I have noticed that some Americans (not all) pronounce the word 'niche' as 'nitch' (IPA /nɪtʃ/) rather than as 'neesh' (IPA /niːʃ/).

niche Pronunciation: /niːʃ/
Pronunciation: /nɪtʃ/
(Oxford Dictionaries)

Why do these same people not pronounce 'cliché' with a "tch" (IPA /tʃ/) sound?

Both words are loanwords from French, but the treatment of the "ch" sound seems to be inconsistent. Is it due to the difference in accentuation?

Also, which groups of people use 'nitch' as the pronunciation for niche?

Is it wrong or can one argue for it?

As a Brit, unsure as to internal American differences in pronunciation, I was wondering if nitch is more of a western pronunciation. I have heard that it becomes more like British English as you go East.

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    US Midwesterner here - I say "nitch". (and "clishay") Go figure! :-) – Kristina Lopez Aug 16 '16 at 23:12
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    By the way, this is a subject where you can easily do some research for yourself. Your question is likely to be received better if you include references to dictionaries. The American Heritage Dictionary entry for "niche" has a relevant usage note. – sumelic Aug 16 '16 at 23:19
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    Another word of possible interest here is Vichy. You might expect from U.S. pronunciation of niche that Americans would tend to pronounce Vichy either "vitchy" (rhyming with "itchy") or "veeshy"; but the only pronunciation that Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) gives for is "vishy" (rhyming with "fishy"). In the United States, I think, a person's choice of how to pronounce niche depends to a large extent on (1) how common the word is in everyday speech in the area (which reinforces the regional pronunciation), and (2) whether the person speaks any French. – Sven Yargs Oct 2 '16 at 22:57
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    These two words are from the french language. Neither is pronounced nor written with any t. Take it from a french native speaker! – Specialist Oct 8 '16 at 10:43
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    Regarding “which groups of people … ,” it could perhaps be interesting to see if there is any connection between how someone pronounces “niche” and how they pronounce Friedrich Nietzsche’s last name. To the extent that it could be argued that one’s pronunciation of a German surname containing several letters not found in “niche” is totally irrelevant, perhaps it could nevertheless be interesting (and even slightly relevant) to see how “niche” is most often pronounced by people who have never heard of Friedrich Nietzsche. – Papa Poule Oct 8 '16 at 15:57

OED has for niche

Brit. /niːʃ/ , /nɪtʃ/ , U.S. /nɪtʃ/ , /niʃ/

so both sides of the Atlantic have both pronunciations; but which is more common is reversed. OED also has alternate spellings from the past:

16 neece, 16 niece, 16 niech, 16–17 neech, 16–17 nice, 16–18 nich, 16–18 nitch, 16– niche.

Jonathan Swift, 1733:

If I can but fill my Nitch, I attempt no higher Pitch.

For cliché

/kliʃe/ /ˈkliːʃeɪ/

Apparently no /tʃ/ version

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    @BladorthinTheGrey IPA is the phonetic transcription. ;-). Interesting alternative spellings listed. I wonder how a 16th-century writer fond of alternative spellings would write, “That's a nice niche, niece”… – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 16 '16 at 23:30
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    You skipped the meat of the OED entry: N.E.D. (1907) gives only the pronunciation (nitʃ) /nɪtʃ/ and the pronunciation /niːʃ/ is apparently not recorded before this date. H. Michaelis & D. Jones Phonetic Dict. Eng. Lang. (1913), and all editions of D. Jones Eng. Pronouncing Dict. up to and including the fourteenth edition (1977) give /nɪtʃ/ as the typical pronunciation and /niːʃ/ as an alternative pronunciation. The fifteenth edition (1991) gives /niːʃ/ in British English and /nɪtʃ/ in U.S. English. – choster Aug 17 '16 at 0:15
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    This answer is great as reference material but does not explain why this phenomenon exists. – BladorthinTheGrey Oct 6 '16 at 16:21
  • @Blad I fear a true answer is likely impossible to find. Some words just end up more Anglicised than others. It could depend on factors like how and from whom people initially learnt the word when it entered the language, where it first became widespread, what French dialect it was borrowed from, etc. As choster’s comment shows, it was initially /nɪtʃ/ everywhere and then (by association with words like cliché) started changing to /niːʃ/ at some point; there doesn’t seem to be any evidence extant as to why it got /tʃ/ in the first place when cliché didn’t. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 8 '16 at 13:48
  • @JanusBahsJacquet That might be true, perhaps I'll never get a true answer. If you want to expand on that I'll give you the bounty if you want. – BladorthinTheGrey Oct 8 '16 at 14:06

The online etymology dictionary gives this origin for niche

1610s, "shallow recess in a wall," from French niche "recess (for a dog), kennel" (14c.), perhaps from Italian nicchia "niche, nook," from nicchio "seashell," said by Klein and Barnhart to be probably from Latin mitulus "mussel," but the change of -m- to -n- is not explained. Watkins suggests that the word is from an Old French noun derived from nichier "to nestle, nest, build a nest," via Gallo-Roman *nidicare from Latin nidus "nest;" but that has difficulties, too. Figurative sense is first recorded 1725. Biological use dates from 1927.

It gives this origin for cliche

1825, "electrotype, stereotype," from French cliché, a technical word in printer's jargon for "stereotype block," noun use of past participle of clicher "to click" (18c.), supposedly echoic of the sound of a mold striking molten metal. Figurative extension to "trite phrase, worn-out expression" is first attested 1888, following the course of stereotype. Related: Cliched (1928).

The pronunciation difference may be due to niche entering the language earlier. It is interesting that cliche was a printing term. Perhaps that encouraged the use of the written accent, which in turn affected pronunciation, since the word was presumably used most often by printers.


Take a look at youglish site. Most Americans will pronounce niche as 'nitch' and only a few of them as 'niche'. It doesn't look like it has something to do with the East/West location or the level of education.


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