With its mongrel origins, regional variations and imported words, English contains many pitfalls for even its most eloquent speakers. Here’s our brief guide to some of the language’s most commonly mispronounced words
Getting involved in these types of arguments can be risky. After all, as the Debrett’s guide to etiquette solemnly notes: “If someone mis-pronounces a word it is very rude to correct their pronunciation – they will feel crushed and foolish.”
Thankfully, nobody ended up crushed this time. But just in case, here is our guide to some of the English language’s trickiest words:
Science & jargon
According to the Natural History Museum, as the dinosaur’s name is a combination of two Greek words, it should sound like ‘DIP-low-DOCK-us’ with the emphasis on the ‘dip’ and the ‘dock’ (though the Oxford English Dictionary handily also considers ‘dip-PLOD-er-cus’ to be correct).
But the world of technical jargon and esoteric scientific terms is full of pitfalls. For instance, Asperger’s is pronounced with a hard ‘g’ (and it’s definitely a ‘p’ rather than a ‘b’ at the start). In psychology, ‘Schadenfreude‘ has four, not three, syllables – an extra ‘duh’ on the end is often overlooked.
And whether you pronounce a repeated phenomenon as ‘recurring‘ or ‘reoccurring‘ depends on what you are trying to say – the former means the repetition is at regular, repetitive intervals, while the latter simply means something which happens more than once.
The internet has given rise to a host of new words, and with them a host of new arguments about how to pronounce them.
Most famously, the inventor of the ‘GIF‘ format recently insisted we ignore dictionaries (and widespread usage) and all pronounce the word as ‘jiff’. That hasn’t entirely stopped the debate, with websites now dedicated to this clearly immensely important question.
As Professor Jane Setter, co-editor of the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary, notes, it isn’t necessarily up to the inventor: “It depends on the community that uses it, particularly if it’s something you normally only see written down. It usually ends up being whatever settles among users.”
For instance, Setter was asked in 2010 to add ‘Pwn‘ – the act of dominating or conquering a rival – to the dictionary. “At the time we found three main pronunciations, [rhyming with] ‘owned’, ‘spooned’ or ‘pawned’. Now they all say [the version rhyming with] ‘owned’.”
And don’t give yourself away as a philistine by pronouncing ‘meme‘ incorrectly – it rhymes with ‘cream’. Why? Its inventor Richard Dawkins said so. Ahem…
There was a more confident time when we Brits used to Anglicise any word we fancied without fear of butchering another tongue. Just tune in to Downton Abbey, where the aristocrats of Grantham proudly retain the ‘t’ at the end of ‘valet‘.
Today we seem to pronounce many words deriving from French as we imagine our cross-Channel cousins would – for example, many Britons today drop that ‘t’ in ‘valet‘, unless using the word as a verb (‘I’m having my car valeted’)
This is actually an American trend. “The Americans preserve a French-type stress pattern,” says Setter. “We tend not to do that. We tend to Anglicise.”
So if anyone should snigger as you offer them a glass of Moët with a hard ‘t’, you can politely correct them – indeed, the winery’s founder Claude Moët was of Dutch heritage, and pronounced the name ‘mo-wett’, not ‘mo-way’.
Not wishing this article to descend into a never-ending debate about American versus British pronunciation, let’s just say that both are correct in their own context.
That said, obviously ‘aluminium‘ has a second, clearly pronounced ‘i’, the ‘h’ on ‘herb‘ is anything but silent, and the ‘de-‘ in ‘defence‘ has only one ‘e’, not two.
Anything else is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Just plain wrong
Speaking of wrong, it is ‘nuclear‘ not ‘nuculur’, ‘supposedly‘ not ‘supposably’ and there is no ‘l’ in ‘Ku’, as in Ku Klux Klan.
Overpronouncing foreign words
Finally, pop out to a Spanish, Italian or French restaurant and there will always be someone at the table who makes a point of ordering from the menu “as the locals do”.
The problem often lies with the food: from paella to pappardelle, ordering can be a minefield.
While there’s nothing wrong with a bit of cultural savoir faire, as Debrett’s notes: “While everyone admires linguistic ability, you should restrain any desire to show off your skills by over-pronouncing foreign words.”
“Generally, if foreign words are used in English conversation they are gently anglicised; guttural or phlegmatic consonants, trilled ‘rs’ and exaggerated glottal stops are unnecessary and obtrusive,” it says.
By Andrew Marszal – 28 Nov 2013 – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationadvice/10478701/Guide-to-pronunciation-from-Moet-to-diplodocus.html