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/ˈɛɡzɪmə/, /ˈɛksɪmə/, /ˈɛksmə/

As I no longer live in the UK I don't usually hear how eczema is pronounced, so I've always pronounced it as ig-zee-muh but recently my English boyfriend told me that the only correct pronunciation is ˈɛksmə (the second e- is silent), and he's quite adamant about it! He considers my pronunciation as nothing short of an abomination. Listen to the first British speaker on Forvo to hear the "correct" pronunciation of eczema.

However, when I checked online I saw that there are three ways of pronouncing this term.

I would like to know which pronunciation is most dominant in British English and in American English. And why the second e- is sometimes silent in eckz(e)ma.

  • 5
    I have never heard a two-syllable version of it. Whether the cluster is voiced depends on the speaker and sometimes the utterance. – tchrist Mar 27 '15 at 18:43
  • 8
    In Britain it has two syllables exma (I don't understand the phonetic alphabet). It sounds as if your boy friend is absolutely right. I listened to those specimens which you linked and clearly Americans give it three syllables ex-e-ma. – WS2 Mar 27 '15 at 18:46
  • 3
    I personally vacillate between [ˈεɡzəmə] and [εɡˈziːmə], I think. Though I’m fairly certain if someone I was talking to consistently said [ˈεks(ə)mə], I’d probably just say it the same way without really thinking. Your boyfriend is certainly not correct under any circumstances that any pronunciation other than [ˈεksmə] is incorrect or an abomination. It may be less common, but it occurs as an established pronunciation in a decent-sized chunk of the population, so you can’t just rule it out as ‘incorrect’. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 27 '15 at 19:03
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    @FumbleFingers That wasn't what I meant by voice. Voicing is the distinction between /ks/ and /gz/. And yes, it always has three syllables here. It sounds like somebody using only two syllables simply hasn’t heard it said enough. Every physician I’ve heard say it has certainly used three syllables, including dermatologists. – tchrist Mar 27 '15 at 19:13
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    (Middle-aged) British English speaker living in London, never ever heard any pronunciation other than "exma" and that is how I say it. Then I probably haven't listened to US TV programmes in which people talk about it. – Francis Davey Mar 28 '15 at 12:20
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I just took an unscientific poll of North American professional actors (read: searched the web for eczema commercial), and "egzema" /ˈɛɡzɪmə/ was the most common, followed by the similar "eksema" /ˈɛksɪmə/. I hadn't heard "egzeema" /ɪɡˈzi:mə/ until today.

  • A TV ad for Elidel (pimecrolimus) cream 1% calls it a prescription drug to treat "egzema".
  • Another Elidel ad with an animated character also says "egzema".
  • A commercial for Gold Bond opens with a woman talking about "an eksema flareup" but it's kind of close. The voiceover says "egzema relief cream".
  • "There are better ways to soothe egzeema" than spreading ice cream all over your skin. "Try Polysporin egzeema essentials".
  • "Cortizone-10 intensive healing egzema lotion"
  • Neosporin because "Americans suffer from eksema"

The "egzema" and "eksema" pronunciations represent a common phonological process called voicing assimilation: "egzema" and "egzeema" are anticipatory while "eksema" is lag.

  • 1
    I took the liberty of tweaking your (non-IPA) phonetic writing a bit to make it less ambiguous and standardised, since ⟨ggs⟩ could mislead people to think you were talking about an unvoiced [s] and ⟨x⟩ can be pronounced either [gz] or [ks], obscuring the difference. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 28 '15 at 16:03
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Merriam-Webster and my own personal experience with American English suggest pronouncing it ˈeg-zə-mə

Cambridge Dictionary Online lists the pronunciation as ˈek.sɪ.mə and provides audio of English and American pronunciation.

  • 4
    +1 Concerning personal experience with dishydrotic eczema, I've heard it pronounced more phonetically, ek.zɪ.mə, a cross between the two pronunciations you provided. – Paul Rowe Mar 27 '15 at 19:36
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    @PaulRowe I disbelieve. It is not really possible to get a clean, unvoiced /k/ if you have a vowel before and a voiced consonant following. Your glottis just isn’t up to the task. – tchrist Mar 27 '15 at 22:44
  • @tchrist, Juǀ'hoan would like to disagree with you on that – Darkgamma Mar 28 '15 at 0:05
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    Here in New York, I say EGG-zih-muh, much like the first IPA rendering at top. I imagine that these other testimonies prove that in other places people say it differently, but I've never heard it any other way, least of all condensed into two syllables. – Steven Littman Mar 28 '15 at 2:39
  • @Darkgamma I was referring to Paul Rowe’s glottis, not to Jul’hoan’s. :) – tchrist Mar 28 '15 at 14:49
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You may want to check here: http://youglish.com/search/eczema

The cons: it doesn’t indicate the location of the speakers.
The pros: they are professional speakers.

They added accent support.

  • Super link! The speakers' accents are a good indication of regionality and nationality. – Mari-Lou A Mar 28 '15 at 6:55
  • It's a brilliant website and although the accent support is not perfect, a few American pronunciations were included as British, it's most spot on. :) – Mari-Lou A Apr 29 '16 at 18:06
  • That's an amazing site, never seen it before! I'd pronounce it like this: youglish.com/getcid/6506615/eczema - although my form of BrE is completely different to Paxman's – Matt Fletcher Jan 9 at 13:18
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I'm a lifelong US resident and the daughter of a dermatologist. I grew up hearing my father pronounce it ig-zee-muh. He grew up in Chicago and did his residency at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. However, he moved us to North Carolina when I was a baby. So though I always said "ig-zee-muh" (accent on second syllable, long e) I recall most locals saying "egg-ze-muh" (accent on first syllable, pronounced like the word "egg", second e more of a schwa). I've never, ever heard the word spoken as only two syllables.

  • We have some international folks who might not know what Chi-town is. Or what MN is. Or NC. – AmE speaker Nov 11 '17 at 23:17
  • @Clare - But surely they know what WFMC means! – Hot Licks Nov 12 '17 at 2:04
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ˈɛksɪmə. I am a U.S. native (Chicago). I have also commonly heard ˈɛɡzɪmə, but never ˈɛksmə, as far as I can recall.

These were the only pronunciations I was familiar with till I was surprised years ago to learn that the skin cream Noxzema, pronounced nɒkˈsiːmə (nok-SEE-ma) and sold under that name for nearly a century, was so named because it was advertised as a treatment for eczema. That is, the name of the cream assumes a pronunciation of ɛkˈsiːmə (ek-SEE-ma) or ɛɡˈziːmə (eg-ZEE-ma) for the word eczema. Prior to hearing this bit of information, I had never heard this pronunciation for eczema.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noxzema

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