If you’re like me, you first encountered your 50-cent vocabulary words through reading. Which means, when the time came to say them out loud, you sounded pretty silly. I still cringe when I remember the first time I pronounced the following words:
- Armageddon. I went with “ar-MEH-ge-don,” prompting my teacher to say, “Like the dinosaur?”
- Senile. My whole family puts the accent on the second syllable: “Seh-NILE.”
- Niche. I said “neesh.” My friend replied, “God bless you.”
- Awry. I was in college before I stopped saying “AW-ry.”
In the U.S., we tend to be tolerant of certain forms of mispronunciation—mangled foreign language terms, for instance. We also have a range of dialects and accents, so it’s not always clear how a word is supposed to be pronounced.
The picture is further clouded by regional speech. In Pittsburgh, the proper pronunciation of Versailles is “ver-SALES.” Southerners say “git” instead of “get.” Midwesterners like to visit “Shi-CAW-go.”
That said, there are certain pronunciation errors that immediately mark the speaker as uneducated, unworldly or just plain dumb. Here are some you should take pains to avoid:
1. Ex-CAPE. I flee when I hear this version. Same with “ax,” as in “Let’s ax for an extension.”
2. Li-BEAR-y. For some reason, “FEB-u-ary” is OK but this mispronunciation of “library” is not.
3. Sim-U-lar. Either “sim-ah-ler” or “simler” are fine, according to the 10th edition of Webster’s Dictionary.
4. Mis-CHEE-vee-ous. Never understood this one. Where does that extra syllable come from?
5. IN-ner-resting. Also In-ner-net.
6. NUKE-u-lar. Needs no comment.
7. Per-SCRIP-tion. Watch for “pre” and “per” mix-ups in general.
8. SAM-wich. Get salad instead.
9. ASS-trick. Can you figure out what this is supposed to be? (Hint: you get a star if you succeed.)
10. PRAH-straight (instead of prostate). Insert dirty joke here.
A few others that walk the fine line between acceptable and embarrassing include “ah-range” for the citrus fruit (unless you live in New York), “sher-bert,” “for-tay” and “triath-uh-lon.”
Which mispronunciations are you guilty of? Which bother you the most?
Deborah Gaines is a former law firm CMO who blogs as The Corporate Writer. This post first appeared on Ragan.com in September 2011.