Are You Saying These Tricky Words Right?

Pronounce it how?We’re judged by the way we write — and speak.

Don’t believe me? found that 47% of Americans are irritated by mispronunciations — so irritated that they correct family and friends.

Some words have multiple correct pronunciations, and some words might be considered pronounced correctly in one region but not in another.

Sometimes mispronunciation is so frequent and widespread that the new pronunciation becomes acceptable.

I downloaded You’re Saying it Wrong and went to work on my own pronunciation. Here’s an A-to-Z list of common errors. (Capital letters show where the emphasis should be.) How many have you been saying wrong?

A to Z Pronunciation Check

Antarctica  |  ant-ARK-TIK-a  (not ant-ART-i-ca)
relating to regions, flora and fauna around the South Pole

Beijing  |  bay-JING  (not bay-ZHING)
capital of the People’s Republic of China

bruschetta  |  broo-SKEH-tah  (not broo-SHEH-tah)
Italian specialty antipasto: grilled bread with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, salt, pepper and sometimes cheese or other toppings

Celtic  |  KEL-tic (for most usages) but SEL-tic for Boston and Glasgow sports teams
of or belonging to the Celts; speakers of languages in parts of Britain, France and Ireland

comptroller  |  con-TROLL-er  (not comp-TROLL-er)
a management-level position responsible for supervising an organization’s quality of accounting and financial reporting

corpsman  |  COR-muhn or CORZ-muhn  (not CORPS-muhn)
enlisted service personnel, often medical

croissant  |  cwah-SAHN or cwah-SAHNT  (not croy-SANT)
a sweet, flaky, crescent-shaped French roll

crudités   |   kroo-de-TAY  (not KROO-dites)
appetizer of assorted bite-size raw vegetables with dipping sauce

dais  |  DAY-iss  (not DY-iss)
platform, as in a lecture hall, for speakers or honored guests

electoral  |  ee-LECK-tor-uhl  (not ee-leck-TOR-uhl)
relating to or composed of electors (electoral college)

forte  |  fort  (not for-TAY)
strength or talent; when pronounced as for-TAY, is musical term for loud

fungi  |  FUN-guy  (not FUN-gee)
plural of fungus

GIF  |  jiff  (not giff)
acronym for Graphics Interchange Format

gyro  |  YEE-roh  (not GUY-roh or JEE-roh)
sandwich made from meat that has been roasted on a rotating spit

haute couture  |  oat kuh-TOOR  (not hote koo-CHUR)
high fashion or designs by top designers and/or fashion houses

homage  |  OM-idge or o-MAHJ  (not HOM-idge)
special honor or respect shown publicly

jibe  |  jibe  (not jive)
to be in agreement or compatible with

kibosh  |  KYE-bahsh  (not kee-BAHSH)
to put an end or stop to something

machination  |  mack-uh-NAY-shun  (not MAH-shuh-nay-shun)
a plot or scheme

mascarpone  |  mas-car-POH-neh or mas-car-POH-nay  (not mars-kuh-PONE)
a soft, mild, Italian cream cheese

mischievous  |  MIS-chuh-vus  (not mis-CHEE-vee-us)
wanting to or causing trouble, often in a playful way

niche  |  neesh or nitch
a market segment; a place or position suitable for a person or thing; a shallow recess in a wall for a sculpture or other decorative object

ophthalmologist  |  off-thall-MOLL-uh-jist  (not OPP-thuh-MOLL-uh-jist)
medical doctor who specializes in the treatment of eye problems and diseases

Oregon   |  OR-i-guhn  (not OR-uh-GAHN)
state in Pacific Northwest below Washington

plethora  |  PLETH-or-uh  (not pleh-THOR-uh)
too many; a large or excessive amount

poinsettia  |  poin-SET-ee-uh  (not poin-SET-uh)
red and green foliage plant often used in Christmas floral displays

prerogative  |  pre-ROG-uh-tiv  (not per-OG-uh-tiv)
a right or privilege exclusive to a particular individual or class

prestigious  |  preh-STIJ-us  (not preh-STEE-jus)
inspiring respect and admiration, having high status

quinoa  |  KEEN-wah  (not keen-OW-ah)
small, gluten-free, protein-rich seeds of the goosefoot plant

remuneration  |  ri-MYOO-nuh-ray-shuhn  (not ri-MOO-nuh-ray-shuhn)
payment received for work done or services performed

supposedly  |  sup-POSE-ed-lee  (not sup-POSE-ub-lee)
according to what is believed or assumed, often without conclusive evidence

shebang (as in the whole shebang)   |  shuh-BANG  (not shee-BANG)
a matter, an operation, or a set of circumstances

turmeric  |  TUR-mer-ik  (not too-MEHR-ik)
bright yellow powdered root spice

utmost   |  UT-most  (not UP-most)
at the farthest limit, the greatest extent or amount

yin-yang  |  YIN  (not ying)-yang
Chinese philosophical term emphasizing the interaction of opposite and especially complementary elements

zoology  |   zoh-OL-uh-gee  (not ZOO-ol-uh-gee)
the study of animals

How did you do?

If you got them all right, congratulations! If you messed up on a few, I’ll bet you’ll do better from now on.

Remember: Pronouncing words right is just as important as writing them right. Avoid irritating your family and friends. Instead, gain confidence and respect by mastering correct pronunciations.

One last thing … note the spelling difference between proNOUNce / misproNOUNce and proNUNciation / misproNUNciation.

If you have a word-lover friend, consider sharing this post!

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

14 thoughts on “Are You Saying These Tricky Words Right?

  1. AvatarTom Groot

    I’m surprised that the word “asphalt” didn’t make the list. I’ve heard so many people (mis)pronounce it as “ash-fault”, and when I make them aware of the error, they respond by saying, “But I’ve always said it that way.” Huh?

  2. AvatarTom Groot

    As someone who speaks French, I must beg to differ as far as the word “croissant” is concerned. The letter “r” after the “c” DOES need to be pronounced. The phonetic designation would therefore look like this: crwah-SAHN or crwah-SAHNT.

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Tom, I pulled out my ancient French-to-English dictionary, and the pronunciation guideline does indeed include an r: krwasa (tilde over the second a). But I suspect that even with perfect French pronunciation, it is difficult to detect the r when it is followed by a w.

      Of the three Youtube videos I found, two pronounced the r and called it the “American” pronunciation (kruh-SAHN). The third — the supposedly authentic French pronunciation — did not have an audible r sound: kwuh-SAHN.

      As long as one doesn’t opt for kroy-SANT, I won’t argue about the r.

  3. AvatarAllen Dines

    Great Post Kathy! Re English being a challenge for pronunciation: consider ‘daughter’ and ‘laughter’ (!) Can you tell me how you’d say Andalusia? We’re going there in a few days and don’t want to sound like rubes when we tell our friends.

  4. Avatarwilliam

    Welcome to the least(?) phonetic language in the world.

    Just look at these two:
    fungi, in which g followed by i is hard while gif’s g followed by i is soft. Three cheers for Italian, in which mushrooms are “funghi.” The h assures the correct pronunciation of the g.

  5. AvatarMary Moore

    Love this post! It’s especially appropriate for all of us writers, readers, and editors who prefer the printed word over the spoken word.

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Mary, I believe the written word offers a better opportunity for precision, and yet the spoken word offers the opportunity to clarify on the spot. Pros and cons …

  6. AvatarDavid Thompson

    Thanks for the great article, Kathy! I found more than a few of these that I had no idea I was saying wrong. I might mention that JY-roh is also a correct pronunciation of “gyro” when referring to a gyrocompass or gyroscope, but when talking about the food, it’s definitely YEE-roh. 🙂

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      David, I agree: There is another option (JY-roh) for pronouncing your examples: GYROcompass or GYROscope. They are more common and probably not often mispronounced, so I limited my example to the sandwich. Is it any wonder people get confused?!

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Charles, it is pronounced both ways — REE-search and ree-SEARCH — but in the U.S., I believe REE-search is more common. What have you found to be more common in your world travels?

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