last syllable is accented, therefore b'heh-MOTH. Yet, many Henrew words are pronounced differently in English. –  malach Sep 17 '10 at 12:24
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By the way, the word is pronounced beh-heh-MOT. –  wilhelmtell Nov 23 '10 at 0:09
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@wilhelmtell: Maybe in Hebrew, but not in English - dictionaries list various pronunciations, but the "th" is invariably a soft "th" not a "t". –  psmears Apr 1 '11 at 20:36

Queue /kjuː/

I've never known how to pronounce this. On the rare occasions when it comes up in conversation, I generally say "Qu... K... Line."

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FYI: "Queue" is a homophone with "cue". I believe "queue" is vastly more common than "line" in British English. –  res Nov 23 '10 at 14:33
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We British do love a good queue. –  glenatron Nov 24 '10 at 15:34
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It's pronounced /kwewe/ of course, just like "through" is pronounced /throff/.... (I'm joking of course) –  Stein G. Strindhaug Dec 15 '10 at 11:14

I have this problem with character names in novels. Example, Hermione I pronounced as "her-mee-own", Egwene from Wheel of Time as "Egg-ween", etc. I realize I just gloss over the names really and don't even fully pronounce them in my head anyway.

About actual words... I generally have disagreements with people. Like I'll think "niche" should be pronounced "neesh", not "nitch," and "clique" as "cleek," not "click."

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I say both neesh and cleek too - perhaps I've learned too much French? –  Richard Gadsden Oct 15 '10 at 16:58
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I once lost a spelling bee on "clique", because the teacher told me to spell "click". I still think it was unfair. –  Marthaª Nov 4 '10 at 22:27
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+1 for "neesh". I hate "nitch". Grrrr, it makes me angry. –  Skilldrick Nov 22 '10 at 22:19
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Niche and clique are both correct in British English. –  glenatron Nov 24 '10 at 15:25
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ha ha - "I just gloss over the names really and don't even fully pronounce them in my head anyway" - i do that too, in novels. In my head I just look at the shape of the letters and think "them". –  JWEnglish Dec 21 '10 at 11:01

I'm really going to embarrass myself, but I was in high school before I realized the word I had been reading, "subtle," was the same as the word I had been speaking: suht-l. In my mind SUBTLE and "SUDDLE" were two words that meant the same thing!

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