Tag Archives: pronunciations

More Fun with Prescriptivism

Check out this list of the 100 most often mispronounced words & phrases in English. Each “dont-say/do-say” is accompanied by an enlightening comment by an obvious prescriptivist. I’m including some of my favorites here for your enjoyment with my own comments.

For some people, time doesn’t heal all linguistic peeves.

Don’t say: aks | Do say: ask

Comment: This mispronunciation has been around for so long (over 1,000 years) that linguist Mark Aronoff thinks we should cherish it as a part of our linguistic heritage. Most of us would give the axe to “aks.”

A Google search makes it pretty clear that, though cardsharp is the older term, you won’t go misunderstood saying cardshark. Cardsharp yields 197,000 results whereas cardshark gives us a hefty 986,000 by contrast. Using SeeTweet, more people are definitely Tweeting cardshark than they are cardsharp. Wikipedia claims that shark, snark, & sharp are interchangeable based on dialect & region. Interestingly, my spell-check is okay with cardsharp as a word, but it doesn’t recognize cardshark.

Don’t say: card shark | Do say: cardsharp

Comment: Cardsharps probably won’t eat you alive, though they are adept at cutting your purse strings.

Even though I used to work in an optical & witnessed many a patient undergo dilation, I still screwed this one up until I scanned enough “refusal to dilate” forms. There’s something about the /l/ following the /i/ that almost makes a ghost /a/ sound to me even if you’re not explicitly pronouncing an /a/ as you might with the dialate spelling. I don’t know anything about phonetics, though.

Don’t say: dialate | Do say: dilate

Comment: The [i] in this word is so long there is time for another vowel but don’t succumb to the temptation

This one’s interesting to me because ex- & es- ARE the same prefix in this instance, just different renderings, really. At least that’s how I would interpret it. The author does acknowledge that both prefixes do carry the same meaning, despite not considering them to be the same prefix entirely.

Don’t say: excape | Do say: escape

Comment: The good news is, if you say “excape,” you’ve mastered the prefix ex- because its meaning does fit this word. The bad news is, you don’t use this prefix on “escape.”

Hmm, it appears that the OED doesn’t fully agree here. According to the OED, the pronunciation of forte (def. 1) is: /ˈfɔːti//ˈfɔːteɪ/, or formerly /fɔːt/. In any case, I think you’ll get more weird looks than anything if you pronounce this word as “fort.” Wish I could search pronunciations on Google or SeeTweet…

Don’t say: forte | Do say: fort

Comment: The word is spelled “forte” but the [e] is pronounced only when speaking of music, as a “forte passage.” The words for a strong point and a stronghold are pronounced the same: [fort].

I’m including this one because I took a math class last semester & on several occasions my professor would attempt to write the words hierarchy or hierarchical on the board, but she would just pause for a few moments & then resign herself to knowingly spelling it incorrectly. She also tripped over the pronunciation regularly. Even I can admit to having some linguistic peeves.

Don’t say: hi-archy | Do say: hierarchy

Comment: Remember, hierarchies go higher than you might think. This one is pronounced “higher archy” and not “high archy.”

Not sure where the author gets off saying this pronunciation is “incorrect” & “to be avoided.” If it appears with regularity & in patterned distributions in certain dialects, why is it wrong in said dialects?

Don’t say: Laura Norder | Do say: law and order

Comment: The sound [aw] picks up an [r] in some dialects (also “sawr” and “gnawr”). Avoid it and keep Laura Norder in her place.

I would love to hear someone actually pronounce it as prescribed here. I guess I never learned what the rules are about preserving a source language’s pronunciation. Wait, why don’t we pronounce pronunciation with French pronunciation? It’s almost the same word! Or maybe I’m just not understanding what “moved far enough away from French” means. Why do we pronounce Paris with an English/American accent, when I’m sure most of us know the French pronunciation & could safely execute it ourselves? Arbitrary rules!

Don’t say: mawv | Do say: mauve

Comment: This word has not moved far enough away from French to assume an English pronunciation, [mawv], and should still be pronounced [mowv].

And down with napkin, too, god dammit!

Don’t say: nother | Do say: other

Comment: Misanalysis is a common type of speech error based on the misperception of where to draw the line between components of a word of phrase. “A whole nother” comes from misanalyzing “an other” as “a nother.” Not good. Not good.

The comment on this next one just made me laugh. Another prescription based on its French pronunciation? Good luck spreading the word on this one, dear prescriptivist.

Don’t say: zuology | Do say: zoology

Comment: Actually, we should say [zo], not [zu], when we go to the zoo.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. Anyone have any other silly prescriptive rules they care to share?

Megan L. Risdal



Filed under Linguistics