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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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123 Answers

Debridement - The medical procedure of stripping away gangrenous or infected tissue to allow healing.

It is frequently pronounced De-Bride-Meant (as in D - wedding bride - past tense of mean). The proper pronunciation Deh-Breed-Mont.

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

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

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My favorite is the word infrared. I never, as a child, ever noticed that infra- prefix, and never thought the word had anything to do with red.

Naturally I pronounced it as in-FRAYRD, rhyming with "cared". I thought that frared must be some sort of word...I still percieve the word as "in-frared" in my head...

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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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Looks like there haven't been any answers for a while, so some of these may be new mispronunciations that have developed:

homage is now pronounced incorrectly by many supposedly educated people, including news announcers, as uh-MAZH, instead of the correct AH-midg.

similarly, niche is now pronounced incorrectly as neesh instead of the correct nich.

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Shibboleth.

Maybe not anymore.

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just don't pronounce it Sibboleth –  Conrad Frix Apr 25 '11 at 20:01
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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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@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
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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
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sepulcher /ˈsɛpəlkər/

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

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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
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dais /ˈdeɪɪs/, /deɪs/

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

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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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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
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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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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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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
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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 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
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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
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Disheveled /dɪˈʃɛvəld/

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

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Two for me:

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

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

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Rapport /ræˈpɔr/

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

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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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debris /dɛˈbriː/

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

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

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

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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! –  Armstrongest 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
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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
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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
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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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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
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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
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