It seems like I've lost count of the number of times that I've noticed some native speakers of American English pronounce the grapheme "or" in words like "world" as [oʊr] or [ɔr] rather than [ɜr].

However, that [oʊr]/[ɔr] pronunciation doesn't seem to be supported by M-W's A Pronouncing Dictionary of American English by John S. Kenyon and Thomas A. Knott.

Please, compare the pronunciation of world backed by both the Free Dictionary and M-W with that of former U.S. president George W. Bush in his news conference after the capture of Saddam Hussein.

The Free Dictionary (Please notice how AHD's supported pronunciation of world (transcribed as [wɜrld], though) sounds close to that of President Bush, but is different from both M-W's and the one just before on The Free Dictionary)


George W. Bush's news conference at 19:04

How To Pronounce "Word" vs. "World" AmEng (sounds close to G.W.´s prononciation.)

How To Pronounce "World" And "Word" (sounds close to Merriam-Webster's)

Difficult Words: "World," Etc.

  • It would really help us if you gave the minute/second into the video where President Bush pronounces world. Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 11:31
  • @PeterShor Agreed. Beneath the video, there is a form you can fill out to search for specific words used by specific speakers in the transcript. If you pick GWB from the dropdown, and then type world into the search field, you'll be presented a list, with timestamps and links, to each time the President said world. The list also provides contextual snippets, so in case it matters what words he said around world (if that somehow influences his pronunciation of that word), you can discriminate. That said, I can't actually get the links to work, on my phone; they all start at the beginning.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 11:38
  • Perhaps this would be a good time to poke fun at the former president: "Nucular" power, for instance. There is a South Park episode from years ago where all (US) elections are between a giant douche and a turd sandwich; we're definitely headed in that direction, again.
    – Stu W
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 11:43
  • 1
    The pronunciation of AmEng varies greatly from region to region. If you put a native of Maine in the same room with a native of Louisiana, they might assume that the other was speaking a foreign language, at first. In order to become fluent in AmEng - as described in an American dictionary - most Americans would have to take classes in public speaking/diction.
    – Oldbag
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 11:53
  • 1
    I think I've heard of this, but I don't have a source. Oh, it was mentioned here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/264511/…
    – herisson
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 17:57

1 Answer 1


I listened to the pronunciation of "world" at the reference you gave to The Free Dictionary. It sounds to me just like the way I say it, which is a stressed, rounded retroflex vowel. Unstressed, in "butter" for instance, it's unrounded. I don't hear a variation in quality that would justify transcribing it as a diphthong.

The fact that the change in roundness of the vowel r going from unstressed to stressed r matches the change going from unrounded syllable offset r (as in "carp") to rounded syllable onset r (as in "crop") is one of the facts that convinces me that the stress/unstressed distinction applies to consonants, as well as vowels, with syllable onset consonants stressed and syllable offset consonants unstressed.

I confess to being unfamiliar with the diacritic notation you're using for describing pronunciation. Is that from Kenyon and Knott? (Consider using brackets to enclose pronunciations, instead of slashes, since that is the convention usually followed in phonology.)

  • The diacritic notation is sourced from The American Heritage Dictionary.
    – Elian
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 12:01
  • 3
    @Elian Please show what that would be in IPA, since we have otherwise no way of knowing what the sound is.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 14:09

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