When I was a kid, for years I thought


was pronounced "nil-ism".

I guess this is because I only ever read it, rather than being exposed to hearing it.

Since "nil-ism" perfectly expresses the concept by coincidence, it stuck, until I embarrassingly learned I was pronouncing it wrong! (Making it hard to discuss Sartre, etc.)

{For anyone learning English reading this, it's just pronounced nye-ill-ism - it's a variation of "annihilate".}

A similar thing, I once heard an adult (well-educated) say "pseudo" as "puh-sway-do" rather than sue-doh.

(Again, I assume since the person had only read it and not heard it.)

A similar word might be segue: I bet lots of people say "seeg".

In fact, do linguists (or .. someone?) have a technical term for this? What's the deal?

Mispronunciation due to, I suppose in short having never heard the word in use but rather just reading it.

So, if you have a wonderful liberal education with professors saying "nihilist" and "pseudo" all the time, this wouldn't happen - it's kind of a, let's say, "self-taught pronunciation misunderstanding!"


  • reminds me of a "folk etymology" - sort of a "folk pronunciation!"
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 3:24
  • 1
    Also, on searching ELU, I get this: english.stackexchange.com/questions/376954/… Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 4:39
  • Everyone begins with "spelling" pronunciation or a "near-guess" pronunciation until one comes to hear it from a native speaker or checks a dictionary. It's the normal course of learning.
    – Kris
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 8:22
  • @Kris That is only true when it comes to "bookish" words. Native speakers don't even need to be literate to be able to speak a language, and second-language learners too would never be able to get the hang of a language without listening to it.
    – Nardog
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 6:15

2 Answers 2


A pronunciation of a word influenced by its spelling is called—wait for it—a spelling pronunciation.

A pronunciation or substitution of a word with something else that sounds similar and may still plausibly convey a similar meaning by analogy, as in nil-ism for nihilism, is called an eggcorn.


In phonology, I think this is referred to as syncope.

One should note that the hypernym for syncope (loss of sounds/syllables from the middle of the word), apocope (loss of sounds/syllables from the end of the word) and apheresis (loss of sounds/syllables from the beginning of the word) is clipping in morphology. Unfortunately, it doesn't connote the 'self-taught misunderstanding' meaning.*

More generally, if you wish to connote the meaning of having 'excluded a syllable/sound', elision may be a good choice, and one can use adjective forms of the aforementioned terms to specify the type of omission. Some notable instances of syncopic elision: Mississippi as Missippi; mathematics as mathmetics.

We therefore have an accurate word that describes the end result of what you've said, without any reference to the circumstance. Now the trouble lies in connoting the 'mistaken' aspect, and then additionally qualifying the fact that the mistake resulted owing to having encountered it only in a written form... i.e. we need a word for 'mistaken elision owing to having only ever read it'. If not a single word, I would say that oculocentrically nascent elision is a laborious way to say exactly what you want.

Fortunately, it seems like Calley-ope syndrome or Booklish exist, which seem to refer to this phenomenon. I've also heard it being referred to as the reader's curse.

*->This is because it is mentioned in this article that clippings, while not coined as words in standard vocabulary, are often acceptable/correct in the milieu they arise in.

  • FTR calley-ope link not work. (Booklish seems to be a one-time clever use by that writer, I think.)
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 10:49
  • Seems to work for me! Some of My Best Friends are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers from Preschool to High School; Page 192 "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." It's the same as in the answer in the link I provided you in the comments. Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 10:58
  • And yea, booklish seems to be a nonce word... Think it suits the purpose though. Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 10:59

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