Misspoken or Mispronounced Words and Phrases

Writing serves us well in communication by providing us with a framework for arranging words into clear and thoughtful statements, including opportunities for eloquence.

Applying ourselves to concise writing can also reinforce articulate speech. We are often moved or impressed by those who express themselves with precision and power. Think of the historic public addresses by Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.

Conversely, misspeaking and mispronouncing words and phrases can quickly sabotage and discredit our intellectual or persuasive standing with another person. Plus, beyond sounding wrong, these verbal glitches can contaminate our writing. If our mind’s ear hears or spells a word a certain way, we might wind up writing it as such as well.

For this reason, we’ve compiled some words and phrases to watch out for. Maybe some of us have tripped over a few, and perhaps a few have caused us all to fall. Some of the entries might surprise even the most well spoken among us.

Word or Phrase (Glitch: S=misspoken, P=mispronounced) Correct Treatment
affidavit (to mean written statement sworn before an official) (P) af-i-DEY-vit not, af-i-DEY-vid
all the sudden (S) all of a sudden
Antarctic (P); Arctic (P) ant-AHRK-tik, AHRK-tik; not ant-AHR-tik, AHR-tik
Calvary (to mean military service that fights on horseback) (S) cavalry (KAV-uhl-ree)
chomp at the bit (S) champ at the bit
et cetera (to mean “and the rest”) (P) et SET-er-uh, not ex-ET-er-uh, ek-SET-er-uh
escape (P) ih-SKEYP, not ex-KEYP
espresso (P) e-SPRES-oh, not ex-PRES-oh
for all intensive purposes (S) for all intents and purposes
forte (to mean strength or talent) (P) fort, not for-TAY, FOR-tay, or for-tay
genome (to mean full set of chromosomes) (P) JEE-nohm, not geh-NOHM
jaguar (P) JAG-wahr, -yoo-ahr, not JAG-wire
larynx (P) LAR-ingks, not LAR-niks
mayonnaise (P) mey-uh-NEYZ; MEY-uh-neyz, not MAN-eyz
meme (to mean cultural item transmitted by repetition) (P) meem, not mehm
niche (to mean suitable position; distinct market segment) (P) nich, not neesh
nuclear (P) NOO-klee-er, not NOO-kyuh-ler or NOO-kyoo-ler
prescription (P) pri-SKRIP-shuhn, not per-SKRIP-shuhn
probably (P) PROB-uh-blee, not PROB-lee
realtor (P) REE-uhl-ter (‘rē əl tər), not REEL-uh-ter
take for granite (S) take for granted
veteran (P) VET-er-uhn, not VEH-truhn
veterinary (P) VET-er-uh-ner-ee, not VEH-truh-ner-ee
voilà (to mean “here it is”) (P) vwah-LAH, not wah-LAH

You can find more often mispronounced words in our entry “You Lost Me After ‘Feb’.”

When we open our mouths, our minds are on parade. By devoting attention to proper phrasing and pronunciation, we can make sure what marches out sounds and lines up as it should.

If you know of or come across other misspoken or mispronounced words and phrases that are becoming more prevalent, feel free to share them with us for possible inclusion in a future article!

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27 Comments on Misspoken or Mispronounced Words and Phrases

27 responses to “Misspoken or Mispronounced Words and Phrases”

  1. Nancy says:

    One of my biggest peeves is hearing “mastectomy” pronounced “massectomy.”

    • Lynn DeWolf says:

      OMG! I love that one–hahaha! After I had my bilateral mastectomy many people (including my family) commented how brave I was to have a masECtomy!

      Others I love: “My rotator cup is torn.”
      “The dr. wants to take some of my limp glands.”

      My God, haven’t these people ever seen or read these words in print?

  2. Mike W. says:

    I love your newsletter! Here are two others for possible future inclusion:
    caramel is often mispronounced as “car-mel,” dropping the middle a
    “May I help who’s next?” is often said to people in lines, rather than “May I help whoever’s next?” Nails on the chalkboard to my ears!

  3. Shiv A. says:

    Please add Iran and Iraq!

  4. Chris says:

    Friendly note from across the pond: any readers wishing to speak British English should be aware that we pronounce “niche” as “neesh”, not “nich”; “nich” is correct for American English, but will make you look foolish in Britain.

  5. Amy says:

    I’ve actually seen probably spelled “prolly” so many times! Not to mention refrigerator being pronounced as “frigerator.”

  6. Roger Dunnick says:

    I understand the quotation-mark punctuation in the following sentence:

    “How do you do things?,” “Why do you do things?,” and “Where do you do things?” he asked.

    But what about the ?, combination in the following sentence?

    He asked me, “Why do I do what I do?,” to which I responded, “I don’t know.”

    Also, which of the following two sentences is punctuated correctly?

    The question was “Why do I do what I do?”
    The question was, “Why do I do what I do?”


  7. Kamal Taylor says:

    According to Merriam-Webster (the best arbiter of the American tongue), who covered the pronunciation of forte in their expanded definition https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/forte, either pronunciation could be considered standard. I agree with the rest of your list, and was surprised to learn I have been saying chomp at the bit when I should say champ.

    Great article.

  8. Mary Madden says:

    Learned something new again today! I’ve been saying “for-tay” forever. Thank you.
    A mispronunciation that is so common I’ve caught myself mimicking it, is “era.” I hear it pronounced most often the way we say “error” in Boston, “eh-ra”. But I was taught that it should be pronounced “ear-a.”

  9. Amy says:

    Regarding “Forte”: You are correct, as the word comes from the French for “strong,” so the e is silent. “Forte” pronounced “forTAY” is Italian for “loud.” That said, hardly anyone realizes this. If you pronounce it correctly you’ll likely get a confused stare. The correct pronunciation is probably going by the wayside.

  10. Julia says:

    From Merriam-Webster dictionary:
    In forte we have a word derived from French that in its “strong point” sense has no entirely satisfactory pronunciation. Usage writers have denigrated \ˈfȯr-ˌtā\ and \ˈfȯr-tē\ because they reflect the influence of the Italian-derived forte. Their recommended pronunciation \ˈfȯrt\, however, does not exactly reflect French either: the French would write the word le fort and would pronounce it more similar to English for. So you can take your choice, knowing that someone somewhere will dislike whichever variant you choose. All are standard, however. In British English \ˈfȯ-ˌtā\ and \ˈfȯt\ predominate; \ˈfȯr-ˌtā\ and \fȯr-ˈtā\ are probably the most frequent pronunciations in American English.

  11. Donna says:

    often – the “t” should be silent
    Irregardless – the word is “regardless”
    salmon – the “l” should be silent

  12. Janet-marie Persico says:

    I must disagree with Tom’s proscribed pronunciation of the word “niche,” It is NOT pronounced “nitch” – or as he types it, “nich.” It is a French word and is, in fact, pronounced “neesh.” Or, more accurately, “neesh – a” as in the following….https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/french-english/niche

    • At GrammarBook.com, we are most interested in the American English pronunciation. Most of the dictionaries in our office as well as those we found online list only the pronunciation nich. A few also allow neesh, which may be the preferred British pronunciation.

  13. Barbara Larson says:

    How about all the people–including sportscasters–who say “verse” for “versus,” as in “The Super Bowl will feature the Patriots verse the Eagles.”

  14. Roy Rowlett says:

    My favorites:
    I could care less.
    Prostrate disease.
    Old timers disease.

  15. Vicky Ireland says:

    What about “library” so often pronounced as “libry”

  16. Chuck R says:

    Unless I missed it, how about joo-ler-ee, which somehow evades the point that it’s about jewels?

  17. Donna M. says:

    How about fiscal vs. physical – two VERY different meanings, but when discussing budget, it shows how much you DON’T know.

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