Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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).

share

locked by Andrew Leach Jul 29 at 4:41

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed. More info: help center.

124 Answers 124

Beribboned

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

share
1  
You should have known to split it at the bb so it would have been Berib-boned. –  Oldcat Feb 26 at 2:14
  • Iron (mispronounced by some as I-run)
  • Dais (mispronounced by some as dias)
  • Greenwich (mispronounced by some as green witch)
  • niche (mispronounced by some as nike)
  • orchid (mispronounced by some as or-cheed)
  • Maoist (mispronounced by some as may-ost)
  • Debris (mispronounced by some as deb-ris)
  • Tupple (mispronounced by some as tyu-ple)
share
2  
tyu-ple is in fact the correct British pronunciation. And it's actually spelt "tuple". Both of these are because it comes from words like "quintuple", "sextuple" and so on. –  psmears Apr 1 '11 at 21:26

I have never forgotten the pronunciation of 'fatigue' since mispronouncing it at an early age. I said 'fat-ig-you' rather than the correct 'fat-ee-g' (with a hard g).

share

detritus - dih-TRY-tis

desultory - DES-ul-tory

share

I didn't pronounce "hegemony" correctly until I was embarrassingly old.

And what about "Chaise longue?"

Then again, I like to pronounce "baseline" so it rhymes with "Vaseline."

share

I think British and American pronunciation and spelling of the word 'aluminum' are different. Americans place the emphasis on a long 'OO' in the second syllable, whereas the British place the emphasis on a short 'i' in the third syllable and include another 'i' before the last 'u' (aluminium).

share

Gauge

I think it's pronounced "gay-dzj", while my Dutch colleagues pronounce it "gow-tsj" and frown upon me.

share
2  
You are correct. Your friend may be thinking of the word 'gouge', which means to 'cut a groove' or 'to chisel'. The two words look very similar. –  oosterwal Mar 17 '11 at 22:19

Subterfuge. I always though the 'b' was silent, like in 'subtle,' but it's not.

Wrong: sut-ter-fuge
Right: sub-ter-fuge

share

Cacophony /kæˈkɒfənɪ/

Until about two years ago, I was pronouncing it Cack-ah-phoney. I finally found out after saying it in front of my friends and they all burst out laughing. :(

share

threshold OED: /ˈθrɛʃəʊld/ /ˈθrɛʃhəʊld/

I always thought it was “thres-hold”, just like “uphold” is “up-hold” and not “uf-old”. Eventually, turned out that “threshold” is one of the most written/spoken-wise consistent words in English.

share
1  
I don't get it; “uf-old”? E.g. Wiktionary says threshold is pronounced /ˈθɹɛʃhəʊld/, just like I thought it would be. –  Jonik Nov 24 '10 at 15:06
1  
According to at least one theory of the etymology, threshold is a composite word (thresh+hold), but if so it isn't pronounced like one. –  neil Feb 1 '11 at 12:20

dais /ˈdeɪɪs/, /deɪs/

I always want to pronounce it DAYS. Apparently it's pronounced DIE-us or DAY-us.

share

How about "recipe"? First time I saw it, I thought "ree-sipe", not "reh-sih-pee".

share

For quite a long time I pronounced persimmon as "PER-simmon" instead of the correct "per-SIM-mon".

share

Mishap

Who hasn't said mish-ap instead of mis-hap?

share

There are some technical words that are commonly mistaken: SCSI: Correct: scuzzy. Wrong: Sexy ;)

share
1  
Isn't that an acronym for "Small Computer Serial Interface" and not a word? In that case I'd argue that there is no correct way to say it, only preferences. –  JohnFx Nov 28 '10 at 22:31
4  
@JohnFx: In much the same way we do not say "Sharks with fricken light amplification by stimulated emmision of radiations on their heads", you are wrong. –  Eric Dec 15 '10 at 16:12

Pseudo is also one of the mispronounced words. Some people say it Pee-see-doo, where the correct pronunciation is soo-doe (american) or sew-doe (English)

share
1  
I has a coworker who said "puh-suede-oh". It took me a few minutes to figure out what he was trying to say. I didn't correct him though. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Nov 25 '10 at 14:30
2  
@Boofus McGoofus: I would hope suede-o is for comic emphasis. –  Eric Dec 15 '10 at 16:03

'Rendezvous' is one that comes to mind.

share

agate

Although I know it is pronounced ag-it, I so badly want to say ag-gat whenever I see it in print.

share

It turns out that Doc Brown was right, in a way. The historically accurate way to pronounce the prefix giga- is with a j-sound (as in jigabyte).

I think this is the best example of a collective "say it before you heard it". It seems the people in the circles the prefix came into first use (mainly the sciences) didn't ever take a class in ancient greek (not that I ever have either), or recognize that other words with the same etymology (giant and gigantic are pronounced jiant and jigantic) are inconsistent with this pronunciation. But the pronunciation has stuck so what can you do.

Also, as an afterthought - Colonel. Who the hell came up with that? It took me years to recognize that Colonel and "Kernel" is the same rank.

share
5  
Where did you get the idea that “giga” is historically pronounced /dʒiga/? Historically, the word comes from Greek, started with a γ and was, by very widespread consensus, pronounced /g/ in Ancient Greek (and as a voiced velar fricative in Modern Greek, neither of which sound anything like /dʒ/). Furthermore, the prefix was proposed by a German-speaking member of the IEC and there is no /dʒ/ sound in German so I doubt (though I don’t know) that the proposal intended the /dʒ/ pronunciation. –  Konrad Rudolph Nov 28 '10 at 18:20

I live in Texas where they LOVE to name places with spellings that imply a common pronunciation, but have a completely different one.

Some real examples:

Manor - Pronounced "May-ner". A city near my home. The town is named after a family with that pronunciation of their name.

Elgin - Pronounced with a hard G. Another nearby city. The famous basketball player who pronounced it with a soft-g throws everyone off on that one.

Bois d' Arc - Pronounced "bo dark". A street named after a local variety of tree.

Manchaca - Pronounced "man shack". A city named after some Native American word.

Pedernales -Pronounced "pur-deh-NAH-liss". A nearby river. Probably

Bexar - Pronounced "bear". The county containing San Antonio.

You may think some of these are just a result of local accents, but no. They are the official pronunciations of these places.

share
4  
The correct pronunciation of a place name is how the majority of people who live there say it. I know of no exceptions in English. –  Neil Fein Aug 27 '10 at 15:23
2  
@Mitch there is also a street in NYC with the same name/pronunciation. –  JohnFx Dec 15 '10 at 15:55

awry, caveat, nomenclature

share

Entrée (ˈɑːntreɪ) - I pronounced it as Ent-ree (Almost the same way you would spell Entry ). I did not lookup the history, but felt the pronunciation weird

Genre (ˈʒɑːnrə) - I still feel a little awkward pronouncing this. Gen-er was my natural pronunciation of this (though one would argue that Gen-re would be close to the spelling :) ).

share

Quark /kwɑːrk/, /kwɔːrk/

Murray Gellman insisted on kvork pronunciation, while it was supposed to rhyme with 'bark' in the original poem, "Three quarks for Muster Mark!/Sure he hasn't got much of a bark/And sure any he has it's all beside the mark."

Ridiculously, outside english it is pronounced as kvark.

share
7  
I've only heard it pronounced "kwark". –  Gary Aug 24 '10 at 6:54
5  
If he wanted it pronounced as "quork", he should've spelled it that way. Given that he didn't, I will continue to say "kwark" (to rhyme with 'bark'). –  Marthaª Oct 13 '10 at 3:33

Corollary /kɒˈrɒlərɪ/, /ˈkɒrələrɪ/

I have always pronounced and heard this word as KOR-uh-lar-ee but recently found out that my wife pronounces it kor-AW-lar-ee (I guess like the Brits, if dictionary.com is to be believed). I thought this might have been from her growing up in a small town, but how often are people saying "corollary" in a small town anyway?? Where she picked up the British pronunciation, I'll never know.

share
1  
Honestly, I've heard both, from tenured math professors. The British profs put the "proper" emphasis. Everyone else just says whatever and moves on to the proof :D –  crasic Nov 24 '10 at 22:33

Place names from the early US are an endless source of confusion:

  • Many places in the US are named "Berkeley" and are pronounced "Burkly", but they are all(?) named after Sir William Berkeley, whose name is(was?) pronounced like Charles Barkley, the basketball player.
  • Cairo, Illinois is pronounced "KAY-row", not like the place with the pyramids.
  • Versailles, Kentucky is pronounced "ver-SAILS", not like the place with the palace.
share
1  
La-FAY-ette, AL –  moioci Sep 4 '10 at 0:29

Yesterday, I heard someone on NPR pronounce "secreted", as in to have concealed or hidden something. Never having heard the word spoken before, I've always assumed it is pronounced secret-ed and not secrete-ed as he said.

share
6  
The NPR person was wrong, then. The emphasis is on the first syllable when it's the past tense of secret, and on the second syllable when it's the past tense of secrete. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/secreted –  mmyers Aug 26 '10 at 17:38
2  
You really don't want to secrete anything you don't mean to, in particular not to be secreted away. –  Potatoswatter Jan 31 '11 at 10:24

When I was in a spelling bee, the enunciator said AT-wit-ter, as in "The birds were all atwitter." (should be a-TWIT-ter)

share

The word "Dickensian". I read this word many times before I heard someone say it. I always pronounced this with the accent on the first syllable, exactly as it is with "Dickens". Then I heard someone else say it with the accent on the second syllable. And then I heard another person say it that way. And then I had a person 'correct' me when I said it with the accent on the first syllable.

Actually, this doesn't really answer your question, because I think it should be pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. It doesn't make sense to me that you would pronounce "Dickensian" with an accent on a different syllable than the accented syllable in "Dickens".

share

For a long time I pronounced Epitome as "Epi-tome" when I saw the word in print. Funny thing is that I was aware of the prononciation "Epi-to-me", but subconsciously assumed that it was a different word. I had much else on my mind, I guess, to investigate. I am now enlightened.

share

Meringue. Recently heard this pronounced as Mare-ing-you instead of meh-rang. Also the Irish name Niamah, pronounced Neeve (rhymes with eve) seems to cause a great deal of confusion.

share

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.