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

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."

share
18  
+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
14  
French: façade. –  niXar Aug 24 '10 at 12:53
3  
is that an ant-eye-pattern? –  Taldaugion Aug 24 '10 at 20:19
6  
This is why English words should keep the accents (and cedilla in this case) of foreign words. –  Noldorin Aug 27 '10 at 15:17
3  
@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

sepulcher /ˈsɛpəlkər/

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

share

'Read', as in

John is dry (read: boring).

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

share
2  
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
2  
Annnd a nearly identical thread from two years ago, heh. Good times! –  ladenedge Aug 19 '10 at 23:26
8  
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
2  
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
6  
Definitely sounds like "reed". It's an instruction to the reader. "read the previous statement as meaning ____". –  TM. Feb 9 '11 at 7:07

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.

share
2  
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
4  
"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
4  
I always thought it was "seeg" or "seyg" in the same way "The Hague" is pronounced "hayg". –  DisgruntledGoat Sep 8 '10 at 12:37
3  
@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
9  
@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

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

share
9  
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
22  
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
4  
Fr.: geôle; like most words related to justice, a legacy of William the Conqueror. –  niXar Aug 24 '10 at 12:52
1  
@Konrad, the Guardian still did, last time I read a copy. But they are uncommon. –  Brian Hooper Nov 23 '10 at 12:17
1  
@Brian: Most amusing: site:guardian.co.uk +gaoler vs. site:guardian.co.uk +jailer –  Konrad Rudolph Nov 23 '10 at 12:38

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.

share
3  
I did not know that until just now. Good one. –  JohnFx Aug 19 '10 at 22:48
15  
I still don't like it! :) –  Kosmonaut Aug 27 '10 at 3:13
4  
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
5  
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
5  
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.

share
11  
@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

I'm guessing French words are at the top of the list.

share
2  
Any foreign imports, really. I remember once someone pronouncing the German "nicht" as "nitch-tee." O.o –  kitukwfyer Aug 20 '10 at 18:45
1  
Yeah but French words are really messed up if you don't know French. I mean who would think that rendezvous is pronounced rondeyvoo. –  user706 Aug 21 '10 at 8:52

The British pronunciation of "vitamin" must have been based on someone reading it. Note that the word was invented by an American, and it's a contraction of "vital" and "amine", so it should have been pronounced "vai-tah-min" but British people read it as "vit-ah-min".

As it happens, the British pronunciation has actually gone into other languages, so e.g. Japanese has a word "bitamin" based on the British mistaken pronunciation.

"In 1912 Polish biochemist Kazimierz Funk isolated the same complex of micronutrients and proposed the complex be named "Vitamine" (a compound of "vital amine").[12] The name soon became synonymous with Hopkins' "accessory factors", and by the time it was shown that not all vitamins were amines, the word was already ubiquitous. In 1920, Jack Cecil Drummond proposed that the final "e" be dropped to deemphasize the "amine" reference, after researchers began to suspect that not all "vitamines" (particularly vitamin A) had an amine component."

share
1  
@cindi: don't give up! –  delete Sep 4 '10 at 0:41
2  
Several Japanese dictionaries state that the Japanese word “bitamin” came from the German word “Vitamin,” where the first vowel is short (rather than the said British pronunciation of “vitamin”). If you read Japanese, please check dic.yahoo.co.jp/… and dic.yahoo.co.jp/…. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 22 '10 at 14:53

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/).

share
12  
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
4  
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
4  
Same goes for Ubuntu, which should be pronounced /Oo'boontoo/. –  Konrad Rudolph Nov 23 '10 at 7:34

Disheveled /dɪˈʃɛvəld/

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

share

comfortable /ˈkʌmfətəb(ə)l/

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

share
8  
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
2  
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
2  
@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
1  
@Gary: if any native English speaker says "cum-fort-i-bel" I'll eat my hat. –  delete Aug 26 '10 at 13:19
1  
@Ex-user, sorry for adding fiber to your diet! –  Gary Sep 19 '10 at 2:12

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

epitome /ɪˈpɪtəmi/

share
1  
An epi"tome" would be the tome-length epilogue at the end of a book. –  Jared Updike Aug 23 '10 at 1:55
15  
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
5  
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
1  
Incidentally, in Italian it is written exactly the same, but pronounced in a different way. –  Lohoris Jan 31 '11 at 13:03

Boolean /ˈbuːlɪən/

  • Wrong: boo-LEEN
  • Right: BOO-lee-en
share
5  
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
1  
@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
1  
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

hyperbole /haɪˈpɜrbəli/

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

share
54  
The mispronunciation is HY-per-BOWL, and the correct pronunciation is hy-PER-bo-LEE. –  andyvn22 Aug 24 '10 at 16:23
6  
Wow, new to me... –  Benjol Sep 8 '10 at 6:10
3  
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
24  
I'm going to start calling it the Su-PER-bol-EE –  Seamus Nov 30 '10 at 12:02
5  
@smirkingman -- Seriously? –  Malvolio Mar 30 '11 at 6:41

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

share
4  
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
14  
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
10  
“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
2  
@cindi Alas poor worick. I knew him, Horatio. –  glenatron Nov 24 '10 at 15:13
3  
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?" –  tankadillo Jan 31 '11 at 15:50

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

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

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.

share
8  
The correct pronunciation is BEH-heh-moth as far as I'm concerned. –  Noldorin Aug 27 '10 at 15:20
5  
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
3  
By the way, the word is pronounced beh-heh-MOT. –  wilhelmtell Nov 23 '10 at 0:09
1  
@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

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

share

Awry /əˈraɪ/

Wrong: AWE-ree

Right: uh-RY

Omnipotent /ɒmˈnɪpət(ə)nt/

Wrong: Omni-Potent

Right: omNIPPOtent (think "hippo")

share
2  
I still do this... –  kitukwfyer Aug 25 '10 at 21:12
2  
common English pattern: stress goes on the antepenultimate syllable –  moioci Sep 1 '10 at 3:01
2  
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

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

Arkansas - Americans may get it right, but to most of the rest of the world it looks like "Are Kansas"

Potpourri - I've heard it called Pot-pour-ee. Though, admittedly, it's not common

nuclear - Many say "Nyuu-kyuh-lur"

foyer - It's "foy-ay". Not "foy-er"

Leicester square - (Less-ter square) Only added because it's a famous place in London, otherwise place names are always unpredictably difficult.

Best I could come up with at the moment. Of course, there are Britishisms, or Scottish words like ceilidh or niobh (pronounced "Kay-lee and Neeve" respectively) but these words aren't common enough to enter into most people's regular lexicon and are borrowed from other languages.

share
6  
All the American dictionaries I checked (Merriam-Webster, Random House, American Heritage) not only list “FOY-er” as a valid pronunciation for foyer, but they list it first (read: preferred). –  nohat Aug 26 '10 at 0:12
3  
Residents of Kansas usually pronounce the name of the Arkansas river as "are KAN ziss". The state is always "ARE can saw" –  Joel Spolsky Aug 26 '10 at 18:32
2  
@Atømix: Americans know it, but the Arkansas River in Kansas is different. It's our Kansas River. (If that doesn't sound right, keep in mind that our generally sounds like are in mid-America.) –  mmyers Sep 1 '10 at 15:14
1  
It is all named after the Kanza indians, so it should all be pronounced ar-KAN-zas. (Full disclosure: I'm from Kansas.) –  John Gietzen Jun 7 '11 at 22:16

Ennui /ɑ̃nɥi/, /ɒnˈwiː/

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

share
7  
Oh...I can imagine it really, really well. –  kitukwfyer Aug 26 '10 at 2:21
3  
You mean it's not pronounced eh-new-ee? –  Marthaª Oct 13 '10 at 3:29
3  
Isn't it "on-wee"? –  MGOwen Jan 11 '11 at 2:32
2  
I originally thought it was "in-you-eye". –  Joey Adams Jan 17 '11 at 2:21
2  
@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

Ubuntu |oǒ'boǒntoō|

I always thought it was oo-BUN-too.

(source)

share
1  
I live in a central African country where that word would be pronounced "oo-boon-hoo", with a silent T, if you can imagine that. –  Rosey28 Dec 15 '10 at 6:33

Paradigm |par-uh-dahym| (OED: Brit. /ˈparədʌɪm/, U.S. /ˈpɛrəˌdaɪm/)

I've winced a couple times when people have said |par-uh-di-jum|

share
1  
Or Para-dig'em :) –  Benjol Sep 8 '10 at 6:37
7  
"par-uh-dahym" seems a strange pronunciation to me. I say "pare-ah-dime". –  Gary Sep 19 '10 at 2:40
2  
Just use the paradigmatic pronunciation. –  jbelacqua Apr 3 '11 at 7:23
1  
And what is the paradigmatic pronunciation of 'paradigmatic'? –  Jonathan Leffler May 6 '11 at 6:23

Moot, as in The point is moot. I often hear people say The point is mute. Not only mispronounced, but misunderstood.

share
5  
I actually think this is more from people using the wrong word than mispronouncing it. –  JohnFx Aug 27 '10 at 14:34
5  
Joey from Friends said the point is moo, it's a cow's opinion.... –  Motti Sep 1 '10 at 6:31

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?! :)

share
20  
Was bothering me so I found out why: straightdope.com/columns/read/752/… –  bryan Aug 27 '10 at 16:13
3  
I think we should give up the joke and go back to spelling it "coronel". :P –  Jon Purdy Oct 12 '10 at 19:18
7  
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
13  
A colonel of truth? The Linux colonel? –  Stein G. Strindhaug Dec 15 '10 at 10:46
19  
@Stein, the Linux colonel is lower ranked than the MS-DOS General Failure. –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jan 31 '11 at 9:46

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

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