I have come across a number of questions on the site recently where someone asks how something is pronounced. Someone will give a sample word to illustrate the pronunciation (e.g., a rhyming word for a vowel sound or one in which the relevant consonant sounds the same). Someone else will point out regional variations where the pronunciation is very different, so the sample word is useless as a "universal" example.
An illustration: There was recently a discussion about Mary/merry/marry/Murray pronunciation. I commented about "marry" rhyming with "Barry". Someone pointed out that in some places, "Barry" rhymes with "berry", if I remember correctly. So I offered "Sally" as an example of the "a" sound, just guessing that there isn't much variation in pronunciation.
There was another recent question about "gin" vs. "jean", and tchrist commented, using "fleece" and "kit" as examples. Those seem like pretty safe word choices. Were they good guesses or are those "standard" words that are known to have pretty universal pronunciations?
Most people are not familiar with the letter-like codes used to document pronunciation in places like dictionaries. I assume that there must be a reference to those symbols that says [X] is pronounced like the [Y] in [WXYZ]. The choices for the WXYZ words must be words where at least the relevant portion of the word is universally pronounced the same.
Is there a collection of such "WXYZ" words that can serve as universal examples of what I mean as to how a vowel or consonant sounds?