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Proper Pronunciation: A Sound Policy
Pronouncing words correctly helps convince listeners that you know what you’re talking about.
By correct pronunciation, we mean words as you’d hear them enunciated at formal occasions: a lecture by an English scholar, say, or a first-rate
production of a play by George Bernard Shaw or Eugene O’Neill.
To settle pronunciation disputes, we recommend an old dictionary. New ones are fine, but having access to an old one minimizes the intrusion of trendy
Also, those serious about their diction might want to pick up a copy of
The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations
by Charles Harrington Elster, who says in the book’s introduction: “I am not opposed to change. Such a position would be untenable. I am
skeptical of ignorant, pompous, and faddish change. I am annoyed when people invent pronunciations for unfamiliar words. I am exasperated when they
can’t be bothered to check the pronunciation of a word they look up in a dictionary.”
Here are ten familiar words whose traditional pronunciations may surprise you. Note: capital letters denote a stressed syllable.
Alleged It must come as a shock to those in the media, but alleged is a two-syllable word. It is pronounced uh-LEJD, not uh-LEDGE-id.
Envelope Though you’d never know it from what you hear over the airwaves, the preferred pronunciation of this word is ENN-va-lope, rather than the
Controversial Four syllables, not five. Say
contra-VER-shul, not contra-VER-see-ul.
Camaraderie It’s a five-syllable word, but you usually hear only four. That letter a before the r should be a clue to say comma-ROD-ery, not
Forte When the word refers to a specialty or area of expertise (math is his forte), this is a one-syllable word pronounced fort. Most people mistakenly
say for-tay. That pronunciation is only correct as a musical term. When forte is pronounced FOR-tay it means “loudly.”
Short-lived This is not the lived of She lived well. The i is long; short-lived rhymes with thrived.
Schism It’s pronounced sizzum. The 1968 Random House American College Dictionary lists no alternative pronunciation. You rarely hear this word, but
when you do, it’s generally pronounced skizzum, a pronunciation that, in Elster’s words, “arose out of ignorance.”
Integral Why do so many people say in-tra-gul, despite the spelling? Make it IN-ta-grul.
Homage A reviewer called a film “a homage to motherhood.” The critic wisely did not write “an homage,” knowing that the h is
sounded. This word has spun out of control in the twenty-first century. Its traditional pronunciation is HOMM-ij. But then AHM-ij gained a foothold, and it
went downhill from there. Now, just about all one hears is oh-MAHZH, an oh-so-precious pronunciation that was virtually nonexistent in English until late
in the twentieth century.
Pronunciation As the spelling indicates, it’s pronounced pra-nun-see-AY-shun. Too many careless speakers say pra-nown-see-AY-shun.
Most words have been around longer than any of us have. Pronouncing them properly is showing respect for our elders.
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
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Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?
Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?
If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport the terminal?
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.