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Top Ten Mispronunciations

Updated on September 22, 2010

They've been heard uttered by heads of state, celebrities, and maybe even your friends, but that doesn't make them right, nor has it helped the aforementioned look any more (ahem) intelligent than they might be.

I'm no fanatic of correct pronunciation, but there are certain "standard" unacceptable pronunciations. I take no issue with how people communicate within their own household -- it could be by way of hand signals or grunts, as long as it works. These tips and tricks are provided for use in public situations to spare any and all possible embarrassment and ridicule.

/New-Cue-Lar/

This mispronunciation or metathesis (what linguists term the inversion of adjacent sounds) received great publicity during the George W. Bush years. In fact, ol' Dubya wasn't alone. William Safire in his On Language column in the New York Times Magazine in 2001, cited Eisenhower, Carter, and Clinton as equal partners in crime.

However "common" the pronunciation may have become, it's still incorrect. And, it will still pigeon-hole the user as uneducated by many.

"Nuclear" is pronounced /New klee er/ as in nuclear war, nuclear energy, nuclear physics, or pertaining to an atomic nucleus. As slang, it can also be used to describe when someone goes crazy or beserk, e.g., "When he found out his best friend was dating his sister, he went nuclear."

INCORRECT: "We've got a stake as to whether North Korea has newcuelar weapons."

CORRECT: "If I hear that mispronounced one more time, I think I'll go nuclear!"

/Jew-La-Ree/

Remember the word is an extension of the word "jewel." So, if you like shiny things, you don't like /jew-las/, you like /jew-els/. The proper pronunciation is /Jew-el-ree/.

In British English the spelling is jewellery, but the pronunciation is the same.

INCORRECT: "She ain't got no money. She's done spended it on jewlaree."

CORRECT: "She was practically dripping with gems. I couldn't help admire her beautiful jewelry (or jewellery)."

/Mew-T/

This word does exist in the English language. But, it is often mis-used.

If you're on a conference call and you want to turn the sound off, you'd hit the mute /mew-t/ button. However, if you want to say that something has little or no practical value, it is moot /moo-t/.

The difference is like between night and day, or cat and cow. Don't get the two confused.

INCORRECT: "He's making no sense, everything he says is mewt." (If he were mute, he wouldn't be saying anything)

CORRECT: "I put the speaker phone on mute because every point he was making was moot."

/Feb-Yew-Airy/

It's simple, it's a WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get). Pronounce the word as you see it:

February = /Feb-roo- airy/

Granted, that "B", followed by the "R" isn't very pretty. But it's still correct. How to remember? If you live in the northern hemisphere, February is one of the coldest months and we go, "Brrrrrrrr", "Febrrrrrruary." Ok, roll you eyes, but you'll now never forget.

INCORRECT: "It downright cold down hair in Febyewairy."

CORRECT: "By the time February rolls around, I'm champing at the bit for springtime!"

/Prob-Lee/ or /Prolly/

This is a prime example of what linguists call haplology, or the dropping of one of two identical or near identical syllables. This is often the result of fast speech. However, in this case, I assume that these pronunciations result from technology.

The words "problee" and "prolly" are often typed in online chats, texting and gaming. "Probably" is too long to write when you're in violent combat again undead scourge, led by a powerful Lich King in another world. This is fine. But in R.L. (real life), the pronunciation is /Praw-bub-lee/.

INCORRECT (in R.L. speech), but CORRECT (in WoW or other gaming situation): "OMG, I pulled aggro. Buff pls. Prolly more around corner."

CORRECT: "If you pronounce it like that in real life, you'll probably sound like a moron."

"Irregardless"

No matter how intelligent you think this nice long word might make you sound, don't use it. It will make you sound self-important and stupid. This word does not and never has existed in the English language. I believe it was made up by some guy in a plaid polyester leisure suit in the 70s.

From what I can find, it is a mix of the two words "regardless" and "irrespective." But the real problem is that it makes no sense.

"Ir" is a negation, meaning "not"; "less" means "without." Thus, "irregardless" would mean to not regard without: a double negative. And, two negatives make positive. So, if irregardless were to exist in the English language, it would be "to regard" which is likely exactly the opposite of the speaker's intention.

Got that? Ok. Well, just trust me. Don't use it.

Regardless is a fine word. Using it won't make you look like an A$$, a pompous one or otherwise. And it means without regard to or in spite of something,

INCORRECT: "I got me a good job irregardless that I got no education."

CORRECT: "We'll continue on regardless of the weather."

"Snuck" and "Drug"

I put these two in the same category because ... well because they're equally ridiculous, but equally often used. A friend of mine from the cornfields of Nebraska uses both of these -- BUT now facetiously. She, indeed, grew up believing they existed in the English language.

SO VERY VERY WRONG: "I screamed when he snuck up on me."

CORRECT: "I jumped when he sneaked up behind me to give me a kiss."

And, just so you know, the past participle is NOT "snacked", e.g., it is incorrect to say, "I slapped him because he had snacked up on me."

And yes, "drug" is a real word, it just is not, and never has been, the past tense of "drag."

WRONG: "He looked so terrible, like something the cat drug in."

CORRECT: "Poor kid was so tired, he dragged his feet."

/Ex-cape/ /Ex-pesh-el-lee/ /Ax/ and /Excetera/

I feel for the letter "X", it doesn't get enough exposure. Aside from Xylophone and X-ray, what words come to mind that start with "X." If stuck with "X" in Scrabble, you might come up with "fox" or "box" or, at best, "toxic." Despite the sad plight of "X", it does not replace the letters "S" or "S-K" or "T."

The only circumstances under which Ex-Cape were to exist is if there were a flood or an earthquake that devoured a body of land extending into an ocean. e.g., if Cape Cod fell into the Atlantic ocean, it would be Ex-Cape Cod.

So,

Escape is /es cape/

Especially is /es pesh el lee/

Ask is /ass K/ (Note: only Axe is /Ax/)

Et cetera is /et set er ah/ (it is also not /egg zet er ah/)

INCORRECT: "He axed me if I had the axe like I was some criminal excaped from prison. That was expeshelee insulting."

CORRECT: "When she was asked what happened, Lizzy Borden said she had axed her mother."

CORRECT: "He escaped from prison last night; he is especially clever."

"Anyways"

According to Merriam-Webster, if you'd like to sound like you come from the 13th century, it would be appropriate to use. However, "anyways" does NOT exist in the English language of the 21st century, nor of the last several centuries.

One entry in the Urban Dictionary claims that it's "... basically just a cooler and better version of the word anyway." However, other entries are more spot on, using words like "annoy(ing)" and "ghastly" to describe the usage, and referring to people who use it as ... well, I've put this lens in as a G-rating, so I won't tell you what type of people use this word.

The word is "anyway," and it is an adverb meaning regardless (Not "irregardless") or anyhow.

While we're at it, the following words should also never be used: "anyhows", "anyhoo", and definitely not "anyhoos".

INCORRECT: "Everyone told me I looked like a "foo'' in my medieval jester costumes, but I wore it anyways."

CORRECT: "Though the candidate was well-dressed and had good references, we declined his application anyway. He spoke like an idiot."

/Lie-Barry/

This is one of my favorite mispronunciations. In fact, I like it so much, I'm tempted to mispronounce it myself.

Unless you're speaking in the imperative instructing someone named Barry to tell a non-truth, e.g., "Don't tell them what happened! Lie, Barry! Lie, Barry!" or you're instructing someone named Barry to stay in a prone position, e.g., "Stay down. Lie Barry!", then this pronunciation is incorrect.

What this refers to is a place that is quickly becoming extinct. It is possible that this correction won't be relevant for very long. But until it completely disappears, the correct pronunciation is: /lie-brair-ee/. It is a place where you go to borrow books. A book is a written or printed work of fiction or non-fiction traditionally on sheets of paper that are bound together.

INCORRECT: "Nah, I ain't been to a lie-barry in years. Don't have no time for books."

CORRECT: "The Library of Congress is located in Washington, DC and is said to hold some 29 million books alone."

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Got your own nails on a blackboard mispronunciation?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: It's not grammar, it's about pronunciation. There is a school of thought that says that it does not matter how we speak or write as long as we communicate the meaning. ie it's all about context. The extent of this argument might see us communicating by grunting and pointing. By ignoring the conventions of grammar and pronunciation we make ourselves look like poorly educated halfwits.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      More obnoxious grammar bullying.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      What about "couldn't?" An aquaintance of mine pronounces this word "COU - uh," which always sounds peculiar, but it could simply be a regional variation (she's from Pennsylvania).

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      people now stress the com when using combat as a verb and it drives me crazy

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      It seems that an 'a' has been added to the word athlete - making it "ath-a-lete".

    • corinnemwestphal profile image
      Author

      corinnemwestphal 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Oooh, I just cringed over your "Her and me ..."

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      People are now saying, " I ASK her if she got my message". Listen for this--what it THAT about?? I am also going nuts hearing people say things like, "This gentleman raped my daughter". And this is rampant: "Her and me are going on vacation".

    • profile image

      outsource123 6 years ago

      Great lens guys!

    • ZablonMukuba profile image

      ZablonMukuba 6 years ago

      funny and interesting lens, i have problems with some of the words

    • corinnemwestphal profile image
      Author

      corinnemwestphal 6 years ago

      "Chimley" is a new one for me! Will give that thought. As for place names in London, a good friend lives in "Chis-ick" -- and I still pronounce it "Chis-wick" in my head. Forget about Leicester Square! ... thanks for visiting

    • profile image

      dannystaple 6 years ago

      I never liked Axsk (meaning Ask). I've a Chinese wife, who (I'd like to think due to no small part of myself) has excellent pronunciation, enough that some think she has a native accent, until perhaps a grammar slip up. What about "gonna" and "chimley" (Chimney). Many London visitors, and some locals, have no idea how to properly pronounce some placenames here - like Marylebone, Southwark, Ruislip, Chiswick. I'm not even sure i get Marylebone right myself though!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I feel like I should be eating shoots and leaves now. Or like my buddy who eats, shoots and leaves.

    • profile image

      resabi 6 years ago

      Hilarious and useful at the same time. A blessing on your head -- and any lens in the vicinity;;;

    • corinnemwestphal profile image
      Author

      corinnemwestphal 6 years ago

      @dsaady: Thank you and thanks for visiting ... but I'm pretty sure you use none of these. :-)

    • corinnemwestphal profile image
      Author

      corinnemwestphal 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Excellent question. The commonly acceptable pronunciation is /wenz-day/. However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, /wed-nz-day/ "... is ... heard from speakers belonging to the northern and north midland counties." Far be it for me to question those in these counties.

    • corinnemwestphal profile image
      Author

      corinnemwestphal 6 years ago

      @PromptWriter: Aaah, but anyhoooo's different ;-) that's just cool. Thanks for visiting.

    • profile image

      dsaady 6 years ago

      Lovely! The examples and photos are funny, funny, funny.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Amen to all the above! Another one for your expert opinion though, while you're about it... Should one pronounce the "d" in Wednesday? (I mean the first one of course!)

    • PromptWriter profile image

      Moe Wood 6 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      My last name. Wood. People always ad an "s" on the end.

      I use anyhoo all the time, except I elongate it it anyhooooo. :D