Grammar That’s nyooz to me |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

That’s nyooz to me

Pronunciation changes gradually through the years—that’s evolution, and nothing could be more natural.

But nowadays, if an influential public figure goes on TV or the Internet and says a word wrong, millions of people hear it, and the mispronunciation may gain an undeserved legitimacy. That isn’t evolution, it’s weeds taking over a rose garden. Virtually overnight, a word’s long-established pronunciation can be upended because some big shot misspoke. Examples of widespread mispronunciations for which we blame the media include alleged, camaraderie, controversial, divisive, homage … we could go on.

We recognize that with language the majority rules, but it’s frustrating to realize that those who don’t know or care much about words ultimately decide how they’re spoken.

So here is another installment in our series of pronunciation columns. (Note: capital letters denote a stressed syllable.)

News  Don’t say nooze; it’s nyooz (rhymes with fuse).

Era  The er should sound like ear. Say EAR-a, not AIR-a.

Dais  It’s a raised platform for speakers (the human kind). The right way to say it is DAY-iss, but you often hear DYE-iss.

Dalai Lama  DAH-lye LA-ma is the pronunciation unanimously accepted by our office dictionaries, which span the last seventy-five years. The ai in Dalai is pronounced like the first syllable in aisle or the last syllable in samurai. Avoid “Dolly Lama”—that second in Dalai was not just thrown in arbitrarily.

Daiquiri  More trouble with ai. In the 1959 British film Our Man in Havana a character orders a DYKE-er-ee, and our 1966 Random House dictionary prefers that pronunciation. But for years now, Americans have said DACK-a-ree. Even so, the American Heritage online dictionary still lists DYKE-er-ee. Maybe the best bet is to order a mai tai.

Guillotine  Despite the oft-heard GEE-uh-teen, this word is traditionally pronounced GILL-uh-teen. In the early 19th century, Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language called for the l’s to be pronounced. Our 1941 Webster’s New International Dictionary also insists on saying the l’s. GEE-uh-teen as an alternative is a relatively recent trend.

Electoral  We’re right in the middle of an important election season, and soon we’ll be hearing semiliterate media types saying ee-lec-TOR-ul. Well, don’t be like them. The word is properly pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable. The 1999 Webster’s New World and the 2006 American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language list only ee-LEC-ter-ul. However, it is our sad duty to report that the latest edition of each now lists ee-lec-TOR-ul as an alternative. Why is something acceptable now if it wasn’t all right ten years ago?

The moral: When it comes to correct pronunciation, a new dictionary might not be the first place you want to look.

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.

26 responses to “That’s nyooz to me”

  1. Betty Pelley says:

    I was surprised by your comment on “guillotine”. The dictionary noted that the word is French, from Joseph Guillotin an 1814 French physician (first known use in 1790). It’s been 50+ years since I studied French in high school and college, but I can’t imagine pronouncing double l’s as “el”. We butcher so many foreign words that we have appropriated for English use. Is that the case here? My favorite is from the town of Versailles in MO, which is pronounced, “Versales”. Thanks so much for attempting to save proper grammar!

  2. Alisande Cutler says:

    Another variation on the pronunciation of “new” that I have been noticing lately is “noose.” Several newscasters have used this version.

  3. Scott says:

    You cannot be serious. I’ve *never* heard anyone say “nyooz”. I don’t pronounce new as “nyoo”, so why would I say “nyooz”?

    Some of the others I’ll grant you. I’ve never heard “DYKE-er-ee”, and I doubt I could successfully order one with that pronunciation anywhere, but I can see how the problem arose (lazy American mouths) and why it is wrong. I think the problem comes down to this sentence:

    We recognize that with language the majority rules, but it’s frustrating to realize that those who don’t know or care much about words ultimately decide how they’re spoken.

    That is the simply nature of language, and I don’t think that a slow, “natural” evolution can be reasonably expected anymore. I’ll continue to say “DAY-iss” and endeavor to say “EAR-a”, but I would be rightly laughed out of any conversation where I tried to say “nyooz”.

  4. Lawrence M. says:

    C’mon now, it has to correctly be dai-KEE-ree. It’s Spanish. Yet, that too is incorrect.
    The natural syllable rules of Spanish phonetics are broken as evidenced by the accent on the final i.
    Thus, the pronunciation is dai-kee-REE.

  5. fafner says:

    Very good. My special peeve is REAL A TOR or REAL A TEE. It is so plain–Real tor. How does anyone miss that?

  6. Fred B. says:

    My tongue is twisted over the nyooz. When we borrow a word from (or share it with) a foreign language, is it acceptable to use either the English or foreign pronunciation?

  7. Peter B. says:

    The frequent announcements in the NYC subway tell me (to my ear — maybe
    not hearing accurately):

    A tyoo (“2”) train tyoo (to) [destination] will arrive in
    tyoo (“2”) minutes.

    Is this “nyooze” to you?

  8. Carol Y. says:

    This is a very interesting topic. A friend and I have discussed two other words – hammock and hassock. Can you address the proper pronunciation, please?

  9. Honor S. says:

    Thank you for your interesting emails.

    My pet hate is the increasing use of Haitch instead of a aitch. It used to be just a North of England thing but now it’s everywhere, including people better educated than me who should know better!

  10. Jan Reinschmidt says:

    I am so tired of weather people saying, “In the overnight, we will have….” “Overnight” is not a noun! Weather people seem to have forgotten the word “night.”

    • We would not consider such use of the word overnight to be grammatically correct. However, overnight can be a noun when referring to an overnight stay: The Girl Scouts had an overnight in Big Sky Park last Friday.

  11. TJ says:

    The mispronunciation of the names of 2020’s hurricanes has been horrendous, especially on The Weather Channel. It seems as though some sort of name-badgering wager is going on behind the scenes. It certainly doesn’t instill confidence in these weathercasters when they, at the same time, wrongly predict the paths of these unpredictable storms.

  12. Roy M Warner says:

    I’m a retired NY trial lawyer. Although I pronounce your examples properly, I still have trouble with my Brooklyn-eze. Water = wawdah; New York = Noo Yawk; Going to = gonna; Off = awf.

  13. Susan says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Just because so many ignorant or careless people say it incorrectly, doesn’t make it right! I have to admit I was surprised by Daiquiri – I’ve always said dack-ery too. Another one I’ve been mispronouncing is era, of all things. I consider myself to have a fairly large vocabulary, although my reading vocabulary is much larger than my speaking vocabulary, sadly. This will take some practice!

  14. Joyce Wright says:

    I have been grieved by the way dictionaries are caving in to popular trends of the day. Proper pronunciations of some words don’t seem to matter any more. I wrote a complaint to one such publisher that used to be considered the standard source of correctness. There was no acknowledgement of my note. Thank you for taking a stand on the matter! You are definitely needed to offset the sloppiness that is invading our language usage. Hooray for!

  15. Susheila Khera says:

    Thank you for another great article.
    Today, I had to watch and listen to some training videos that were narrated by a computer, and I noticed some of the pronunciations were incorrect. Also, the way the sentences were delivered (e.g., placement of the pauses) was different from our normal rhythm and flow. Get ready for more abominations of pronunciation and speaking in general.

Leave a Comment or Question:

Please ensure that your question or comment relates to the topic of the blog post. Unrelated comments may be deleted. If necessary, use the "Search" box on the right side of the page to find a post closely related to your question or comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *