Let’s Talk with Diane A.S. Stuckart

Speaking of Which

February 22, 2024
Royalty-free image from Pixabay

I read a great quote from everyone’s favorite source, Anonymous: Never make fun of someone who mispronounces a word. It means they learned it by reading. And while Anonymous can often be full of it, in my opinion this particular saying is a truism for the ages. Reason being, I’ve spent a lifetime knowing what most words mean but spent equal time unsure how to pronounce certain of them.

If you’re nodding along, that probably means that you—like me—have been a voracious reader ever since elementary school, reading well above your grade level from day one. And that’s the whole problem. We learned unknown words and their definitions from context but never heard them spoken aloud. I mean, how many ten-year-olds toss around terms like segue and heinous and peremptory?

Compounding the problem for many in my age demographic is that we learned to read via phonics. One of that system’s cornerstones is the admonition to “sound it out” when encountering new words. Which works great for those with Latin origins but is less successful with words derived from other languages.

Case in point: Chimera.

Royalty-free image from Pixabay

Being a said voracious reader, I knew what a chimera was…a mythological beast that’s a rather preposterous combination of lion, goat, and snake. (There’s also a real-life definition that describes a human or animal possessing two sets of DNA…see Venus the Two-faced Cat for an example.)

But when it came to pronouncing the word, I’ve always defaulted to my “sound it out” roots. And that’s why I’ve constantly called that beast a CHIM (like in chimney) – er-uh, forgetting that the word chimera is of Greek origin. Which of course means the correct pronunciation is actually KY-mer-uh, though I didn’t know that until embarrassingly recently. Oops!

Fortunately, we now have all sorts of online sources that will give correct pronunciations with a few clicks of the keyboard. No excuses any longer to refer to your friendly neighborhood Colonel as Co-low-nal or to hesitate to order Vichyssoise next time you go out to eat. Listen to that Youtube pronunciation guide and then use those big words with abandon!

‘Fess up…what word have you finally learned that you’ve been mispronouncing all this time?

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Posted in Let's Talk, with Diane A.S. Stuckart • Tags: , , , |  20 Comments


20 thoughts on “Speaking of Which

  1. There’s a Bunnell Road near here. Since we didn’t grow up in this area, I’ve been giving it the French pronunciation as in Bun-ELL Road. But it could easily rhyme with tunnel or funnel. Still not sure how to say it so will have to ask a native.

    1. Yep, that’s always embarrassing when you first move to a new place, learning the local pronunciation is way different from what you thought!

  2. I find that I’m mispronouncing more words lately because I’m not spending so much face-to-face time with other readers and writers. This is changing, but I also feel a strong connection with his blog. Thanks Diane!

  3. I have heard that quote before and, having worked at a natural foods store in the dietary supplements department, I have often seen customers looking for something that they could not pronounce the name of! I used to repeat that quote and, in addition to giving them the correct pronunciation if I knew it, tell them that what mattered was that I knew what they were talking about 😊 That said, it does bug me when someone mispronounces a word which is critical to the industry they work in (such as hearing a relationship coach saying, “rela-ship” rather than correctly pronouncing all the syllables in “relationship” or hearing a Microsoft trainer saying, “aptication” rather than correctly pronouncing “application” when referring to the different Microsoft apps). 😝
    As for my most recently discovered pronunciation faux pas, it probably was “gif” – I always thought it was pronounced with a soft g, like “gift” without the t. I recently learned that it’s pronounced “jif” like the peanut butter.

    1. Maria, I’m with you on the “gif”. I did read it was pronounced “jif” but I refuse to comply! 🙂

  4. Diane, I share your “problem” of having read early, understood meanings, but often mispronounced the words (I’ve even worse with people’s names). Still, I’ll take my love of reading over the gaffes I make.

  5. There are so many things like this in the South. For instance, Whitemarsh Island is Savannah is pronounced WHIT marsh. Depending on where you’re from, Houston either sounds like HUE-ston or HOUSE-ton. And there’s Demere Road on St Simons. Looks like De-mere right? Nope, Dim-ry. Most people round here say Jek (rhymes with check)-kll Island but for some reason my family always has said JAY-kll. And the spelling and pronunciation for the fancy word for appetizers. Hor’d Erves. Not even sure I spelled it right–shouldn’t it be ORD-erbs, to rhyme with adverbs? Most words that I learned to pronounce through reading I learned by sounding them out, but with America’s mixed heritage, no telling what pronunciation rules apply!

  6. Amen! I learned recently that I had been mispronouncing Tolkien all these years. Tol-keen. And there’s many more names and words I’ve mangled over the years. I just can’t remember any at the moment.

    1. Pat, I’m still not sure how to pronounce “Le Carre” because I’ve heard so many variations on it.

  7. Oh my gosh. What a fun topic. Indeed, we all have our little mispronounciations that we don’t even realize might be incorrect (learned a couple here!) Fun topic!

  8. I learned on phonics and have done well all of my 75 years with that. Guess what, they are going back to teaching words by phonics as they have found out that sight reading does not make good readers. They have tried this in Jackson, Mississippi and their reading scores soared, and many educators are going there to learn that. I love your books.

    1. Mad, I agree re: phonics. Everyone I know who learned that way is a far faster and more accurate reader. And thanks so much for the kind words about my books <3

  9. I’ve found that pronunciation varies by region, as well. When I lived in Phila., there were two streets that drove me nuts. One was Naudain, which Philadelphians pronounced as Nordain.The other was Dauphin, which everyone pronounced as Dolphin. No “R” in the first and no “L” in the second. Made no sense!

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