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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

  • 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)
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Usually, in pronunciations a hyphen delineates syllables. Have you really heard orchid and debris pronounced as three syllables? – Marthaª Dec 9 '10 at 19:42
    
The hyphens I used were not to separate the syllables but to highlight the pronunciation. Edits made – Nav Dec 10 '10 at 6:18
    
I had debris growing up. Gave my family a good laugh on that one. – Mitch Schwartz Dec 14 '10 at 21:17
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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).

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And that store that sells the old junk is the auntie-Q shop. :) – Marthaª Dec 17 '10 at 14:22
    
Always funny to me as "fatigue" in french only means tiredness and has no clear relation for us to cloth. I remember having a hard time understanding why this word was occuring in a military novel. – ogerard Apr 12 '11 at 17:10
    
The correct is not fat-eeg but fa-TEEG. – John Gietzen Jun 7 '11 at 22:28
    
Or my favorite pronunciation, fa-TIG-you-eee – morganpdx Aug 26 '11 at 23:02

detritus - dih-TRY-tis

desultory - DES-ul-tory

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Wha? It's not de-SULT-or-ee and DET-ri-tus? – morganpdx Aug 26 '11 at 23:03

One of the most commonly mispronounced words is forte, as in one's strong point. It's really supposed to be pronounced just like fort, but most people use two syllables. I think the mispronunciation may become so common that descriptivist dictionaries will list it on equal footing (some already list it as a variant).

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You can't win with this one. People will look at you funny either way. – jbelacqua Apr 3 '11 at 7:34
    
I say "fort". Oddly, even though pretty much everyone says "forte", I don't recall ever getting challenged on it. – Kevin Apr 21 '11 at 16:04
    
It should only be your forte if you can fire a cannone out of it. – Oldcat Feb 26 '14 at 2:12

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).

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Gauge

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

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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

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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. :(

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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.

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I always assumed that the word is actually thresh-hold, just spelled more compactly. – Marthaª Oct 13 '10 at 3:36
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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
    
“uphold” is a composite word (up + hold); “threshold” isn't, but in my mind I considered it as such (the evanescent ;) thres + hold). Mistakenly, which is the point of the question. – ΤΖΩΤΖΙΟΥ Nov 24 '10 at 16:29
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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.

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Erm, the two pronunciations you yourself give, rhyme with ‘day(u)s’. I pronounce it like ‘days’, except with an unvoiced /s/, rather than the plural phoneme /z/. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 19 '14 at 22:14

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

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

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Mishap

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

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

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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
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@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
    
The inventor, who also coined the acronym, intended /sexy/ as the pronunciation. Another engineer on the standardization committee countered with the antonymous alternative and it stuck. – Potatoswatter Jan 31 '11 at 10:49
    
Sorry but there's nothing sexy about SCSI. Scuzzy it is, on general principle. – TM. Feb 9 '11 at 7:20

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)

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I have a co-worker who pronounces it "suede-o." – J.T. Grimes Nov 2 '10 at 20:02
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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
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@Boofus McGoofus: I would hope suede-o is for comic emphasis. – Eric Dec 15 '10 at 16:03
    
The American pronunciation is close to su-doh. I can't exactly tell how that is different from your sew-doe that you have listed for British. – John Gietzen Jun 7 '11 at 22:33

'Rendezvous' is one that comes to mind.

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agate

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

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A-sitting on agate? – mmyers Sep 17 '10 at 15:10
    
And I was taught to pronounce it A-gee with a hard 'g'. I distinctly remember the teacher telling us that the marbles we called 'agees' were called that because of the resemblance to agate. – Ron Porter Apr 6 '11 at 21:48

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.

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At least the widespread pronunciation of gigabyte is internally consistent. Can't say the same for gigantic. – Marthaª Nov 24 '10 at 22:00
    
I suspect the computer industry is to blame for the shift from "jigga" to "gigga". But as "wrong" as it is, I shudder when I hear someone say "jiggabytes". – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Nov 25 '10 at 14:24
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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
    
@Martha: Well, <i>gigantic</i> follows the "rule" that 'i', 'e', and 'y' make the 'g' sound like 'j'. That is why 'u' commonly comes into play as a helper (<i>guess</i>, <i>guile</i>, etc.). [Hmm... how do you make italics in comments?] – John Y Dec 19 '10 at 4:47
    
@John Y, *italic* and **bold** work in comments. – Marthaª Dec 19 '10 at 7:03

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.

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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
    
can’t forget Mexia, pronounced “muh-HAY-uh” – nohat Aug 27 '10 at 16:27
    
@nohat - Henceforth known as the birthplace of Anna Nicole Smith. – JohnFx Aug 27 '10 at 16:30
    
Cities are particularly bad. Moscow, ID is pronounced "MOSS-ko" even though they same people pronounce Moscow, Russia as "MOSS-cow" – keithjgrant Sep 23 '10 at 16:28
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@Mitch there is also a street in NYC with the same name/pronunciation. – JohnFx Dec 15 '10 at 15:55

awry, caveat, nomenclature

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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."

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I am unreasonably fond if "horses doovers" – ChrisO Mar 30 '11 at 22:35
    
@ראובן: Chaise longue is pronounced differently in different places. In British English it approximates the French pronunciation, but in (at least some varieties of) US English it’s typically pronounced as lounge — presumably originally in error, but now established as standard. – PLL Apr 2 '11 at 21:08
    
@PLL: Maybe so, but it's misspelled as often as it's mispronounced. Yes language evolves, but it's hard for me to accept a blatant error as "standard." – ראובן Apr 3 '11 at 2:58
    
@ראובן: brought up in the UK and so only hearing the roughly authentic version until I moved to the US, I also find this example really jarring (both the spelling and the pronunciation). But… well, would you call the way most English-speakers pronounce Paris a blatant error? True, it’s established more widely throughout English, and has been for much longer. But in some American speech communities, lounge has been (I think) standard for a good generation or two; so how can I in conscience condemn it there, without condemning my own Paris? – PLL Apr 3 '11 at 3:12

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 :) ).

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Having grown up playing video games and reading sci fi and fantasy I felt very dumb telling people about my favorite jen-RAY. – AceJordin Dec 7 '11 at 23:19

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.

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I've only heard it pronounced "kwark". – Gary Aug 24 '10 at 6:54
    
There's a program called Quarks&Co on German television, whose host pronounces it "kwɑːk" (he holds a PhD in physics). The German Wikipedia gives the German pronunciation as [kwɔrk], [kwɑːk] or [kwɑrk]. – RegDwigнt Aug 24 '10 at 20:44
    
Murray Gellman invented the name "quark" and the correct pronunciation is indeed "kwork" rhyming with "dork" rather than "kwark" rhyming with "ark". An alternative proposal for the name was the "three aces". – delete Aug 26 '10 at 1:37
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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
    
I thought James Joyce had misspelt quarts, as in double pints – Henry Apr 1 '11 at 23:49

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.

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+1 because I never could keep it straight in high school math proofs. – mmyers Sep 1 '10 at 15:17
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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
    
Maybe she learned it from the same place my brother learned to pronounce 'esophagus' as E-so-FOG-us (where that E is a 'short' e as in bed). From a school teacher :) – Ron Porter Apr 6 '11 at 21:41

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.
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Excuse my ignorance, but how would you pronounce Cairo, Egypt? – mmyers Aug 26 '10 at 17:40
    
to rhyme with pie hole. – Joel Spolsky Aug 26 '10 at 18:20
    
@Joel Spolsky: Cai-hole? Cai-role? I'm not following... or else I am, and it disturbs me. – mmyers Aug 26 '10 at 19:46
    
It's "Ky-row," Egypt, but "Kay-row," Georgia. – kitukwfyer Aug 27 '10 at 1:44
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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.

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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
    
Oops! So much for that one. Thanks for letting me know! – Ken Aspeslagh Aug 27 '10 at 3:24
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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)

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+1 because that's not even a rare word. – Pitarou Feb 21 '12 at 3:35

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".

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OED says it is pronounced with stress on -en-. – Cerberus Mar 18 '11 at 2:54
    
You're right that it doesn't make much sense, but English is like that. The reign of Queen E liz abeth I was the Eliza beth an period... (apologies for formatting!) – psmears Apr 1 '11 at 21:21

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.

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I did the exact same thing. I knew what an "epitome" was, and thought 'epitomy" must be something different... – kitukwfyer Dec 3 '10 at 19:46
    

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.

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Niamh, not Niamah. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 19 '14 at 22:23

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