5

I have a question about the pronunciation of the word 'oxymoron'.

Some dictionaries it says the word should be pronounced as:

ˌɑkˈsiˈmɔrɑn, with the 'EE', vowel. (For example The Free Dictionary)

However, some others dictionaries say the word should be pronounced as '.ˌɑkˈsɪˈmɔrɑn with the 'IH' vowel instead of the 'EE' vowel. (For example Lexico)

Whenever I listen to the pronunciation of these word on Youglish, where you can listen to many examples being said by many speakers, it does sound more like the 'EE', vowel, but I could be wrong.

3
  • 1
    Merriam-Webster allows both. It's a word few people are sure how to pronounce, and various imaginative pronunciations are used by people who've only ever read it. It's not clear which pronunciation is "winning"; it's harder to do large-scale studies of pronunciations than spelling. I'm unaware of regional variation, but it's possible that there are local variations to specific institutions.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 10:27
  • 1
    It's good to see that the 'contradiction in terms expressed succinctly' definition has been dropped by most dictionaries, who go with the 'what at first sight appears to be a contradiction in terms expressed succinctly, but on deeper examination makes perfect sense: a concisely expressed paradox' definition. Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 12:40
  • I'm sorry but that guy on the MW site saying: Oxamoron, practically, just sounds wrong to my ear.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 17:53

2 Answers 2

5

It can be said either way: the variation is related to a general pattern of variation in the pronunciation of the final unstressed vowel in words such as happy. American English speakers and many British English speakers pronounce the final syllable of happy with an "EE" sound, but some British English speakers pronounce it with an "IH" sound. See this blog post from the phonetician John Wells: happY again," John Wells's Phonetic Blog, Thursday, 7 June 2012.

Anyone who pronounces the "happy" vowel as IH will presumably also pronounce the vowel in oxymoron as IH. For someone who pronounces the "happy" vowel as "EE", I think it would be most common to use that same vowel in "oxymoron" due to it being thought of as a compound or prefixed word (composed of "oxy" + "moron").

Wells doesn't mention oxy- in particular, but he does sat that "certain word-like combining forms such as poly-" end in a vowel that has the same variable pronunciation found in happy.

Wells describes the "IH" pronunciation of the happy vowel as "the traditional RP lax vowel" and I have the impression that even though it still exists in British English, it has become old-fashioned and less common than the "EE" version. The phonetician Geoff Lindsey writes:

Some older RP speakers (including John [Wells] himself, b. 1939) still have KIT /ɪ/ in happy and coffee, but this was already sounding old-fashioned in the 1980s, and today it’s frankly absurd to suggest to learners that opportunity, charity etc. should be pronounced in some way that’s different from the FLEECE vowel.

("The fallac[ɪj]of schwee", Speech Talk, June 21, 2012)

I guess it might be possible to hear the "IH" vowel for some people who have "EE" in happy, but that's probably uncommon as well.

0
-2

It is odd to me that some dictionaries describe the sound as short. The pronunciation is definitely long ee, although it's a short long ee, if you get my meaning.

6
  • 1
    Yup. OCK-SEE-MOR-ON
    – Bohemian
    Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 4:25
  • Dictionaries' research includes sampling of possibly different usages throughout large Anglophone regions, and they base their pronunciation guides accordingly. Claims that they're inaccurate need to be substantiated by more than what comes across as mere opinion, probably based on familiarity with far more localised samples. Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 12:56
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth The evidence I have seen so far in my travels and even in this thread contradict the claims of the dictionaries. Feel free to provide first-person evidence to the contrary.
    – zylstra
    Commented Feb 13, 2022 at 18:50
  • 1
    No need to. An unsubstantiated 'The pronunciation is definitely ...' is wrong on ELU even if the claim is right. But the fact that dictionaries come up with more than one attested pronunciation doesn't mean that the compilers are picking the one they fancy, it means there's substantially varied practice in the English-speaking world. They're paid to do substantive research rather than mislead by subjective pronouncements. Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 14:05
  • 2
    So why not include that in your answer? 'My opinion ...'. But opinion shouldn't really be given more emphasis than a 'comment'. Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 15:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.