Mispronouncing words because you’ve only ever read them

This is the curse of every bookworm, right?  You know how to spell the word, you know what it means, you can use it in a sentence…but you can’t pronounce it correctly because you’ve never heard it said aloud.

Most of my examples come from historical fiction.  And I’m usually corrected by my mum when discussing the books with her.

The funniest one we ever had was when my sister, my mother and I were discussing a historical Scottish novel and my sister said ‘Och aye’.  She pronounced och as ‘otch’ rather than ‘ock’.  My mother and I just about wet ourselves laughing.  Not a cruel, laughing-at-someone-else’s-misfortune laugh, but just that uncontrollable laughter you get when something tickles your funny bone.

I’m not immune to it, and I’m more than happy to entertain people with my mistakes.  Two of the ones that amuse my mother the most are victuals and blackguard.  She was highly amused when I pronounced them as ‘vick choo als’ and ‘blak gard’, instead of ‘vittles’ and ‘blaggard’.  Ugh.  I’ve got blackguard down pat now, but I’m constantly forgetting the correct pronunciation of victuals.

Waistcoat is a trickier one.  My mother likes to remind me that it should be ‘weskit’, but honestly, if I said ‘weskit’ to anyone in my generation (I’m in my 30s), would any of them know what I was talking about?  Maybe in the UK?  I dunno.

There was one that I didn’t know I was saying incorrectly until I read the correct pronunciation in a book.  Ha ha!  Oh, the irony.  So, the American state, Arkansas.  Yup, I pronounced it as it was written.  Then a character, who was actually British, tried to pass herself off as being from Arkansas, and was corrected by the person questioning her.  “I know you’re not from there, because the locals say it ‘ar kan saw’.  I was all ‘Wait, what?’ So I Googled it, and yeah, I stand corrected.  I guess all the Americans knew that one, huh?

Hmm, another one that always catches me out is archangel.  I know it is ‘ark’ instead of ‘arch’, but my brain always wants to say ‘arch’.  Colonel and lieutenant catch me unawares too.  I know they’re pronounced ‘kernel’ and ‘left tenant’, but I forget.  My brain wants to say ‘col on el’ and ‘loo tenant’.  I work for two ex-army guys, so I really need to get those ones correct.  By the way, I am aware that the Americans do say ‘loo tenant’, not ‘left tenant’, but as a New Zealander I should be speaking British English, not American English.

The one I hear most commonly mispronounced, ironically, is pronunciation.  I’m forever correcting people on that.  You don’t use the ‘ounce’ sound, it’s an ‘unce’ sound instead.

One my son pronounced wrong, because he’d read it rather than heard it, was monk.  It should rhyme with dunk, right, but he said it as if it rhymed with donk.

When I was thinking about writing this blog post, I did a little Googling and came up with some others that surprised me.

Conch.  Who the hell knew that was pronounced like ‘konk’?  I’ve never heard it said that way before.  Bizarre.

Forte.  Apparently, unless you’re talking about music, it’s pronounced the same as fort.  I just…  That doesn’t work in my head.  So writing is my fort?  It just sounds wrong, don’t you think?

Ooh, here’s a good one – quinoa.  I was definitely one of those clueless people who pronounced it as ‘kwin oh ah’ when it first became trendy, instead of the correct ‘keen wa’.

Sometimes Google contradicts itself.  I found articles that said niche should be pronounced ‘nitch’ instead of ‘neesh’ and then other articles that said the opposite.

But you wanna know the most shocking one of all?  This is a serious ‘hold the phones’ moment, I promise.  Flaccid.  We all know how to pronounce flaccid, right?  Well, apparently it’s pronounced ‘flaksid’ instead of ‘flassid’.  No shit, go and Google it.  I’ll wait.

I know, right?  Like seriously, what the fuck?  ‘Flaksid’?  I just… I… No.  Just no.  My mind is going ‘Nonononononononono!’  Ha ha!  ‘Flaksid’?  Mind. Blown.

So what words do you commonly mispronounce?  Did you learn any new ones from this blog post?

Author: Elle

Hi, I'm Elle. I'm based in Auckland, New Zealand. I'm a moderator at Writing.com, the mother of two gifted children, the wife of a Twitch gaming streamer and the Queen of Unfinished Projects. I've been reading since I was 4 years old, writing poems (badly) since 1994, blogging since 2001 and I started studying photography in 2010. This blog will contain poems, short stories, photos, book reviews and my thoughts on a variety of topics. Hope you enjoy it.

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