Words at Work by Kathy McIntosh: No excape - poor pronunciation can make you sound silly

Boise author, speaker and freelance editor. Owner of A Well-Placed Word.July 23, 2013 

Kathy McIntosh

I ’ve recently seen too many typos on websites, in menus, and in ads. Little errors like dinning (an extra n) room, obtetrical (missing the s) and idenify (missing the t) can irk readers and even at times convince them that whoever put those words on the page is missing a brain cell or two.

However, in the case of the written word, we can always blame someone else: the webmaster, the editor.

When we mispronounce words, we have no one to blame. The words that come out of our mouths can make us look intelligent or not so. Thus it’s a good idea to learn correct pronunciation. We might start with the word pronunciation, which is often spoken as pronounciation. Given the verb pronounce that it comes from, it’s an understandable error. Nobody said English made sense.

Another word in the previous paragraph that is frequently mispronounced: often. Say AWF-in or AHF-in. Don’t say the “t,” and don’t say it in “soften,” either.

Which of course brings me to that word either. It’s either a long e, E-thur, or a long i sound, EYE-thur. My favorite resource on pronunciation, “The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations” by Charles Harrington Elster, says the long e is preferred in American English, the long i sound in British English. Webster’s says either is correct.

My wonderful readers have contributed other bloopers. Paul Sudmeier wants us to keep the jewel in jewelry and not transform it into cheap imitation joolary. He also dislikes the addition of a syllable in the word Realtor. It’s two syllables, not Real-a-tor. Although a good real estate salesperson must be a good relater.

Peter Hirschburg reports from Missouri that a local television reporter stated several times in one broadcast that there were no legal presidents for certain charges made. She likely meant precedents, with less of a z sound and more of an s. I’ve been in Missouri, and what’s a newscaster to do in a state that pronounces the town Creve Coeur, Creeve Core? I am not from Missouri, but my husband, who is, says I frequently pronounce the word describing cleaning one’s clothes with water as a true Missourian would: warsh. I maintain he needs his ears cleaned.

Incidentally, I looked up what one calls someone from Missouri and discovered another new-to-me word: demonym. This is the word geographers use to describe where somebody comes from.

Here’s a short list of other common mispronunciations that could make you appear less than brilliant.

Athlete has two syllables. It isn’t ath-uh-lete.

Barbiturate has four syllables. Don’t forget the r.

Calvary instead of cavalry. The cavalry are troops trained to fight on horseback.

Electoral does not have an i in it. It is pronounced ee-LEK-tor-al. The same goes for pastoral and mayoral: no ial at the end.

Err is pronounced uhr, and rhymes with her and sir, not hair.

Escape has no x in it.

Espresso also has no x sound. Not expresso. Even though it is made by expressing the brew under pressure.

Don’t take my suggestions for granite. Take them for granted. I suggest a grain of salt and a dictionary as accompaniments. And, as usual, send me your peeves, corrections and suggestions.


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