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Why is interesting sometimes pronounced as intra-sting? The same goes for interest sometimes being pronounced without the first e.

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Why do some people say "pacific" instead of "specific"? Why do many/most people not pronounce "Wednesday" correctly? It's not obvious to me this is a particularly interesting question. –  FumbleFingers Oct 7 '11 at 18:25
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@FumbleFingers: Whoa. Back off. This is an interesting question. –  Hexagon Tiling Apr 7 '12 at 8:15
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Oooah, tsk.. and I've been sayin "insting" all along! –  Adel Apr 9 '12 at 1:31
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Well, the Oxford English Dictionary, the utmost authority of English vocabulary, says the correct pronunciation is in-tre-sting not in-teh-rest-ing. In the English language, there are frequently silent letters. The "t" in often and soften is silent. The pronunciation of interesting is another example of English words not sounding exactly as written. (Take a second look at written.) An example of people mispronouncing it would be "inner resting". I live with someone who cannot get through a sentence without mutilating a word, and this aberration is what I hear regularly. –  user36051 Jan 19 '13 at 21:11

5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted

For the same reason "surprise" is frequently pronounced as "sah-prise": people sometimes take shortcuts if the meaning is still clear even with the mispronunciation. For more examples, see here, including this detailed explanation of the specific pronunciations of "interesting":

Interesting IN-tris-ting or IN-tur-uh-sting or IN-tur-ES-ting.

All three pronunciations are acceptable, though not so long ago only the second was considered cultivated while the first was considered British and the third was frowned upon by some authorities. One reason there are so many accepted pronunciations is that most educated speakers do not say interesting in exactly the same way every time. Slight, unconscious variation is natural in rapid and informal speech, and when a certain variation recurs often enough in educated speech, it usually becomes the norm.

The three-syllable IN-tris-ting is a victim of syncope (SING-kuh-pee), the loss or omission of a sound or syllable from the middle of a word as in FAM-lee for family and KUHMF-tur-buul for comfortable (which see). It is now probably the most commonly heard pronunciation in American speech. The noun and verb interest is also a victim of syncope and is usually pronounced in two syllables, IN-trist, although the older IN-tur-ist is still heard. The verbal adjective interested is often pronounced in four syllables, IN-tur-ES-tid, but the evidence of my ears says the three-syllable IN-tris-tid is more common.

The four-syllable variant IN-tur-uh-sting, once the preferred pronunciation, is now much less common than the syncopated IN-tris-ting. The somewhat overpronounced IN-tur-ES-ting never had great currency. Speakers who normally say IN-tris-ting will sometimes use it for emphasis or ironically, drawing out the syllables, as in the stock phrase very interesting.

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I took a dialect survey one time and the four-syllable version was judged rare enough that it wasn't even listed! I added it as a comment. –  Charles Oct 7 '11 at 18:44
    
awesome! great answer, and great link too! :) –  whoabackoff Oct 7 '11 at 18:52
    
There will also be geographic and registerial variations (e.g., the "Boston Brahmin" dialect would favor "intristing" as a class marker. –  The Raven Oct 7 '11 at 20:06
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"syncope (SING-kuh-pee), the loss or omission of a sound or syllable"... shouldn't that be "SIN-cup"? ;) –  Karl Knechtel Oct 8 '11 at 6:25
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-1 I disagree with describing these normal linguistic processes using value-judgment words like "laziness" and "victim". Also, describing the normal process of t-flapping in the "inneresting" pronunciation as "beastly" highlights the abject ignorance of that particular passage's author. –  nohat Apr 8 '12 at 15:22

Missing out a weakly stressed vowel in a word (as the first e in interesting is) is common in spoken/vernacular English. It is done simply out of convenience, as it makes the word easier to speak. Call it laziness if you will.

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I won't call it laziness because we don't just drop any vowels, only ones in certain prescribed circumstances following regular rules. –  siride Apr 8 '12 at 15:13

It's a case of Nature imposing the law of necessity and sufficiency on us. The missing vowel in question is not necessary for comprehending the word/concpt, but the remaining ones are, and so we have the situation you noted in numerous cases. These cases, of course, are a stumbling block for ESL students, and since I am an ESL teacher, I compiled a list of some of them (all I could conveniently get on one page). Here is the article:

Minimal Words with a

Silent Internal Isolated Vowel (SIIV)

in American English

Non-example 1: “ate” – the “e” is silent, but not internal.

Non-example 2: “seat” – the “a” is silent and internal, but not isolated.

Non-example 3: “promised” – the “e” is silent, internal, and isolated, but the word is not minimal – removing the “d” does not change the root meaning.

Non-example 4: “lineman” – the “e” is silent, internal, and isolated, but the word is not minimal, being a compound word.

Note: A siiv might be variable, as in “temperament”, which can be pronounced “temprament” or “temperment”.

Examples:

  1. average  “avrage”
  2. bakery  “(bake)ry”
  3. Barbara  “Barbra”
  4. basically  “basiclly”
  5. beverage  “bevrage”
  6. business  “busness”
  7. cabinet  “cabnet”
  8. camera  “camra”
  9. chocolate  “choclate”
  10. circumference  “circumfrence”
  11. comically  “comiclly”
  12. comparable  “comprable”
  13. difference  “diffrence”
  14. different  “diffrent”
  15. Dorothy  “Dorthy”
  16. elementary  “elementry”
  17. every  “evry”
  18. infinitesimal  “infintesimal”
  19. interest  “intrest”
  20. laboratory  “labratory”
  21. literature  “litrature”
  22. logically  “logiclly”
  23. Margaret  “Margret”
  24. memory  “memry”
  25. miserable  “misrable”
  26. misery  “misrey”
  27. musically  “musiclly”
  28. mystery  “mystry”
  29. omelet  “omlet”
  30. opera  “opra”
  31. phosphorus  “phosphrus”
  32. preference  “prefrence”
  33. realistically  “realisticlly”
  34. reciprocally  “reciproclly”
  35. restaurant  “restrant”
  36. salary  “salry”
  37. separable  “seprable”
  38. separate  “seprate”
  39. separative  “seprative”
  40. several  “sevral”
  41. slippery  “slippry”
  42. sovereign  “sovreign”
  43. specifically  “specificlly”
  44. strategically  “strategiclly”
  45. tactically  “tacticlly”
  46. temperament  “temprament”/”temperment”
  47. temperance  “temprance”
  48. temperate  “temprate”
  49. temperature  “temprature”
  50. tragically  “tragiclly”

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This really isn't a good analysis as it relies on spelling rather than pronunciation and some of the letters were never pronounced (like the final 'e' in "ate" -- added merely to indicate that the 'a' is pronounced "long"). –  siride Apr 8 '12 at 15:10
    
@FumbleFingers: No, it doesn't imply (or deny) that. I was merely referencing the result. It was you guessing as to the means of bringing about the result. –  Hexagon Tiling Apr 9 '12 at 2:08
    
@FumbleFingers: Of course you don't understand, since you judge everything in a Malthusian manner (i.e., statistically). The phenomenon in question is actually a tautology: of course what remains in active use is both necessary and sufficient for that use. It depends on the domain, of course. Comparing casual speech and formal speech/written language is comparing apples and oranges. What is necessary and sufficient for these two will not coincide, of course. –  Hexagon Tiling Apr 9 '12 at 7:02
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@FumbleFingers: "Misleading" is your middle name. –  Hexagon Tiling Apr 10 '12 at 1:11

Society will always seek the most efficient way to achieve anything to save time and effort. Verbal communication is thus no exception. Is it laziness or mere evolution?. It is interesting why the written spelling of words has not changed to keep pace with the spoken word, particularly when the modern spoken word omits an entire syllable (e.g. in-tres-ting). Could it be the result of audio technology in the last 100 years or so? This has enabled the spoken word to be broadcast to masses through which, any mispronounced word is keenly captured by the audience and made memorable, particularly if spoken by an influential figure e.g. movie stars etc. Not perhaps so with the written word which has been available to masses via books and newspapers etc., for much longer and therefore more ingrained into society thus would take longer to change. A case in point is listening to an audio recording of my father from the 1950's. Some 50 years later I wrote down the script and then asked him to re-record it. The difference was remarkable. His comment? "People communicated properly in those days". To my mind, evolution takes many generations, so I put it down to 'going with the flow' (a natural human trait or simply laziness -another debate I suggest), but should the written word change to suit, then that is evolutionary. In the mean time, the difference is causing many problems for those learning English me thinks.

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I believe this is called "linguistic conservation". This is why people in the north east refuse to pronounce R's; i.e. it's easier to say.

For example, what's harder to say: lie-berry or library? The first one is easier ergo linguistic conservation.

mispronunciations that annoy me are: lie-berry instead of library, supposably instead of supposedly, axed instead of asked etc

I still don't know why Texans put a T in across to get acrosst. I guess it's a substitution for -ed. But why would you need -ed there in the first place?

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