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A question mainly for Americans:

Could you please confirm if some Americans indeed pronounce the "e" of "obesity" as the "ea" of "steady" rather than the "ee" of "bee" (o-be-si-ty instead of o-bee-si-ty? Merriam-Webster lists it as a variant pronunciation, yet, i haven't heard any American say the word this way. Thanks a lot!

  • Merriam-Webster online only shows the standard pronunciation. Which edition do you have? How old is it? – Peter Shor Feb 2 '14 at 13:20
  • I've subscribed to the unabridged version. Here's the entry: obe·si·ty noun \ōˈbēsətē, -bes-, -ətē, -i\...but I haven't heard anyone use the second variant. How would you pronounce it? – Louel Feb 2 '14 at 13:21
  • He's just “taking the piss out of“ Americans? : ) (No - never heard that pronunciation before.) – ipso Feb 2 '14 at 13:22
  • Appears to be nothing under after the "Here it is" but I've never heard a pronunciation of it that sounds like what you describe. – virmaior Feb 2 '14 at 13:23
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    On the other hand, the 1892 Webster's International only shows the "incorrect" pronunciation. I think is a case where the pronunciation has changed over time, and the dictionary has not yet dropped the old one. – Peter Shor Feb 2 '14 at 13:23
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The OED says of that word’s pronunciation:

obesity /əʊˈbiːsɪtɪ/, older /-ˈbɛsɪtɪ/.

That says it used to be pronounced with an /ɛ/ instead of the /i/ that is universally heard today.

Also, the first vowel in General American is more likely to be [oʊ] than the RP [əʊ] vowel which does not occur in GA. However, since it is not stressed, it is subject to typical reduction patterns, which can lead to [o], [ɒ], [ɵ], or [ə] in rapid or relaxed speech.

  • Thanks for this. It's interesting that many Filipinos stick to the older pronunciation. – Louel Feb 2 '14 at 13:25

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