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The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

More Ear-itating Word Abuse

Although Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star has faded, the erstwhile weight lifter-actor-governor hasn’t quite left the building. Recently, a phonics teacher e-mailed her exasperation with broadcasters who mispronounce the first syllable in “Schwarzenegger,” saying “swartz” instead of “shwartz.” “There IS a difference!” she said. “It’s gotten to the point that it’s like nails on a chalkboard when I hear it.”

As for me, I’ve heard it “swartz,” “shwartz,” “shvartz,” and even “shvozz.” I’ve heard it three, four, and five syllables. The man’s name is a minefield—I wonder if anyone except him says it right. This may be the rare occasion when I have some compassion for announcers . . .

Or maybe not. Shouldn’t you broadcasters make it your business to know how to pronounce a name—I mean, isn’t that your job? What else do we ask you to do besides saying the words right? OK, “Schwarzenegger” is one thing, but how about a common American name of six letters: To most people, former Vice President Dick Cheney is “CHAY-nee.” But in the early days of the George W. Bush administration, Cheney’s wife announced that the proper pronunciation of the family name was “CHEE-nee.” No one paid attention. Now, all these years later, the only broadcaster who’s careful to say “CHEE-nee” is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.

No one butchers names like sportscasters: Back in the 1960s, the Chicago White Sox baseball team acquired a pitcher named Johnny Buzhardt. Then a strange thing happened: Up till then, his name had always been pronounced “BUZZ-hart,” but when the Sox got him, their great announcer Bob Elson started calling him “Buh-ZARD.” The pitcher’s wife only added to the confusion when in an on-air interview she quipped, “I’m Mrs. Buh-ZARD, wife of Johnny BUZZ-hart.”

Let’s go to some more misbegotten ear-torturers:

Short-lived  This is not the lived of “She lived well.” The i is long, as it is in “live entertainment.”

Integral  Why do so many people say “in-tra-gul” despite the spelling? It’s “in-ta-grul.”

February  See that r after the b? You do? Apparently we’re in the minority. Every year in late winter, I wince to turn on the radio or TV and hear “Feb-yoo-ary” (or “Febber-ary”). Is “Feb-roo-ary” really so hard?

Controversial  Four syllables, not five. Say “con-tra-VER-shul,” not “con-tra-ver-see-ul.”

Et cetera (etc.)  Pronounced “ick-settera” by high-paid communicators who mysteriously think et is pronounced “ick.”

Dour  The correct pronunciation is “doo-er.”

Schism  Two things about this word: you rarely hear it, and when you do, it’s wrong: don’t say “skizzum,” say “sizzum.”

Heinous, grievous, mischievous  First, please note there’s no i before the o in these words. Why, then, have I heard seasoned professionals say “hee-nee-us”? It’s “hay-nus.” Similarly, “grievous” is a two-syllable word: “GREE-vus.” The most tortured is the third one, which so many mindlessly pronounce “mis-CHEE-vee-us.” Make that “MIS-cha-vus.”

This classic grammar tip by our late copy editor and word nerd Tom Stern was first published on August 4, 2013

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

31 responses to “More Ear-itating Word Abuse”

  1. Jeanne Daniels says:

    My pet peeve is rec-con-ize. I have heard many persons who should know better say recognize in that way. It is worse to me that the proverbial fingernails on a blackboard! I’m 72 years old and I don’t remember it being pronounced in that manner until the past 20 or so years. What brought about the change? Was I asleep when an edict came down that a “G” is silent before an “N,” i.e., s-i-g-n!

  2. Richard Grieves says:

    Great article! Please add the word “tour” which must be pronounced “two-er,” not “tore.”

  3. Kay Watson says:

    I wonder about words with two c’s. I was taught to make the first one hard, but I hear others pronounce the words as if there were an s.

    Flaccid ~ flack-sid or
    Succinct ~ suck-sinct or

    I know it’s suck-sess, so why is there a difference with the other words?

    Thank you.

    • In general, if a word contains cc followed by a, o, or u, the cc is pronounced as a k sound (succumb, for instance). Similarly, in a word containing cc followed by the letters e or i, the cc will be pronounced as a k sound and an s sound.
      Therefore, flaccid is pronounced “flak sid,” and succinct is pronounced “suk sinkt.”

  4. Tanya says:

    Pet peeve: reel-uh-tur for “realtor”

  5. David S. says:

    … and to “air” is human but to “err” is correct.

  6. Lea says:

    I was confused about dour, as I’ve always pronounced it “dow-er” (like sour). So I was surprised to see it pronounced “doo-er” and decided to check Webster’s pronunciation. Webster’s pronounces it “dow-er”; a further check of the Oxford English Dictionary shows various pronunciations, most “doo-er” but an American “dow-er” (Webster’s also differs from you on “short-lived,” although the OED has your pronunciation). So it seems a distinction may need to be made between British and American pronunciations.

    • The American Heritage Dictionary says the following in regard to dour and short-lived:

      Usage Note: The word dour, which is etymologically related to duress and endure, traditionally rhymes with tour. The pronunciation that rhymes with sour is a standard variant that has been in use for more than a century. In our 1996 survey, 65 percent of the Usage Panel preferred the traditional pronunciation, and 33 percent preferred the variant. In our 2011 survey, opinion was almost evenly split, with 52 percent preferring the traditional pronunciation and 48 percent preferring the variant. These results suggest that the variant could overtake the traditional pronunciation in preference.

      Usage Note: The pronunciation (-līvd) is etymologically correct since the compound is derived from the noun life, rather than from the verb live. But the pronunciation (-lĭvd) is by now so common that it cannot be considered an error. In our 2005 survey, 90 percent of the Usage Panel found (-lĭvd) acceptable and 75 percent found (-līvd) acceptable.

  7. Kathy Triick says:

    And how about my pet peeve: veterinarian? It’s pronounced veh-ter-uh-nair-ee-uhn (or the less common veh-truh-nair-ee-uhn), but NOT vet-rin-air-ee-uhn.

  8. T.J. Neal says:

    Only children raised by avid wordsmiths can know all of these (and I suspect some of them don’t, as well). I’m surprised some words didn’t make the list, such as jewelry pronounced as jewel-e-ry and sherbet pronounced as sher-bert.

  9. marge201 says:

    [Dour The correct pronunciation is “doo-er”] So a dour personality is pronounced DOO-er? No, that doesn’t sound right. A dour type means gloomy or sour, not so pleasant, but a “doer” (DOO er) is a personality that takes care of business, gets things done. I’ll stick with the incorrect DOW-er for unpleasant.

    Surprised about short-lived with a long i.

    Cheney, interesting. Schism, if I ever used the word, I’d be dubbed a dummy due to my mispronunciation.

    RIP Tom Stern. Great article!

    • Thank you for your comment. Please see our June 10, 2019, reply to Lea.

      • Nick says:

        Regarding schism: this article is an example of the predicaments that can arise with “reprinting” older material about the usage of English (an ever-moving target!). If you look up what is apparently GrammarBook’s preferred dictionary, you will find it now favors the k-based pronunciation. says “schism (skĭz’əm, sĭz’-)” and the only recorded pronunciation it offers is the k-based one. Also, FWIW, growing up in a British commonwealth country, I only ever heard the k-based pronunciation and that is the preferred pronunciation Oxford Online offers (now at Lexico – “schism Pronunciation /ˈskɪz(ə)m/ /ˈsɪz(ə)m/ ).

        American Heritage – “Usage Note: The word schism, originally spelled scisme, cisme, and sisme in English, was formerly pronounced (sĭz’əm), without a (k) sound, as if it were etymologically related to scissors. (It isn’t, or at least not in any straightforward way; see the Word History below.) The modern spelling with the h dates to the 1500s, when the word was respelled to resemble its Latin and Greek ancestors. The pronunciation with (k), (skĭz’əm), was once regarded as incorrect, but over the decades it has gained acceptability to the point where it now predominates in standard American usage. In our 2016 survey, 82 percent of the Usage Panel indicated that they use (skĭz’əm), while 14 percent said they use (sĭz’əm). A third pronunciation, (shĭz’əm), was preferred by just 4 percent. In 1997, the figures were 61 percent, 31 percent, and 8 percent, respectively, indicating that (skĭz’əm) may one day be the word’s only common pronunciation.”

        So, even in 2013 when this piece was first published, it was probably “wrong” about not using the k-based pronunciation, but the author (who I realize cannot defend himself any longer) repeated what had probably been a long-held bugbear that time and common usage had already turned the tables on at that point, regardless of what he preferred. FWIW, M-W still lists the non-k pronunciation as its preferred one, but given AHD’s survey data I cannot imagine that surviving the next review of this entry – .

        And, as I’m here, I noticed “the erstwhile weight lifter-actor-governor” in your opening sentence, and am wondering if that fits with advice elsewhere on this site regarding the use of hyphens, en-dashes, etc? Should both those hyphens perhaps be en-dashes? Or perhaps this is good place to use a formation such as “weight lifter-cum-actor-cum-governor”, although that’s starting to be unwieldy. I think it is one of those tricky edge cases where many people will not be happy no matter which way you go, so should be covered by whatever style guide you’re writing to and damn the torpedoes…

        • Thank you for the updates regarding the word schism. We do respect The American Heritage Dictionary and its informative “Usage Panel.” We are beginning work on a twelfth edition of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation and thus an update of the website. It appears that a revised treatment of schism is in order.

          Regarding “the erstwhile weight lifter-actor-governor,” we would leave the hyphenation as is. The phrase doesn’t fit the criteria presented in Punctuating Compounds That Precede, where en dashes became more useful than hyphens in certain three-word modifiers. Instead, our discussion of Slashes in our rules section would lead us to “erstwhile weight lifter-actor-governor” over “erstwhile weight lifter/actor/governor.”

  10. D. Haertling says:

    Excellent post – always enjoy the reminders! One of my pet peeves is how some people pronounce “nuclear.” I learned it as noted in the dictionary, as “noo-klee-er,” not “noo-kular”

  11. Dave Sarro says:

    You ask whether broadcasters should know how to pronounce a person’s name. Indeed, they should. Yet many surnames have foreign origins, so I’m willing to overlook these professionals’ stumbling on them, especially when a name has only recently appeared in the news. What I cannot abide, however, is their misuse of language. Just today, for example, I noted a veteran broadcaster on NBC use the term “infer” when she should have said “imply.” Then there’s the frequent misuse of “nauseous,” which has become positively nauseating. But the broadcaster error that most riles me is the use of “beg the question,” a phrase properly used only in formal logic, instead of “raise the question,” which simply refers to a cause that prompts a question. ARRRGH!

  12. Peter Gilbert says:

    Also, all the alternative spellings and pronunciations for asterisk. The worst? Askrisk.

  13. Johanne Schwartz says:

    Thank you SO much for commenting on the pronunciation of “Schwartz.” When I got married, I assumed my horrible-pronunciation days were gone. I went from a very French last name to “Schwartz.” Boy, was I wrong! I was floored! As a court reporter, I certainly can appreciate how critical pronunciation is. Now if I could only answer the big question – do I write it as a verbatim butchered word or as the correctly pronounced word so others can understand? Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone.

  14. Glenn says:

    Yay! thank you for this email. Especially the mischievous pronunciation, glad to know I have been right on this all along…

  15. Sandy says:

    You are my hero!

  16. John C. says:

    Great article, thank you.

    But as someone who was educated in a German school, I must tell you that pronouncing Arnold’s name as ‘’Shvarzenegger’’ would be acceptable in many instances, depending on the German dialect being spoken at the time. But I agree that it is ‘’Shwarzenegger’’ at all times.

  17. Florence Salmer says:

    I know you’re not really commenting on medical terms, but I can’t resist bringing up “hiatal hernia.”
    As a nurse, I’ve heard it pronounced “hyenas hernia, haynal hernia, heinous hernia, hy-AT-al hernia & hi-AY-tal hernia.” Of course I know what they mean, but it drives me crazy.

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