Month: January 2016

“Wait, say that word again?”

In recent years, I have received a lot of attention (both positive and negative) for the way I pronounce certain words.  Anyone who’s spent enough time with me knows that I don’t sound like a central New Yorker.  I might as well clear the air right now and list a bunch of words that you and I may/probably pronounce differently.  And chances are that I will come up with even more after this draft has been published.

Please note that any of these pronunciations may be overridden by a different pronunciation when I’m singing or when I’m imitating a character who uses a different pronunciation.

Also, all these pronunciations have the potential to shift over the course of my life.

  • Twenty – I pronounce this word exactly as it’s written.  For me, it rhymes with plenty, not funny.  (I do sing “twunny-one guns” when singing along to the Green Day song)
  • Advertisement – emphasis on second syllable; roughly [uh d-VUR-tis-muh nt]; for the record, my grandmother and my great uncle – both Americans – pronounce it this way as well; I generally shorten it to ad, anyway.
  • Harass(ment) – emphasis on first syllable; sounds almost identical to the surname Harris; this is actually the traditional pronunciation; I use the “ha-RASS” pronunciation if I’m imitating the Sexual Harassment Panda from South Park
  • Renaissance – When I talk about where I worked over the summer, I’m referring to the “Renée since” festival.  Because I don’t want to receive weird looks from people, I usually just shorten it to “Ren festival.”
  • Lawyer – more like “law-yer” and not “loi-yer”
  • Elementary – pretend the /a/ isn’t there; “elementry”; same goes for some other “-ary words” like sedimentary and rudimentary
  • Tournament – first syllable sounds like tore and not “turr”
  • Waistcoat – I use the traditional pronunciation [WES-kit].  Why, do you ask?  Why don’t I just say “waist coat?”  Well, when YOU say breakfast, do you say “break fast?” And do you say “boat swain” when you say boatswain (which is sometimes written more phonetically bosun)?
  • Folk(s) – I do not pronounce the /l/.  It rhymes with poke.
  • Almond – Like in folk, I don’t pronounce the /l/ here.  The /l/ was actually added BY MISTAKE hundreds of years ago.  “Ah-mond.”  Kinda like how you don’t pronounce the /l/ in calm.
  • Mayonnaise – I pronounce all three syllables.  I don’t say “man-aise.”
  • Crayon – I pronounce both syllables; “cray on.”
  • Les Misérables – I pronounce the “les” at the end of the second word.  You see those three letters after the /b/?  That’s not a silent syllable.  It’s just a short “luh.”

  • Penchant – I use the French approximation [PAHN-SHAHN] instead of the Anglicised [PEN-chuh nt].

  • Ambience – I pronounce this word like I would pronounce its adjectival form ambient – except with an /s/ sound at the end instead of a /t/.  PLEASE NOTE that this is the word ambience – with an /e/ between the /i/ and /n/.  If it is the word ambiance – with an /a/ between /i/ and /n/ – then I will pronounce it the French way.
  • Devereux – There’s a street in Utica, NY with this name.  You’ll hear me pronounce it the French way – not “Dever-oh.”

  • Cliché – I pronounce the /i/ as a long /e/ to make it more like the French pronunciation.

  • Notre Dame – Again, French pronunciation here.  [noh-truh DAHM]

  • Macabre – Another French-derived word.  I pronounce all three syllables.  Rhymes with chupacabra.
  • Bouquet – First syllable is pronounced “boo,” not “boh.”
  • Melee – I pronounce it more like “meh-lay,” not “may-lay.”
  • -eur words (connoisseur, entrepreneur, etc.) – These do not rhyme with “sewer.”  More like an “urr.”  It’s as if they end with a stressed [-er] suffix (which [-eur] essentially is, anyway).
  • Zebra – For me, the /e/ is short, not long.  “ZEB-ra.”  Not “ZEE-bra.”

  • Zenith – Same deal as zebra.  Short /e/.

  • Catch – I pronounce it to rhyme with match.  “Catch up” does not sound like “ketchup” for me.

  • Often – I do not pronounce the /t/.  You don’t pronounce the /t/ in soften, do you?

  • Either/Neither – The first syllable takes the long /i/ vowel, not long /e/.  I don’t say “eether” and “neether.”

  • Flaccid – I pronounce both C’s in the word.  Should be “flack sid,” not “flassid.”  Do you say accident or “ass-ident?”  Not sure I want to know what an “ass-ident” is.  Also, there’s coccyx.

  • Coitus – Three syllables.  Think more “COH-it-us” and less “coy-tus.”
  • Oedipus – I pronounce it “EE-dipus.”  Yup.  Sorry.
  • Forte – If I’m talking about a strength I possess (or don’t possess), I pronounce it “fort,” which is the traditional way of pronouncing it, believe it or not.  If I’m using the musical term (which is a different word, I might add), meaning “loud” or “strong,” I pronounce it the way you’d expect.
  • Bade/Forbade – You likely will never hear me utter these words outside the Ren festival, but I use the traditional pronunciation [bad], not [beyd].  They are the simple past tenses of bid and forbid, as in, “I bade him farewell,” or, “I forbade her from going out.”
  • Get/Forget – I do NOT change these to “git” or “forgit.”  I might use “git” if I’m singing Get Back by The Beatles.
  • Tomorrow – “to-MORE-oh”
  • Because – I pronounce it “because,” not “becuz.”  The same logic does NOT apply, however, if I’m using the clipped form ’cause.
  • Envelope – I pronounce it “en-velope,” not “on-velope.”
  • Caramel – I pronounce all three syllables.  I don’t say “carmel.”
  • Veteran – Again, all three syllables.  I don’t say “vetren.”
  • Aluminium – “Al-you-MIN-yim” (note the spelling, too)
  • Epoch – I say it like “EE-pock,” not “epic.”
  • Prelude – [PREL-yood]
  • Deluge – [DEL-yoozh]
  • Arctic/Antarctic – I pronounce all C’s and T’s in these two words.
  • Appalachia(n) – For the third syllable, think “latch.”
  • Aussie – “Auzzie.”
  • Sahara – Middle syllable takes a broad /a/ sound.  Think “sa-HARR-a” and not “sa-HAIR-a.”
  • Oregon – Final syllable is unstressed.  It does NOT rhyme with con.
  • New Orleans – “OR-linz.”  Crucify me.
  • Clinton – Whether I’m talking about Billary or the village in NY, I fully pronounce the /t/.  “Clin tin.”  Same principle applies for badminton.
  • Moscow – I pronounce it like “MOZ-coh.”  I blame The Beatles’ Back in the USSR for this one.
  • Charlemagne – Believe it or not, the name of the great Frankish king has come up in conversation amongst friends enough times to warrant itself a place on this list.  I use the French approximation [shar-luh-MAHN-yuh].  I don’t do this for champagne, however (unless it’s in a play, and it makes sense for the character).
  • Vicarious – For me, the first /i/ is short, not long.
  • Simultaneous – Same as above: first /i/ is short.
  • Cyclical – Same still (kinda): the /y/ is a short /i/.
  • Debacle – somewhat Anglicised; roughly “dibackle”
  • Trespass – Second syllable is unstressed.  Think of it more like “trespus.”  Or, say the word compass.  Now replace “com” with “tres.”  That’s the way I pronounce it.
  • Comfortable – I pronounce four syllables.  “Comfort-able,” not “comfterble.”
  • Halloween – The first part of the word is hallow, not hollow.
  • Applicable – Stress on second syllable.
  • Associate (noun & verb) – The /c/ takes the /s/ sound, not the /sh/ sound.
  • Grocery – Same as above: treat the /c/ as an /s/.
  • Species – Again: the /c/ is an /s/.
  • Interesting/Interested – I pronounce the first /e/ in both words.  I don’t say “intresting” or “intrested.”  Think more “inter-esting” and “inter-ested.”
  • Pianist – Stress on first syllable.  Laugh it up.
  • Adagio – Musical term meaning “slow.”  I use an Italian approximation [uh-DAH-joh].  Not [uh-DAH-zhee-oh].  It’s not French.
  • Arpeggio – Another musical term.  I approximate the Italian with [ar-PE-jo].  Not [ar-PE-zhee-oh].  Again, it’s not French.
  • Trauma – For me, the first syllable rhymes with “cow,” not “law.”
  • Wont – I say it just like I say the contraction won’t.
  • Privacy – The /i/ is short, as in privy.
  • Albino – The /i/ is pronounced like a long /e/.
  • Trapeze – First syllable is unstressed.  I do not say “trap ease”
  • Cordial(ly) – For me, the /d/ is unchanged by the /i/.  I do not say “corjal.”  It’s more like “cord-ial.”
  • Sentient – Opposite of above; the /t/ is modified by the /i/.  I do not say “sent-ient,” but rather [SEN-shuh nt].  Say the word mention, but with a /t/ at the end.  “Mentiont.”  It rhymes with that.
  • Suggest – I don’t pronounce the first /g/.
  • Herb – I pronounce the /h/.  Same goes for any derived terms such as herbivore and herbology.
  • Nonsense – Second syllable is unstressed.  Sounds roughly like “non since.”
  • Leisure – rhymes with pleasure
  • Enquiry – I basically say “enquire-y.”
  • Patronise – The /a/ is short, not long.  Oddly enough, this is not the case in patron.
  • Data – “day-ta”
  • Aesthetic – basically “ees-thetic”
  • Basil – think “bazzle”
  • Fifth – I pronounce the second /f/.
  • Width – I pronounce the /d/.
  • Clothes – I pronounce the /th/.
  • Scenario – rhymes with Mario, not Ontario
  • Orange – Two syllables.  Not “ornj.”
  • Subject, Object (noun) – The second syllables are unstressed.  They sound more like “jict” than “ject.”  Remember, this is only for the noun forms.  It’s different for the verb forms.
  • Pure, Sure, Lure – The U’s in these take the /oo/ vowel, as in foot.
  • Surprise – I pronounce the first /r/.  Think “Sir Prize.”
  • February – I pronounce the first /r/.  “Feh-broo-ary.”  Not “Feh-byoo-ary.”
  • Governor – I pronounce the first /r/.
  • Horror, Terror, Error, Mirror, etc. – I make sure to pronounce both syllables here so as NOT to make them sound like whore and tear and air and mere.  To people who are not used to hearing me speak, it might sound like I’m putting an extra /r/ in these words.
  • Drawers – I can go a little overboard with the whole “pronounce both syllables” thing.  I say drawers with an intrusive /r/ immediately after “draw.”  It sounds like “drawrers.”  This is the ONLY pronunciation of mine for which I give you permission to make fun of me.  Incidentally, I don’t have an intrusive /r/ when I say drawer, as in “one who draws.”  This also does not happen with withdrawal.
  • Syllabic – For me, the /a/ is short, not broad.  I don’t say “syll-AH-bic.”
  • Congratulations – The first /t/ makes the /ch/ sound, not the /j/ sound.  Think “gratch.”
  • Student, Stupid – For me, the T’s morph into Ch’s.  Think “chewdent” and “chewpid,” but with S’s before the “chew” parts.
  • Aryan – First syllable is “are,” not “air.”
  • Luxury – I say it more like “luck-sher-ee.”  Not “lug-zher-ee.”
  • Exit – The /x/ sounds like an /x/.  I don’t say “egg-zit.”  (ew)
  • Laboratory – Remember the way Dexter would say it in Dexter’s Lab?  “Dee Dee, get out of my la-BOR-atory!”  Pretty much like that.  (I usually just shorten it to lab, though.)
  • Fastidious – First syllable is unstressed.  Does not sound like “fast-idious.”
  • Citizen – I pronounce the /z/ like a /z/, not an /s/.
  • Homage – “Om-idge.”  I use the Anglicised pronunciation.
  • Via – rhymes with Kia
  • Citadel – Imagine there’s another /l/ at the end.  I say it like “citta-dell.”
  • Plaza – first /a/ is short; does not sound like “plAHza”
  • Imbecile – Final syllable rhymes with teal.
  • Vermouth – Say Plymouth, as in Plymouth Rock.  Now replace “ply” with “ver.”  That’s how I pronounce vermouth.  “VER-mith.”
  • Kindergarten – I don’t say “kinder garden,” but rather “kinder garten,” with a /t/.  It’s closer to the German pronunciation.
  • Nietzsche – I do not say “Neechee.”  I use the German pronunciation [NEE-chuh].  The second syllable is unstressed.  For those of you not versed in IPA, this is known as a schwa.  Take the word comma, for example.  The /a/ at the end is a type of schwa.  If I were to Anglicise the spelling, the philosopher’s name would be “Neecha.”
  • Python, Phenomenon – The final syllables are unstressed.  They do not rhyme with con.  Think of the final syllable in button.  By the way, these are also schwas.  And, yes, when I say “Monty Python,” it’s probably different from the way you say it.
  • Irony – “Eye-rin-y.”  I do not say “iron-y.”  Unless I’m describing the taste of blood.  *cue vampire laugh*
  • Route – “Root.”  Does not rhyme with shout.
  • Resourceful – Basically, the /s/ is a /z/.
  • Address (verb AND noun) – “a dress”
  • Merry – For me, marry and merry are not homophones.  Merry sounds more like “mehrry.”
  • Pecan – All right, so, I almost didn’t include this one because I NEVER SAY IT.  The only time I say it is when I’m telling people that I never say it.  It’s one of those words that, no matter how it’s pronounced, gets looks from people.  For me, if ever there is a time at which this word must pass my lips, it rhymes with beacon.  Not “pi-CAHN.”  Not “pee-can.”  (ew)
  • Uranus – Another lose-lose word.  Say it with stress on the second syllable, and people giggle because you just said “your anus.”  Say it with stress on the first, and you just said “urinous.”  So, I’ve come up with my own pronunciation: [yoo-RA-nuh s] or “yi-RAN-iss”
  • Z – Get ready for a bombshell here.  Yes, I say zed.  Not zee.  To be fair, though, this one is affected on my part.  After all, no child in American public schooling is taught to say zed.  We are taught zee so as to rhyme with V when we sing our ABC’s.  But once I realised just how etymologically unsupported zee is when compared to zed, I stopped using the former.  It is an Americanism – a corruption of zed, which comes from the Greek letter zeta.  HOWEVER, I still use the pronunciation zee if it is part of a name – like Dragon Ball Z and ZZ Top.
  • Difficult, Culminate, Pulp, Indulge, etc. – For me, the “ul” letter combination takes the pronunciation “uhl.”
  • Anti-, Multi-, Semi- The /i/ in each of these prefixes takes the long /e/ vowel.  Unless I’m talking about a semi truck.  Then I say “sem-eye.”
  • Quasi – Remember the hunchback’s name?  Quasimodo?  The first element of his name is how I always pronounce quasi, whether I’m using it as an adjective or a prefix.  [KWAH-zee]
  • -ile words (missile, hostile, fertile, versatile, etc.) – These words always rhyme with tile.
  • Candidate – I pronounce both D’s in this word.  Also, the second /a/ is long.  “Candid ate.”
  • Bounty, Winter, Centre – I pronounce the T’s.  When I say them, they never sound like “bouny” and “winner” and “cenner.”  This goes for any “nt” letter combination like these.
  • Words with “guttural /t/” (certain, important, forgotten, etc.) – If you do not know what I mean by “gutteral /t/,” say “uh-oh.”  That break you feel in the throat between each syllable is called a glottal stop.  In many words, T’s are replaced with glottal stops for most speakers.  Not for me, though.  I typically fully pronounce the T’s in words like those listed here.

If those weren’t bad enough, here are some past tenses I use that may raise some eyebrows:

  • Span (I still use spun as the past participle of spin.)
  • Sneaked (Snuck is actually nonstandard.)
  • Dived (Dove is a type of bird.)
  • Leant (Do you say meaned or meant?)
  • Dreamt
  • Learnt, spilt, spelt, etc. (For me, some verbs take the [-t] suffix in lieu of [-ed].  You’ll get over it.)

And, before you label me a Brit, let me remind you that there are PLENTY of words for which I use pronunciations that are more aligned with my region, that is to say, more or less how you might expect.  A few:

*same caveats from before still apply*

  • Garage
  • Respite
  • Schedule
  • Clerk
  • Jaguar
  • Lieutenant
  • Vase
  • Tomato
  • Vitamin
  • Evolution (unless I’m singing Revolution by The Beatles)
  • Status
  • Figure
  • Glacier
  • Project, Progress (noun)
  • Moustache
  • Again/Against
  • Hurry
  • Template
  • Baton (but not in Baton Rouge)
  • Mario
  • Mafia
  • Patriot
  • Caveat
  • Pasta
  • Strawberry (or blueberry, raspberry, etc.)
  • Premiere

And now for a few words whose pronunciations VARY:

  • Sorry – I seem to say “sore-y” exclusively to strangers – like when I bump into them.
  • Aunt – By itself, it’s pronounced [ahnt].  Combined with a name, it becomes [ant].
  • Adult – If I use it as an adjective, I put the stress on the first syllable.  Otherwise, stress on the second.
  • Fortune – I typically say “FOR-choon,” but not when it’s followed immediately by cookie.
  • Been – When it’s stressed, it comes out [bin].  Like, “How’ve you been?”  I never say “Ben.”
  • -isation words – sometimes the /i/ is long; sometimes it’s short
  • Niche – The age-old debate.  My solution: I say “nitch” when referring to a literal recess in a wall – but I say “neesh” when referring to a figurative “suitable place or position.”
  • Boulevard – I say “boo-levard,” unless I’m talking about a named road, in which case it’s “bull-evard.”

I know that this was a super long first post, but thank you dearly if you read the whole thing.  If you are curious about the way I pronounce any other words, names or phrases, leave a comment here or on Facebook (or shoot me an e-mail), and I will happily respond to it!  Cheers!

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