Reading has been a lifelong passion, and English not my native tongue, so I’ve had a few embarrassing moments of not knowing how to correctly pronounce words that I’ve read and written often. (I used to mispronounce ‘vehemently’ as ‘Ve-He-mently’ for some time before I heard it spoken in a TV series.)
So it was with a fair bit of amusement (i.e. laughing at myself) that I read this article about words we mispronounce because we’ve never heard them spoken. Someone sent it across after we’d had a bit of a discussion on how to pronounce Greenwich (not as “Green-witch”, but as “Gren-itch”). Pronouncing words you’ve only ever read can be tricky. The article says:
Does any of this really matter? If I say “SKED-ule” and you say “SHED-ule”, will any farcical misunderstandings or tragic loss of life ensue? Is the controversy over “con-TROV-ersy” not just a waste of everyone’s breath? Sure, but that was never the point. Like so many linguistic arguments, the power-struggles over correct pronunciation are most often proxies for issues of snobbery and class. The completely unpredictable pronunciations of many proper names in English, for example, act as a kind of secret code for the elect. Plainly the aristocracy have better things to do than to laboriously speak all the syllables in a word, and so Cholmondeley is pronounced “Chumley”. Obviously. And if you don’t know that Magdalene College, Cambridge, is actually pronounced “Maudlin” (and how could you ever guess?), that instantly marks you out as an outsider.
I still feel embarrassed about some of my mistakes (I did not realize Yosemite was pronounced ‘Yose-mi-tee’ until last year), and the fact that some words are pronounced very differently by Americans and British doesn’t help either (‘respite’, for instance). Malapropisms and eggcorns abound in my surroundings, and make things worse. It is good to know I’m not the only one having a hard time with pronunciations, though: here are a few more people who have made these goof-ups.
A dear friend of mine, while learning English, couldn’t get the hang of ‘Kitchen.’ She invariably called it ‘Chicken’. I corrected her, of course. It has remained a fond memory, and we dissolve into laughter every time we talk about it. I’ll only ever correct a pronunciation if I know the speaker very well though, and then always in a private setting.
What about you? Ever ‘mis-pronounce’ a word? Any phrases you got wrong, or heard someone else utter an eggcorn or a malapropism? Have you ever had trouble pronouncing a word in the right way? Do you feel it is snobbish to correct mispronunciations in other people?
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