List 16: Things I Didn’t Learn Until Embarrassingly Late In Life

A million years ago I contributed to a now-defunct blog called The Secret Society of List Addicts. This post originally appeared there.

We all have momentary lapses of intelligence, right? When you forget the name of your co-worker. or your PIN. or how to drive a stick shift. But what about those things that you simply failed to learn until embarrassingly late in life? Some of the knowledge that came to me shamelessly late in life:

How to pronounce chaos and island
Now, I knew that the there was a word that sounded like “kay-ahs” that meant crazy disorganization. And I was aware that “eye-land” was a bit of land surrounded by water. But connecting the words island and chaos with these two concepts? Beyond me.
Age learned: 12

Using the next button when scrolling through email
Seriously, I just kept clicking back to return to my inbox and then selecting the next email. What?!
Age learned: 30

How to walk in heels
It took me a pair of 1.5 inch wedges and three months of walking like Peg Bundy to break into heels. And even now, I’m pretty impressed that I can manage 1.5 inch heels. Anything above 2 inches is beyond me. But I’m getting there!
Age learned: 29

The location of Cambodia
This probably doesn’t seem that embarrassing, but I was living in Taiwan at the time, planning a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia and my mind was officially blown when a friend mentioned taking a bus from Vietnam into Cambodia. A bus?! What? Isn’t everything in S.E. Asia an island?
Age learned: 26

The capitol of my own state
What? Yes. I’m from Minnesota. Wouldn’t one expect the capitol to be Minneapolis? To add insult to injury, my dad teaches Minnesota history and I somehow managed to complete his class without retaining this information.
Age learned: 13

What did you learn embarrassingly late in life?
shoes in photo for sale here


Amber-Rose Thomas

That the little robot dog from Doctor Who K-9 was 'canine'.
How did I miss that?! Just how?!
I blame David Tennant and his sexy suits for distracting me.


That the bronze age had very little to do with people sitting in caves wearing furs and a lot to do with the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, the Babylonians and so on…. *blushes*


In college I incorrectly pronounced the name of an organization starting with the word "Chi" as "chee." In front of a large group of people. Still mortified about that one!


I was in Grade 1 or 2 and people were talking about the war and I kept thinking how did people fight in a wall. I couldn't get my head around it.

Emma Trotter

Mine has to be how to spell certain words correctly without thinking about it. Like necessity, schedule & complimentary! I am thinking that I might need to do a little post like this over on would totally fit in with one of my awkward qualities! Thanks for the inspiration and honesty as always


I couldn't spell the word "question" in fifth grade, so it went on my spelling list. Now, 18 year later, I still cannot write or type the word without thinking "q-u-e-s-t-i-o-n" instead of just "question."

Chelle Lynn

I'm 27, and just learned how to pronounce the word "respite." Since I'm a bookworm, I have been familiar with the printed word, but rarely heard it aloud. Thus, in my head, I always pronounced it to rhyme with "despite." My face was really red when I tried to correct someone who pronounced it the right way!

Meaghan Gallant

I do the same and never knew till now! Just looked up how it should actually be pronounced, and I've got to admit I am not a fan. Speaking of mispronunciations, I always thought episcopal was epi-scope-elle. Embarrassing.


Whaaaa? You mean it doesn't rhyme with despite??????


Uh uh. Nope. I don't like it.
Although, I don't think I have ever heard that word used in conversation before.


I just learned that "challah" bread is pronounced "holla". I would see it on menus everywhere and would say "challah" and people would laugh. I thought it was because it was a funny word. Now I realize that they thought I was being sarcastic. Whoops.

Stephanie Kaufman

I am from the west coast and I realize that this is no excuse, but not being from anywhere near there and obviously not paying attention to geography, I thought New England was a state until I was, omg, like 19 and in college! Doh!


Haha, wow, that is pretty bad. but that’s also easy for me to say being from New England 🙂

Erin McNaughton

I've always been really bad with slang and illicit terminology. From age 11 to 14, Urban Dictionary was my best friend. I can recall at 13 a boy asking me if I knew what a bong was and I lied and said yes…he figured it out, and then told the whole class that I was sheltered. To this day, I still get lost when slang words are tossed around in conversation.

Vanessa, Take only Memories

There is a next button in emails?!?! Now I feel stupid…well…beat you by a year on that one 😉
It took me forever to learn how to pronounce "cliques". I had only ever read it and one day I talked to my much older friend and used the word and totally messed up. She laughed and I felt soo stupid! Age 12?!


Until about 4 years ago I believed that north was forward, south backwards and east and west were left and right, so if I was walking forward I was going in a northerly direction, regardless of which way a compass was pointing. I never did do very well in that camp job were I had to take kids orienteering!

I'm 28.

Melanie Taylor

As a child (and an avid reader of books), I pronounced "c'mon" as "see-mon" in my head for the longest time.

More recently (I'm now 29), it's been meme ("meh-meh"), imgur ("im-grrr"), and OS X ("OS Ex") that I've mispronounced in my head.

This seems to be a pattern.


i literally just googled "how to pronounce imgur"..i legit thought it was im-grrrrrr…

mind blown.

Sam @

I FOREVER thought that London was in Paris was in France just like you would say Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Whenever someone talked about going to London I would always ask if they were going to see the Eiffel Tower hahahaha

Hannah Alley

How to pronounce the word Ty-len-ol. Is it okay that I blame my Minnesota accent for restricting me from including the "l" in my pronunciation? Ok. Good.
Age learned: 24

Mollie @ EatRunRead

Fatigue (pronounced out loud *correctly* as fa-tigue or fəˈtiːɡ), is the SAME word as fatigue (pronounced in my head as fa-ti-gue). I think I realized this around age 23…after graduating at the top of my class in college and running varsity track (where the word "fatigue" is frequently used).


My grandmother went to florida every winter when i was little but one year, she went to portugal before floride. I thought they were next to each other until i was 10 or 12. This next one though: ony of my old roommates had a horse and one day we went to visit the stables, i learned than ponies are not, in fact, baby horses. I was 22.

S. N

I used to read a lot and was always thrown by how to pronounce the word "anxiety". However, I said it, I knew it wasn't right! In the end I just had to make a special effort to remember that it was pronounced "ang-zi-ety". Even now, whenever I read that word, I still have to think about it a bit. I finally learnt it in my early 20s.


I was 19 before I realized the farm hands were the Tin Man, the Lion, and the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.

It was hands down my favorite movie as a kid.

Samantha Kimble

If it makes you feel better I still think Vietnam is an island even though I know it is next to Loas and have been there. My brain refuses to accept the fact that is attached to the rest of Asia.

Also that I can scroll through my reader using the next button. When did I learn that? Just now when I saw that you could scroll through e-mail with the next button.

However the one thing that blew my mind when I was 14 I realized Han Solo and Indian Jones was the same person. My life changed that day; time slowed a bit.


I just last week figured out the "Every Kiss begins with K/Kay" slogan! I've been hearing it for years and never got it!


In a university english class I pronounced 'melancholy' like 'MEL- LONK- KALLIE'……..I still can't live it down. Nor, can I stop saying it this way…


I was about 10 before I learned that peony is pronounced pee-oh-nee, not penny. And Penelope isn't penny-lope. Apparently I had a thing for "penny" as a child.

This one isn't really embarrassing, but it blew my mind when I found out that being able to smell distinct, separate scents in a "bouquet" of smells is unusual. (I.e. I can identify each dish being cooked for a meal from the smells coming out of the kitchen, while for most people it's just "mmm, food".) I was at least 30.


Sorry funny stuff with keyboard. But all I wanted to say Mel was that is way cool to have that ability. I am so jealous.


Until 2 years ago, I thought narwhals were imaginary. My fiancé happily cleared that one up.
To be fair, they're like the unicorns of the sea.


I moved from Minnesota to Boston at the age of 18 and for a long time (ahem, two years) was under the impression that Martha's Vineyard was owned by none other than Martha Stewart. I thought you had to know in order to visit, or something. Clearly, I'm a genius.

m e l i g r o s a

I grew up bilingual (eng/spa) so in my mind things are always 100% spanglish. an assistant coach in high school was pretty old (maybe in his 70s) +had the biggest lisp, so he'd yell at me “hustle up” in my ears that sounded "that's a lap" so i always ran a few extra laps after practice. one day he asked why i ran extra laps… I said, you told me earlier. then he'd say no. then I just thought he was getting too old to coach.
age: puberty teens

Alien Mind Girl

Age I finally succeeded in tying my shoes: 9
Age I learned that Sting and the Boss were two people: 10 (you know, Sting… and Bruce SpringSTING)
Age I learned Michael Jackson was a male, and not a female who was strangely called "Michael" : 12
Age I started to learn how to drive: 17
Age I learned my high school friends were right about that boy I was dating: 18
Age I STARTED learning to cook: 21
Age I learned that my mom was right about my high school friends all along: 22
Age I learned to ride a bike: 25
Age I learned to jump rope, hula hoop, ice skate, and roller skate: Still cannot do… and not for lack of trying. I even once had a martial arts instructor spend 30 minutes unsuccessfully trying to teach me to jump rope.


My most embarrassing late-in-life realisation was that Sigfreid and Roy were two separate people. Until I was nineteen, I thought that they were just one person called Zig Friedelroy. Hooo boy!


I pronounced "Hermione" /herm-wan/ in my head until JK Rowling explicitly gave a pronounciation lesson in Book 4. That said I always misspell pronunciation. Blergh!

Same with "colonel" and I was a big fan of those Clue puzzle books. Not until high school did I realize it was the same as this "kernel" word I'd hear.

Spit and image/spitting image and triathlon/triathalon I just now learned.

Celtic/keltic, for all intents and purposes/intensive purposes, Illinois are also tricky ones I learned in high school.

Until a few months ago I had always been really impressed that Uncle Joey from Full House had had such a great career. I think it was Dumb and Dumber that really confused me.

Also it's always a surprise to realize how much further east South America is than North America.

And that Pennsylvania doesn't have a coastline. And that Portland is only a couple hours away from Seattle. In a big state you get used to things being at least 8 hours away!


It wasn't until I was working as a print journalist that I realised 'take for grantage' is not a think, and actually 'take for granted' makes a lot more sense… as it uses real words. Thanks spell check!


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