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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

Corps (as in Marine Corps)

Being french I pronounced it cohr, not core like most Americans...

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Brits don't pronounce the p either. The Beatles (which is a bad pun) have a publishing company called Apple Corps (another bad pun). – user774 Feb 19 '11 at 20:36
    
In the US, Corps is short for corporations, and is pronounced "corpse" (fittingly, on occasion). – Christopher Mahan Feb 22 '11 at 16:49
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Didja hear about the Marine who received a dishonorable discharge? They said he was rotten to the Corps... – MT_Head Feb 26 '14 at 2:46

Bayesian (pronounced BAYZ-ee-un)

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How else would you pronounce it? – Marthaª Feb 9 '11 at 3:29
    
@Martha maybe one could think it was "bay-ess-ian", or ba-YESSI-an"? If you know it's named after Bayes it's obvious, if not, it might not be. – TM. Feb 9 '11 at 7:25
    
@Martha, @TM: one might also expect the ending to rhyme with e.g. Indonesian. The “think of whom it was named after” principle holds good in this case, but is misleading for Cartesian, which is named for Descartes (whose -es is silent, or almost so, depending on language), but is pronounced with stress on the -es-, and does indeed rhyme with Indonesian. – PLL Apr 2 '11 at 21:06

harbinger

You'd think it to be "har-BING-er" when it's actually "HAR-bin-jer".

infamous

Always read "in-FAME-us" when it's "IN-fah-mus"

facetious

Looks like "FA-cet-us" when it's "fah-SEE-shus"

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Interminable: /ɪnˈtɜrmɪnəbəl/

It has the prefix inter-, doesn't it? So it should clearly be accented on the first syllable, right?

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No, it doesn't. It has the prefix of "in" meaning "not" combined with the word "terminable" mean "capable of being stopped or terminated". Inter-minable would mean... I have no idea. Able to go between different mines? – Kevin Apr 21 '11 at 15:54
    
@Kevin: I know that now. But I didn't when I first read and pronounced it as a child - I should have been clearer. – Peter Shor Apr 21 '11 at 15:56
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So the second part was sarcasm which I missed. Am I allowed to give myself a "whoosh"? – Kevin Apr 21 '11 at 16:02
    
I know sarcasm is invisible on the web. My bad. – Peter Shor Apr 21 '11 at 16:07
    
Hear, hear. (It doesn't help that I have a genetic tendency to always put the stress on the first syllable.) – Marthaª May 6 '11 at 22:22

Just picked up two/three new ones today.

The first: I read that blog Cakewrecks, having never baked a cake myself. So when I saw the word "fondant," I assumed with the great knowledge gained from my three years of high school French that it was pronounced the French way, something like "fund-AUN(T)"...Of course, my sister's getting married and came by to make a practice wedding cake, which would be decorated with "FAWND-unt."...Which inevitably led to an argument, and led to my embarrassment...

The second (and third) I learned are revocable and irrevocable. Revoke is pronounced with emphasis on the second syllable, in my case as "rivv-OAK." Naturally, I assumed that (ir)revocable was pronounced "(EAR-)revv-OAK-ibble." It is not. It is pronounced "(ear-)REVV-uck-ubble."

EDIT: Turns out I was either illiterate or enjoyed being punished that day because "(EAR-)revv-OAK-ibble" is a valid alternative pronunciation according to Merriam-Webster! M-W also says they're less common, but not how much so. Sorry about that!

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Is google dictionary US first? or is fondant actually pronounced that way in British English too? – mplungjan Apr 3 '11 at 6:19
    
@mplungjan: I checked the Cambridge Dictionary Online too. It has the same pronunciation (or nearly the same): dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/fondant – kitukwfyer Apr 3 '11 at 13:48
    
I've never heard REVV-uck-able. I have heard an attorney discuss a reVOCable trust. (US) – moioci May 11 '11 at 23:00
    
@moioci It seems you're right. I just double-checked the pronunciation of (ir)revocable, and it turns out (ir)reVOCable is allowed, but apparently less common. Not sure how I missed that. I never miss an excuse to be right! Thanks! :) – kitukwfyer May 12 '11 at 14:01

"Sean" as 'shaun'

I pronounced it as 'seen' for a while!

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I still do for Sean Bean - Seen Been! – Oldcat Feb 26 '14 at 2:18

When I was in the 8th or 9th grade, I read much much more than I spoke. Then one day I was called on in class to challenge another classmate's perspective.

I used the word "doubt" in a sentence.

The problem was is that I actually pronounced the "B" in "doubt". Yes, try it. It's kinda fun to do.

I realised I never actually said that word out loud before, but I went for it anyways. The class was silent, and I thought I had made a convincing case. Needless to say that's not why the class was slient. Then moments later the class clown asked "Did you just say the B in doubt". Everyone got a good laugh at my expense.

Not sure how common that error is, but I still think it's a funny story.

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Others have mentioned place names, and one answer has mentioned that personal names "are tricky too".

I'd like to add that this happens to me pretty frequently with names in the news: I get my news from the radio, mostly, so when I first see a name in print it doesn't necessarily register immediately that it's the person I've been hearing about. This happened, for example, with the name Geithner, which is pronounced /ˈgajtnɚ/ ("gight-ner"): when I read it, I thought it was /ˈgejθnɚ/ ("gay-thner") for a moment.

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Cairo, Illinois - Pronounced Kay-Ro – David M Feb 26 '14 at 1:46

Emeritus - was told about someone who pronounced the word as if it were a disease (emphasis on a long I.)

For those unfamiliar with this title, the root word is 'merit' and the emphasis is placed on 'mair'.

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"Cleansing" has a short "e" in the first syllable, so it rhymes with "hens." A friend in English pronounced it quite logically with a long "e" just like in the word "clean." We all kept quiet for a few minutes, expecting him to realise his mistake. We were, however, forced to take him to task. ;)

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Perhaps it's just me, but I pronounced bedraggled with two syllables ("bed" + "raggled") for years before I made the connection: "be" + "draggled".

I had always pictured torn bedclothes...!

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"Minuscule" is often mispronounced and misspelled as "miniscule".

"Err" is often mispronounced as "air".

"Long-lived" and "short-lived" are too often pronounced with a short I sound. It means long or short "life", not as in the verb "to live".

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The difference between "minuscule" and "miniscule" is so, ahem, minuscule as to make no difference. (Sorry, had to say it.) Dunno if I've ever heard "air" for "err". As for long- or short-lived, both pronunciations are now considered correct, and more people use the short-i than the long-i. (It also makes sense that way - English often uses the past tense of verbs as adjectives. Borrowed time, linked cause, forwarded email...) – Marthaª Nov 19 '10 at 17:00
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@Martha, Everyone where I come from (Hanover, Virginia) that I heard say err pronounced it as air. If I've ever heard it pronounced differently, I didn't recognize it or don't remember. – kitukwfyer Nov 19 '10 at 20:21
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Where else does one EVER pronounce u as a short i? It is just plain wrong. – Tim Nov 19 '10 at 20:53
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What is the "correct" pronunciation of "Err" if not "air"? In Canada, we say "to air is human". – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Nov 25 '10 at 14:32
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@Mr. Shiny and New, I'm with you. I've lived and travelled all over the US and have never heard anyone pronounce "err" any other way than exactly the same as the first syllable in error or errant. – Kevin Apr 21 '11 at 15:48

comfortable /ˈkʌmfətəb(ə)l/

It's pronounced “cumftible”, while I as a foreigner (furriner :) thought it was “cumfort-ible”

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As a native English (US) speaker, I variously say "cum-fort-i-bel" or "cum-fert-i-bel" or "cumf-ter-bel". – Gary Aug 24 '10 at 5:42
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That reminds me of a joke that an Indian(from India) friend used to tell me in an Indian accent. "Are you comfortable (come for table)"? "No, I came for tea". Said in an Indian accent, it's hilarious! – OneProton Aug 25 '10 at 22:01
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@Atømix: and the traffic cop to the recently arrived Far-eastern immigrant, who was nearly run over by a car: “Hey, mister, did you come here to die?” “No! I cahm hear yester-die!” – ΤΖΩΤΖΙΟΥ Aug 26 '10 at 7:38
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@Gary: if any native English speaker says "cum-fort-i-bel" I'll eat my hat. – delete Aug 26 '10 at 13:19
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@Ex-user, sorry for adding fiber to your diet! – Gary Sep 19 '10 at 2:12

debris /dɛˈbriː/

"Debris" took me a few years to figure out.

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Well, i have some words

  • Subtle ( Pronounced "suttle") /ˈsʌt(ə)l/

  • Panache (I have heard that this is pronounced "punash".) /pəˈnæʃ/

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Accuracy Brit. /ˈakjᵿrəsi/, U.S. /ˈækjərəsi/

When I first learned the word, (in first grade, from a pokemon game,) I thought it was Akyur-uh-see).

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Come to think of it, how many people mispronounce "Pokemon" (Poke-ay-mon) as (Poke-ee-man)? – Moshe Nov 19 '10 at 5:00
    
For what it's worth, "akyur-uh-see" is the most common pronunciation for American English speakers. – res Nov 19 '10 at 16:29
    
@res - I am American. – Moshe Nov 19 '10 at 19:11
    
I have to agree, I've only ever heard "ack-yer-ussy." – kitukwfyer Nov 19 '10 at 20:08

I only discovered a few days ago that chintz is apparently not a French word, but a Hindi one, and is therefore not pronounced ‘shints’, but exactly as it's spelt.

Catenary is another odd one—since no one ever says the word (at least it's never popped up in any conversations I've had), I had to look it up to find out whether it was KAY-tuh-neh-ry or kuh-TEE-nuh-ry. (It's the latter.)

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Uh, nope, not here in the U.S. of A, it ain't. It's CAT enary: visual.merriam-webster.com/…. (Just start typing "catenary pronu" into Google and you'll see "catenary british pronunciation" pop up as one of the suggestions.) – Drew Feb 26 '14 at 4:32

Comptroller, pronounced kun-TROH-lur, not COMP-troh-lur. Even some comptrollers mispronounce it.

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I'm still not sure how to pronounce "gyro" -- the edible kind. Fortunately, I'm very sure how to eat one.

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It's pronounced Yee-Row (as in Yee-hah Row-Boat) – David M Feb 26 '14 at 1:51
    
I've always heard "hero". And I've even seen it written that way sometimes: "hero sandwich". – Drew Feb 26 '14 at 4:33

Detritus, which looks like and is often pronounced DE-tri-tus, but whose proper pronunciation is di-TRYT-us.

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As a young 1st-grader, I came home to tell my parents that I would be learning "MATH-ma-tics." Made sense to me that it would rhyme with arithmatic!

Much later I had similar experiences with "array" and "piezoelectric."

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This is more mis-read than mis-pronounced, but as a child, I read The Magikan's Newph by C.S.Lewis.

Off-topic, but mis-heard stuff is often fun too (e.g. Harold be thy name - can't find a decent link for that one)

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"Harold be thy name" sounds like a mondegreen. – mmyers Sep 17 '10 at 15:11

It was many years before I figured out that Arkan-SAW and Arkan-SAS were actually the same place:-)

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I've only just found that out...thanks! – JWEnglish Nov 25 '10 at 1:42

Here are a couple that I've come across in philosophy.

Charles Sanders Peirce. It's pronounced like "purse" not like "pierce".

Qua. (Latin meaning "as"). Apparently should be pronounced "kway". I do not like this.

And as for the number of different ways I've heard people pronounce "Humean"...

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OED gives both kway and kwah. – Cerberus Mar 18 '11 at 2:56

One that used to catch me out a lot was "anxiety". I used to pronouce it as in "anxious"

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French-style, alors. – Drew Feb 26 '14 at 4:37

Maybe it isn't a good idea to continue discussing place names and personal, but the Irish have some beauties, including:

  • Dun Laoghaire - dun-leery.
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For those of you who like rugby..

Llanelli, a city of Wales, is pronounced 'clanecli'.

Gloucester, Leicester, as Worcester : 'Gloss-ter' 'Less-ter', 'Wuss-ter'

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Gloss-ter, Less-ter (My home county), Wuss-ter. – Kaz Dragon Feb 1 '11 at 12:00
    
Kaz is right here. – Cerberus Mar 18 '11 at 2:27
    
My bad, I was just pointing out the unpronounced "ce". I'll edit right away ! – Isaac Clarke Mar 19 '11 at 10:38
    
Clanecli is a very strange and misleading way of representing Llanelli. Hla-ne-hli would be closer. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 19 '14 at 22:31

Acolyte Brit. /ˈakəlʌɪt/, U.S. /ˈækəˌlaɪt/

In my head, it was "ah-colt". The correct pronunciation is "ah-col-ite".

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Oxymoron /ˌɒksɪˈmɔːrɒn/

Usually pronounced "ok-See-mawr-On" with the emphasis on the second and fourth syllables (i.e. Oxy plus Moron.) One of my high school English teachers would always mispronounce the word to make it sound ever so much better: ox-Zim-a-ron with the emphasis on the second syllable. This pronunciation makes the word almost poetic and I'll use it to this day but it does very much confuse people.

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OED has pronunciation on -mo-. – Cerberus Mar 18 '11 at 2:59
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I have always heard it (and said it) "OX-ee-MORE-ahn".... – Hellion Mar 18 '11 at 3:21

Ornery /ˈɔrn(ə)ri/

It's pronounced "awn-ree" or "awr-ner-ee". It is not pronounced "or-ner-ee".

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Sure it is. – Marthaª May 6 '11 at 22:11

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