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You Can Say That Again
Because English is so unpredictable, it’s often impossible to infer a word’s pronunciation from its spelling. Dictionaries help, to a point.
But dictionaries often seem all too willing to penalize time-honored pronunciations after a word gets mispronounced by a sufficient number of people.
So here is another in our series of pronunciation columns. The words are familiar, but their traditional pronunciations may surprise you. (Note: capital
letters denote a stressed syllable.)
The er is pronounced like ear rather than air. Say hiss-TEER-ia, not hiss-TAIR-ia.
It’s hard to figure how anyone who can spell this word would mispronounce it, but the fact remains that many people say “jula-ree.” To
them we say, please explain how j-e-w-e-l spells “jula.”
When used as an adjective, as in “She is the consummate hostess,” the correct pronunciation is cun-SUM-it, although CON-sa-mit has all but
taken over. You don’t hear many Americans say cun-SUM-it, but to its credit the latest edition (2011) of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language still prefers it.
It is often mispronounced
memmer-a-BEE-lia. Say memmer-a-BILL-ia. (Few people use, or are even aware of, the singular form: memorabile.)
This word for witty banter is pronounced rep-ur-TEE or rep-ar-TEE. Repartee came into English from the French repartie, meaning
“a sharp answer.” Our 1968 Random House American College Dictionary lists rep-ur-TEE as the only allowable pronunciation. The 2014 Webster’s New World does not list rep-ur-TEE at all. It prefers rep-ar-TEE, but also accepts the pseudo-French rep-ar-TAY.
Everyone pronounces this word the same: in-kahg-NEET-o, right? Not according to our ’68 American College Dictionary. A mere 47 years ago
only one pronunciation of this word was acceptable to Random House: in-KAHG-nitto, stress on the second syllable, with the third syllable pronounced
“nit” instead of “neet.” Quite a change. The aforementioned American Heritage dictionary, so meticulous that it has its own usage
panel, now gives first preference to in-kahg-NEET-o, but in-KAHG-nitto gets second billing, so someone is still pronouncing it that way.
The sticking point here is the th sound. It’s the difference between writhe and wreath, with the soft th
the correct choice; blithe and writhe make an exact rhyme.
Those who grew up listening to him will verify that PREZ-lee is the wrong way to pronounce Elvis’s last name. PRESS-lee is how the singer himself
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
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Every year, English teachers from across the country can submit their collections of actual similes and metaphors found in high school essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers across the country. Here is a selection of one year's winners:
The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.
He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.
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.