As a software guy I find myself using words like "idempotent" and "cache", which I'm very familiar with from technical writings, but have seldom heard being spoken.

When I do hear someone using these words I'm frequently surprised by their pronunciation, and have no idea which of us is correct, if either.

I'm not asking for guidance on how to pronounce these words, I just want to know if there is a word or phrase to describe them.

(And if it's an uncommon word, how would it be pronounced?)

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    For pronunciation - you can often find them in dictionaries.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 13:27
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    Good question, +1. The phenomenon is familiar to all of us, but I've never heard a term for it either. Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 13:29
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    Related, but not quite what you have in mind: graphocentrism. A graphocentric word, perhaps? That is, one that favours the written form rather than the spoken form. Then again, graphocentrism describes the person, mindset, preference or inclination, not necessarily the words themselves.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 13:30
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    Can I suggest that 'single-word-request' and 'phrase-request' might be more fruitful tags than the ones currently selected?
    – Spagirl
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 14:14
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3 Answers 3


In Judith Wynn Halsted's book Some of My Best Friends Are Books, a guide for teaching gifted readers, she references this phenomenon and calls it calley-ope syndrome (playing on how someone who has seen but not heard the word "calliope" would assume it was pronounced).

"Books that contain pronunciation guides are helpful for gifted readers (though they are rare, and a pleasant surprise when found), since so many avid readers know words only from reading and therefore mispronounce them. One excellent teacher of gifted high school students calls this 'The Calley-ope (calliope) Syndrome."

--Some of My Best Friends Are Books

  • I like this - complete with a wonderfully calliope name. I'm going to call them calliope words from now on, and give you the answer point. Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 12:15
  • But Καλλιόπη is |kali'ɔpe|, after all. I prefer to refer to this phenomenon as getting misled |'maizld| by the spelling. Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 17:44
  • calliope actually has two different acceptable pronunciations, so I would have used a word like gunwale(gunnel) or many other words with one generally acceptable pronunciation that people might mispronounce.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 4:38

When a word has a primacy in its written form over its spoken form, such a scenario is termed as 'ocularcentrism'.

Ocularcentrism:the privileging of vision over the other senses.

From Oxford Reference

"A perceptual and epistemological bias ranking vision over other senses in Western cultures. An example would be a preference for the written word rather than the spoken word (in which case, it would be the opposite of phonocentrism). Both Plato and Aristotle gave primacy to sight and associated it with reason. We say that ‘seeing is believing’, ‘see for yourself’, and ‘I'll believe it when I see it with my own eyes’. When we understand we say, ‘I see’. We ‘see eye to eye’ when we agree. We imagine situations ‘in the mind's eye’.

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    Good find, that does seem relevant. This word seems quite ugly to me though... a compound word ending in "centric" whose first part is an adjective ending in "-ar"? I wonder who is to blame for its existence. Apparently Martin Jay?
    – herisson
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 16:08
  • Or maybe it comes from a French ocularcentrisme?
    – herisson
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 16:13
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    No etymology is available. But it's not Martin Jay coined it; his neologism is 'anti-ocularcentric', as per your link. Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 17:04
  • That's a good suggestion, and a lot closer to meeting the challenge than I expected any one to come up with. Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 10:20
  • Using @sumelic's reference above, a couple of lines down the author refers to "visualism" - does anyone else feel that using a word you know from reading but don't know how to pronounce could be called a "visualism"? Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 14:57

My 9 year old daughter and I found this page after doing a Bing search for this question. She has actually invented a wolf for words you read but don't know how to pronounce. A word like that is a "suitanam" (pronounced "suit-ah-nahm"). We think it's as good of a word as any so let's tell the dictionary people!

  • I don't know if we're really looking for made-up words that aren't in common use. Dictionaries generally describe usage, they don't prescribe it.
    – JJJ
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 9:20
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    I admire your daughter's love of language, to come up with this question and answer - I spent six times as long as her on this planet before the same question occurred to me. I think she has invented a great word, and I'm sure it - and your heroic quest to get "suitanam" into dictionaries - will live on in family legend. I hope she will keep loving language, and being so inquiring and creative. Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 9:38

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