Words we think we know, but can’t pronounce: the curse of the avid reader
By Gabrielle Jackson │The Guardian│2 min
When I mispronounced tinnitus (ti–nuh–tuhs is correct, ti-nai-tis is not) recently and was kindly corrected, my embarrassment was a fraction of when I said apropos (a–prow–pow instead of a-pruh-pow) to a large table of people in London when I was in my 20s. That day I was not kindly corrected, but only realised my mistake after howls of laughter and a whispered, “Maybe that’s how they say it in Australia?”
It is not, unfortunately.
Since then, I have learned that mispronunciation is often the downfall of people who read widely as children and form the incorrect pronunciation in their mind before actually hearing the word said aloud. I still blush when I think about the apropos scene, but it did not stop me from giggling when I heard a friend had mispronounced awry (uh-rai is correct; oar-y is not) – a word I did not discover how to say properly until well into my teens. According to the New York Public Library, it is one of the most mispronounced words in the English language.
Annals (not ay-nals), Hermione, misled (does not rhyme with thistled) and glower also feature in the library’s list.
TV shows have regularly made fun of people who make their unorthodox pronunciations public, from Kim waiting for her “cardonay” to the barrister on Not the Nine O’Clock News questioning an “al-ee-bee” and: “Thanks, I bought it at Ver-sayce.”
But our own genuine failings are usually funnier.
A colleague pronounced facade with a k sound, another thought burial rhymed with Muriel and yet another was mortified to discover that segue was not pronounced seeg.
Tanzania rhyming with Tasmania often crops up among mispronounced place names. And Australia is awash with those. Do you know how to pronounce Launceston? Do you, really? What about Wauchope, or Canowindra?
French words very often leave English-speakers flummoxed. I’ve heard canapés pronounced in quite creative ways, and amuse-bouche, prix fixe and hors d’oeuvre have seen the odd food lover come a cropper.
What word have you always mispronounced?
In the comments below, tell us the story of the word you mispronounced and the circumstances in which it happened. Or tweet a short video of the mispronunciation and where you said it to @GuardianAustralia #wordswecantsay.