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The common interjections "argh!", "aargh!", "aaargh!", etc., is pronounced, as far as I know, the same as "aaa!" For most of my life, however, I (and I imagine many other second language speakers) pronounced it due to its spelling with an audible 'r' and hard 'g', and still do occasionally. In fact, I think this mispronunciation is so common that it has become an accepted alternative, especially when the word is used in humour (as opposed to genuine fright.) I often hear this version from native English speakers.

Questions:

  1. Is "aaa!" really the correct pronunciation?
  2. Why exactly is it spelled with the "rgh"? What purpose do those letters serve?
  3. If you agree that the mispronunciation has become an accepted alternative, can you think of any other cases where a mispronunciation gradually supplants or supplements the original? (Especially where this is caused by the eccentricities of English spelling and pronunciation.)
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Why couldn't you save this question until September 19? –  JeffSahol Feb 20 '12 at 21:10
    
You've got this the wrong way round - "Argh!", etc. are onomatopoeic representations of a "non-verbal" cry of distress. Approximately, the same sound delivered with less vocal force, usually transcribed as "Ah!", more commonly indicates contentment or a pleasant surprise, or (shorter, with a more "guttural" finish) as "Ach!" to indicate resignation or disdain. –  FumbleFingers Feb 20 '12 at 22:13
    
@JeffSahol Sorry, but there must be something about September 19? –  Kris Feb 21 '12 at 6:16
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3 Answers

My online dictionary shows that aargh is pronounced with the "r" sound, and either with a hard "g" or a silent "g" at the end.

I imagine that's the point of the "h" - to allow the "g" to go silent.

aargh |är; ärg| (exclamation) used as an expression of anguish, horror, rage, or other strong emotion, often with humorous intent.

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What about non-rhotic speakers? –  Henry Feb 20 '12 at 23:20
    
/gh/ is a voiced velar fricative. We make many sounds, which are not phonemic, but paraphonic: like clicks, etc. Same sound is heard in ugh. –  RainDoctor Feb 21 '12 at 3:07
    
I am a non-rhotic native speaker; but in this word, I pronounce both the R and the G. I can only think of one other word in which I pronounce an R that's followed by a consonant sound - "Ireland". –  user16269 Feb 21 '12 at 8:04
    
So I wasn't wrong in my original pronunciation of the word after all! Thanks for the answers. I'm South African, so I tend towards rhotic pronunciations anyway. (And voiced velar fricatives, so I also occasionally pronounce the /gh/ as in "loch".) –  francois Feb 22 '12 at 11:07
    
I don’t know what your |...| notation means, but the OED for argh has Brit. /ɑː/, /ɑːx/ , U.S. /ɑr(g)/, /ɑ/ in standard notation. –  tchrist May 23 '12 at 4:16
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Regarding your question #3, I have heard people say "tisk, tisk" when mock-scolding. This comes from the written form "tsk, tsk" which is itself a representation of the dental click sound, used by many English speakers, signifying disapproval.

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AARGH is pronounced aaa but through clenched teeth. or mouth held in a grimace. Aah is pronounced aaa but with a wide open mouth as if singing or or opening mouth for the dentist.

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You forgot the -rgh part. –  tchrist Feb 27 '13 at 3:43
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