100 Most Often Mispronounced Words and Phrases in English

posted by Jason Kottke Mar 18, 2004

100 Most Often Mispronounced Words and Phrases in English. Some of these are surprising (not "suprising").

Reader comments

sarahMar 18, 2004 at 12:18PM

re: "barbed wire"
Annie Proulx, in her recent novel That Old Ace In The Hole, used the phrase "bobwire" (spelled just that way) to illustrate the west Texas vernacular. I thought it was very effective.

donald tettoMar 18, 2004 at 12:43PM

Interesting link, though a lot of these could be chalked up to lack of education ("I need to aks you something," "It is of the upmost importance," "Its heighth is 3 feet"). Nevertheless, I was sad to see that "indictment" didn't make the list, as it had been the object of very much embarassment for me in my youth. And surprising entries indeed! ("Card shark" should be "Cardsharp"?! Who knew?!)

More interesting, to me, are frequently misused words. My (paper) dictionary has a great glossary of them included as an appendix, and most of the inclusions are mistakes I often make myself.
"Aggravate" should not be used to mean "make angry," because its literal meaning is only that of the following sentence: "A conflict between medications aggravated the boy's condition."
"Complacement," for instance, does not mean "deferential, passive" but "smugly self-satisfied." The word you're looking for is "complaisant."
"Decimate" does not mean "destroy almost entirely," as it is often used, but "destroy one tenth."
"Enormity" does not mean "great size" but "extreme wickedness." You should say "the enormity of the crime," but never "the enormity of the work."

And so on. (Of course many of these complaints come, as my dictionary notes, from "some people" or "language purists." But then, nobody really expects me to start saying "mayo-nnaise," do they?)

dowingbaMar 18, 2004 at 12:46PM

Bob wire? Why must this site make fun of New Englanders?

TomMar 18, 2004 at 3:26PM

donald wrote

You should say "the enormity of the crime," but never "the enormity of the work."

I, for one, have dealt with the extreme wickedness of work with some past employers. You must have the dream job? ;-)

TomMar 18, 2004 at 3:39PM

Here are some that drive me crazy I didn't see on the list (excuse the poor phonetic spellings):

Pitcher (as in, "We're on vacation, can you take our pitcher?")
s/b pic-ture

Samwich and/or sammich (as in "I had a turkey samwich for lunch")
s/b sand-which

may-sure (as in "I need a yardstick to may-sure the height of this table")
s/b measure (like treasure, which no one pronounces as tray-sure)

days of the week (I notice this more with older people):
s/b Mon-day

Warsh (again, I notice this more with older people)
(as in "will you warsh the dishes?")

Zinfadel (as in: "I had a glass of wonderfully crisp Zinfadel with dinner")
s/b zin-fan-del

Munster (unless you're referring to the TV show, it's Mon-ster)

mattMar 18, 2004 at 4:31PM

depole (as in: "She changed her name by depole")
s/b deed pole

MattMar 18, 2004 at 4:33PM

Um... deed poll :-\

David McCreathMar 18, 2004 at 4:56PM

Unsurprisingly, there is a street here in Anchorage called "Arctic Drive". Nearly every single person I know calls it "Artic". It drives me batty.

pthreeMar 18, 2004 at 5:16PM

hah, i say "Warsh" and the "mondee tuesdee" thing. i got warsh from my mom and grandma. My dad likes to poke fun at it by asking if we "do our warsh with rocks down at the crick?"

StephenMar 18, 2004 at 5:31PM

This is the first place that I've seen "spitting image" shown as the wrong way to say "spit and image." I think I'm going to print that page and send a copy to everyone in my area (central PA).

sennanMar 18, 2004 at 10:11PM

I brought samwiches from the Artic store on Mondee.

barnesMar 18, 2004 at 10:30PM

"Prolly" is much better than the original. Pro-ba-bly just seems self-indulgent (like Wed-nes-day), but without beinglazy, like when people say "ax" or "leff."

ctm3Mar 19, 2004 at 3:53AM

What about jagwire / jaguar.

JeremiahMar 19, 2004 at 5:53AM

Sarah--yep, a few more of these words are actually Texas vernacular, and I know that most of us--just like other people who speak in dialect--know how to pronounce things the "right" way, but it always feels uncomfortable. Others are "wadn't" and "idn't" (although we don't say "bidness"). I am, heh, somewhat saddened by the fact that this article doesn't recognize these things as vernacular. I suppose it wouldn't be so bad if they didn't allow concessions for the NE dialect (see "whet").

I am, however, happy to see the inclusion of "forte"--I once got in a big argument (ok, ok, I have a degree in English) over this word, and about twenty people shouted me down saying the "e" was pronounced. "But it's French!" I protested--alas, only to deaf ears. Etymology would have really strengthened this article--for instance, "Ku Klux" comes from the Greek "kuklos" (note the circle on their badge), although I doubt many of them are aware of this anymore.

And "Arctic"? That's just too difficult to say--it requires you to slow down while speaking, and English speakers have always disliked words that require that. Hate to tell 'em, but I'm sure it's on its way out.

barnesMar 19, 2004 at 9:09AM

Ah, I just noticed that "primer" is missing. Granted, people don't have much cause to say it anymore, but every time I hear it, it's mispronounced -- and usually by people who should know better.

PeterMar 19, 2004 at 9:55AM

a couple (not mentioned) that drive me nuts:

sangwich vs. sandwich
ruff vs. roof

megcMar 19, 2004 at 11:24AM

While "forte" (and "fort" in its masculine form) is a French word, it's ususally thought to be of Italian origin in relation to music. And in Italian, yes, the e is pronounced (if it was to be pronounced "fortay" in French, there would have to be an accent aigu over the e). Most musical terms (adagio, andante, allegro, forte, piano, mesto, molto, etc.) are Italian words. Way back when there was an Italian style and French style of music (playing and composing) and eventually the Italian style won out. So, now we have retained lots of Italian words in music.

Jason, I've read your blog for a number of years and really enjoyed it. I too moved from the Bay Area to NY, although I am out here on Long Island (studying music), which can't compare to NYC. Lucky you!

NickMar 19, 2004 at 2:45PM

My all-time fave has got to be prima donna spelled as premadonna. As in, "I remember those pre-Madonna years...how did I ever live without the Material Girl..." etc

SharonMar 19, 2004 at 5:21PM

Most of the "right" ways to pronounce American English words are the result of The Great Vowel Shift some centuries ago. Fighting another seems futile to me, but it's a common subject for people who need to feel erudite.

"Aks" and other forms of metathesis are dialectal and occur in regular, predictable patterns, according to the grammar of the dialect. To call it "wrong" is to make a value judgment on dialects and, therefore, the speakers of those dialects. Linguistically, dialects are valid--they have logic, they follow rules. It is only socially that one dialect (i.e., yours) outranks another.

ChrisMar 19, 2004 at 8:15PM

I have to agree, to a certain extent with that. Also, if a word has been mispronounced for 1000 years (ax and ask, although I always ask), when do we call it correct? Language is a fluid medium and changes.

JojoMar 19, 2004 at 9:52PM

Just heard a new one tonight:

Fungee (as in, that mold is a form of Fun-gee)!!!
s/b Fungi (fun-guy)

Another one that really bothers me:
INsurance (emphasis on IN)
s/b inSURance

ctm3 - Jagwire drives me nuts too... Especially since they've really ratcheted up their advertising campaign and all the local radio markets have their own talent reading the local spots, and they all say "Jag-Wire"

megcMar 20, 2004 at 10:12PM

Still, the ask/aks thing drives me nuts. Also realtor/relator and jewelry/jewlery. These three have bothered me since I was a kid! Dialect or no dialect, they hurt my ears.

BilboBagginsApr 12, 2004 at 1:09PM

Here's one that seems to have escaped the notice of all contributors so far: How about "irregardless" ?
We have regard and regardless to describe the two opposing views of having regard for someone or something. What does "irregardless" mean then?

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.