5 Words I’ve Been Mispronouncing Until, Well, Now

Ohhhhh god, you guys. It is the worst (THE WORST!) when you realize that you’ve been mispronouncing something for years and years (or, you know, your whole life.) I spent much of my childhood reading books that were much, much too advanced for me. I was that weird kid trying to work ‘chaos’ and ‘chignon’ and ‘valise’ into my third grade conversations – and mispronouncing them as I did so.
These days, I say things like “That’s some niche market shit” in reference to anything/anyone that’s an acquired taste. And then I pronounce niche like this and everyone probably rolls their eyes at me.
Anyway. Here are five words I was mispronouncing until very recently. If you click on the link embedded in the word, you can hear an audio recording of the correct pronunciation. 
Forte: (n) one’s strong point
Did you know that you only pronounce the ‘e’ if you’re talking about music? When I’m saying that reading maps isn’t my forte, it should sound like fort? So not only am I bad at reading maps, now I’m bad at talking about reading maps badly.
(Edited to add: apparently pronouncing it ‘fort’ is  technically correct, but since virtually no one says it that way, we can all keep saying ‘for-TAY’)
Lambaste: (v) to criticize someone or something sharply
I guess I thought this was a French word and thus didn’t pronounce this with a long a. Nope! Joke’s on me.
Mauve: (adj) that purpleish/pink color of your grandma’s blouses
I’m sorry. I’m simply unwilling to be the person who pronounces it this way. Also: this color is yuck. Let’s make a pact not to talk about it in hopes that it will cease to exist. Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis in action!
Nuptial: (adj) pertaining to marriage
Ummm, what? This only has two syllables?
Banal: (adj) boring
I think I actually knew this one, but I’ve never heard anyone pronounce it correctly and I live in fear of being that pretentious a-hole who order a ‘croisaaaaahhhhnt.’
What words do you mispronounce? And what do you do if you know the ‘correct’ pronunciation for a word but nobody else around you pronounces it that way? 
photo by photking, cc

98 Comments

meghan

bruschetta! everyone i know pronounces it "brush-etta", and i've avoided saying it to others because a) no one knows what i'm talking about and b) when they do, i don't want to look like a pretentious arse.

it's time i start standing up for the english language and start prounouncing that "k" in there!

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valentina.tara

If you pronounce it correctly, you're actually standing up for the Italian language. The wrong was is actually the English pronounciation, which is why it is wrong.

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Nolwenn

Yes, if you want to honor is country of origin, Italia, you will say it correctly with that «k» sound. «Broosketta» (sort of) 😉

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Kim

I do this all the time!

My family doesn't use big words. They're not stupid, it's just not in their way of speaking. So for a lot of words, I don't know how they're pronounced.

My boyfriend's family, specifically his mom and him, use huge huge words. Sometimes I don't even know them (and I was an English and French major! Graduated with honors! I'm not dumb!). And they constantly correct me on words I mispronounce. Definitely makes me feel stupid.

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Sarah Von Bargen

Gah! How do they go about correcting you? The best way I've ever been corrected is when someone uses the same word in their response to me, but pronounces it correctly. If someone says "Aaaaaactually, I believe it's pronounced __________" I kind of want to throat punch them 😉

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Nolwenn

ahah Sarah. I am a French living in Western Canada (so lots of cultures and accents).
People do correct me often (and I did graduate with an English mention in high school), but now I kind of make it a joke with a «pardon my French». But I do correct too… like it is not «and viola» but «and voilà» («viola» is conjugated verb «violer» that can be used for rape… so I want people to know that).

I love learning, and saying things (and names) the right way. It all depends on HOW people correct me 🙂

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Anonymous

I've had a rep in my family for not only mispronouncing words (facetious/fa-cet-ous, precocious/pre-coc-cious), but also horribly mangling them. Magnamonious instead of magnanimous is one my family still mention every time we get together at Christmas, 16 years after I coined it. My sister just called me out on how I pronounce ingenue. Apparently it's not in-gen-ue.

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Sarah Von Bargen

I know, right? I googled it and this is what I found:

"If you want to be perfectly and unimpeachably correct, you will pronounce the word forte, meaning something that is one’s strong point, identically to the word fort, and reserve the FOR-tay pronunciation only for the musical term.

Most people don't know about this distinction and pronounce it FOR-tay for all senses, both the “strong point” sense as well as the musical term. Most people will not notice or care if you do that. In fact, if you say that some subject is or is not your “fort”, people will look at you quizzically and perhaps even ask “do you mean FOR-tay?”. On the other hand, if you use the pronunciation “FOR-tay” those of us who know the difference may judge you to be ignorant.

In either case, you take a risk of some sort. Bryan Garner came up with the name “skunked term” for words like this, in his 1998 Dictionary of Modern American Usage:

When a word undergoes a marked change from one use to another … it’s likely to be the subject of dispute. Some people (Group 1) insist on the traditional use; others (Group 2) embrace the new use.… Any use of [the word] is likely to distract some readers. The new use seems illiterate to Group 1; the old use seems odd to Group 2. The word has become “skunked.”
My advice is to find a substitute word or phrase."

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sometimessheblogs

No one is ever going to pronounce mauve like that, because it's dumb. Also I love how there's a regular way to say banal and an American way to say it.

I usually think a word I read and a word I hear are two different words. For example, if you told me that I misled you, I would know exactly what you meant and would never question the pronunciation. But then I would read "misled" in a book and would think it in my head with a long I, kind of like wiser, but with an m to start and an l to end, and the "ed" is just there for past tense. To me it was like "the miserly mr. Scrooge misled me out of my money" and to have been "misled" (pronounced miss led) was a totally different thing.

Also I hate to correct you, but I also don't want you to think you have to stop saying forte the way you've been saying it, it's way more awesome your way, AND it's correct! http://www.yourdictionary.com/forte#

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sometimessheblogs

I took too long to write my reply and missed that you'd already covered forte. In cases like that I'm reminded that stylebooks that give use "rules" for grammar and standard English are changed ALL THE TIME. Eg,Website, used to be web site… or the other way around, can't remember. POINT- I think forte should be one of those things because we're all going to seem like idiots going around talking about each other's forts.

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Natalie Mulford

I was thinking the same thing!? I'm Australia, i've always pronounced it the way it's said in the sound clip, I couldn't think of how someone could say it differently.

That being said, having to work with Americans in the past, it's amusing to see how they react to the way Aussies say Aluminium!

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Eliza

My husband's friend from the army was very well read, but mispronounced words all the time. Our favorite was pronouncing nostalgic as "nos-toll-EE-gic"

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Jennifer

I used to pronounce the word draught as "DRAWT" and not "draft!" A group of us passed a pub on the street once and I read the title aloud: "LEHMAN'S DRAWT HO– USE!" I was corrected by a really cute boy who laughed and said "Haha! DRAWT! wait–you're serious? You know that's pronounced draft, right?" #$$#%*$!

When others mispronounce a word incorrectly, I usually ignore it. If the word is vital to our conversation, I use it correctly in a relevant sentence, and the other person usually follows my example. We don't really have to acknowledge it at all. Unless of course, this person is my best friend, in which case I laugh, because we have a running joke that she invents her own pronunciation for words, thus reinventing their meaning. It's all in mutually good fun, though.

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Elizabeth

Pint. From reading the Little House books, I got it in my head that Pa called Laura "Half Pint," and it was pronounced "PIN-T" rather than "P(EYE)NT." To this day, I can't remember which is the correct pronunciation. I had to google it before I wrote this comment! Luckily, this is not a word that comes up often in conversations.

Also, I just learned I've been pronouncing nuptial incorrectly!

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Anonymous

That reminds me– in conversation, I say 'archive' correctly: ar-kive. But when I read it, I hear it in my head as ar-chive. I know it's the same word, same meaning; I just can't read it correctly.

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Mel

I hate the alleged correct pronunciation of "mauve" and refuse to use it. REF– USE.

I'm the acknowledged vocab queen in my family/circle of friends, and have been since grade school (yay! books!), so I rarely use a new word until I've figured out the correct pronunciation. That said, names often trip me up because they don't follow logical spelling/pronunciation guides. "Siobhan"? Are you kidding me? And the name "Penelope" gave me fits as a youngster. FYI, it's not pronounced PENNY-lope.

Also, I sometimes adopt accents on certain words that I either can't or don't wish to shake. For example, after years of watching British TV and movies, and visiting England, "berry" has become "bree". As in, "Let's make strawbree shortcake."

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Jamie@OwlReally.com

I ALSO mispronounced Penelope, although I called it Penna-lope. I read a book with a Penelope character and then was telling my mom about it and she laughed at my horrible mispronunciation! I was probably like 8 or 9 and had never heard of Penelope!

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Anonymous

Oh, names! I knew a girl once named Eithne. It's pronounced "EYE-nuh" apparently. Totally blew my mind.

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Megan

When I was maybe 10, I did an oral report on President John Tyler. His wife's named Letitia. I spent the entire report calling her La-tit-ee-ya. It was only years later when I met someone named Letitia (La-tish-uh) that I realized what I'd done.

I also remember being 8-ish and discussing a book in class about a girl named Eliza, which I pronounced Uh-liz-uh, like Elizabeth without the Beth. Thankfully, the teacher just continued the conversation with the correct pronunciation.

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Debbie Gutowski

It was so weird to see the Harry Potter movies and hear them pronounce Hermione the "correct" way, because in my head, it was "her-moyne" the whole time!

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Little redhead

Hehe well Siobhan and Eithne are Irish names, spelled in Irish, so technically it does follow spelling rules, just not English ones 😀 The correct Irish pronunciation of Eithne is actually just Etna though, not EYE-nuh. It's a nightmare for anyone who never studied Irish, Irish is mad difficult. Unfortunately sometimes people like the look of the name but never bother to learn the correct spelling and end up with a name that doesn't make sense to anyone anywhere.

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Vagabond Tim

Occasionally it is fun to horribly butcher the pronunciation of a word though, for example try saying envelope like Penelope or vice versa.

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Kaitlin Marie

UGGGH! My grandma is a HUGE grammar snob and spent the majority of my youth calling out my grammar mistakes–of which there were few, since I was also that very well-read kid trying to pronounce big words. Just a few months ago, Grandma gave me another lecture on the proper way to say "Forte." *Eyeroll* I'd be more receptive to her lectures if they weren't so condescending. Also, she calls the couch the "davenport" and gets offended when NO ONE knows what she's talking about.

Tough words to tackle as a kid:

Blatant
Nonchalant
Menagerie (only learned how to say this one recently! *facepalm*)
Epitome

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Vagabond Tim

Pronunciation snob 😛

Grammar pertains to the construction of a sentence.
for example ending sentences with prepositions and other arcane nonsensical rules.

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Salvaged Strawberry

I love this. And, I had no idea that you could listen to the pronunciation of words online – so helpful. I still will never say banal – though I will write it. How many words do I avoid (I wonder) in conversation because of this? And I have a lit degree! hah! (I still don't know how to say Nietzsche because I have heard it a dozen different ways.)

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Anonymous

I can't believe mischievous isn't on this list. In sixth grade I was practicing for a spelling bee and my teacher told me "If you don't learn how to pronounce mischievous correctly, you'll never be able to spell it!" The correct way is "miss-CHA-viss" and that's how I've said it for the last 13 years, but everyone I know says "miss-chee-vee-us" and it drives me crazy! My boyfriend even went as far as to say "that's how everyone pronounces it so that is how it is said". No! There is no extra "i" or "e" after the v!

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Morgan

Wait, you worry that pronouncing mischievous correctly makes you look bad? I don't think I even really became aware until recently that people pronounced it that way seriously and I absolutely refuse to do so.

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Sigi

I give up!! How are all you people mispronouncing "mauve"??? I know of no other way than how it is pronounced in that sound clip. 😀

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orangespoken.com

One time, on a 2nd date with my now boyfriend, I said I live bi-curiously through my non-teacher friend's lives. He looked at me and said "you mean vicariously?".

Oops.
Although he said it's what made him ask me out on a 3rd date! LOL

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Vanessa

I called Dachshunds "dash-hounds" until I was like 26…finally my best friend said, whist looking at dog-patterned whatever…"I think it's pronounced "Daks-hunts" and I was like…whaaat. Because I thought they were two different kinds of dogs. You know, Dash-hounds and Dotsons. Gah.

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Anonymous

I have this problem too! Also, until I was 25-26 and was finally corrected by my boyfriend since his family breeds them. When I'm alone I still call them dash-hunds. Its much better that way.

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Gaby

I'm from Australia and have always pronounced it "dash-hund", and have only ever heard it said that way. However I'm currently travelling in the US and have heard everyone say "dak-sund" or similar; husband and I had a good laugh about the pronunciation at first but now we say it that way so that the Americans we speak with understand us. Someone even laughed at us when we said "dash-hund"!

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Sigi

Huh. I'm from Australia and I've always pronounced it the proper (i.e. German) way. Maybe it's a city or region-based thing?

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Helena

I've always say "ba-NAAAAL" (I'm not a linguist and not sure how to make it clear… let's just say that I'm American and apparently don't say it the American way).

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Nolwenn

For years, mu husband and I pronounced the word «Idea» like «I.D.». We simple did not know and thought that it was the accent making people say «I D ah». We had a good laugh (and still do).

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D

Hey now! I like mauve! Though I'm with you on it's pronunciation. I'm fairly sure I say "button" incorrectly- I don't say the t's.

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Jamie@OwlReally.com

If you guys like this kind of stuff, you might liek the podcast A Way With Words. I haven't listened in years and this post has reignited my interest in it! I submitted a question to them a few years ago because I grew up calling shopping carts "bascarts." That's what my family called them – I had no idea it wasn't normal! I finally realized it in college when my friends had no idea what I was talking about. I'm from Louisville, KY and met a girl from just over the river (New Albany, IN) and she knew "bascart" also! And I have seen signs at Kroger in Nashville referring to them as "bascarts" but NO one seems to know this word!

ALSO – a huge regional word is "tump." We used "tump" all the time (a combination of "tip" and "dump" – as in "don't tump that over!") in my family but no one else seems to know it. I listen to another podcast and the host is from Mississippi and she uses "tump" too.

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Anonymous

That reminds me that when I went to college I was asked why I say "Krogers" when there's no S on the end. I hadn't even realized there was no S because everyone in my region called it that.

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Rachelia

I was with you on "lambaste". Who knew nuptial didn't have an extra "u" sound?! I'm curious as to how others pronounce "mauve" as that is always how I've pronounced it…

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Anonymous

mahv. For the longest time, I thought mov was the incorrect version.

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Anonymous

My in-laws are all terrible with pronunciation. I can't even begin to count how many very common, every day words the butcher. The most annoying one is definitely Thai/Thailand, which they pronounce "thigh."

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Janey

As a Brit, I was wondering how else you would pronounce mauve other than the way in the link. Then I saw Sarah's comment – "mahhhhhv". As far as I know, we all say "move" here!

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Anonymous

Oh, man, gyros. This one kills me because one time I went to a restaurant, pronounced it correctly, and the staff said something like, 'Do you mean a ji-roe?'

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Anonymous

Your forte link took me to the definition and pronunciation of the word fort. So pronouncing forte as fort-ay is actually correct per the same website you linked to. Yay for forte! 🙂

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Rachael

Hyperbole. This is the word I have been using incorrectly for years and am still struggling with to correctly pronounce. I read ahead of my level as well, and came across words that I just pretended to understand and would later find out the pronunciation to. My mother struggles a lot with words and their correct enunciation, so I had to go from the snotty, wordy kid everyone wanted to throat punch to a more sensitive adult to help her out.
I like comparing American English to English-English, Australian-English, Canadian-English and my all-time favorite, Irish-English. Oh, the fun we all have with certain words.

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Mallory

I mispronounced "adage" while teaching an English class, in FRONT of an English teacher. Talk about embarrassing.

I also used to think "segue" was pronounced SEG.

I'm sure there are many more, as I was that always-reading kid, too.

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Michelle...

I mispronounced "awry" for most of my life…..I thought it was "AWE-REE" rather than "AH-RYE"

I'm fascinated by your pronounciation of "mauve"…..maybe it's just because of my exposure to languages like Maori, Japanese and Italian that "a+u" (roughly) equals "o"

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Anonymous

Endive. And I refuse to pronounce it correctly now because it sounds snobby– I'll continue to say n-dive.

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Morgan

I believe en-dive is actually correct American pronunciation, though. It's originally French and they pronounce it ahn-deeve, so it definitely sounds a bit snobby to say it that way.

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Lauren

When I was 14 or 15 I was at the beach and mentioned the water was a lovely turquoise colour. Except I pronounced it 'tor-quay'. Which, if anyone is familiar with Australia, is the name of a town and not how you pronounce turquoise!

My mum still brings it up, 10 years later.

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Anonymous

I had a friend who thought tortoise was pronounce 'tor-toys' instead of 'tort-us.'

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Megan

For years and years I read about "Whores duh-VORES," but heard about "Or derves". It really wasn't that long ago that I put the two together. Also, I have mentally remind myself to say "gage" for gauge. I have a little mental argument every time because I want to say it the way it appears in my mind!

I keep trying to train my family to drop the H in horchata, and to stop saying "chi-pole-tee" for chipotle, but it's futile <–another hard word!

I think we can all relate to this: http://justnerdgirlproblems.tumblr.com/image/26443696480

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Megan

For years and years I read about "Whores duh-VORES," but heard about "Or derves". It really wasn't that long ago that I put the two together. Also, I have mentally remind myself to say "gage" for gauge. I have a little mental argument every time because I want to say it the way it appears in my mind!

I keep trying to train my family to drop the H in horchata, and to stop saying "chi-pole-tee" for chipotle, but it's futile <–another hard word!

I think we can all relate to this: http://justnerdgirlproblems.tumblr.com/image/26443696480

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Debbie Gutowski

There's a song in "Into the Woods" that uses mauve, pronounced the correct way. It's when the stepsisters learn that they aren't getting Prince Charming – "Never wear mauve at a ball…"
So I sing that in my head every time that work comes up. But I pronounce it "mahve" for real.

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Nicole

This month I've been taking a class to teach ESL, and I have become absolutely paranoid about my gaps in pronunciation knowledge – don't even get me started about how little I know about English grammar.
The wrong-syllable thing always gets me… "nuptial" indeed!

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Alisha - the.wineglass.manifesto

I hear ya on the reading books when you're a kid thing. I was reading long chapter books when I was 6-7 and I distinctly remember thinking chaos was ' chaa-os' (like the start of charcoal…. haha). I was also hassled relentlessly by my family for pronouncing epidermis ' ep-EYE-damiss' (I have no idea how to explain that one) but now I just think well done, my 7 year old self, for reading books that had words like epidermis in them!

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Erini CS

I get weird looks by most for saying sauna as "sow-nuh" (sow like a female pig, rhyming with cow) instead of "saw-na"… (Except for my Finnish grandfather who also says "sow-nuh"…)

Granted I also come from a family where my grandma mispronounces things constant, and my dad purposely mispronounces things ending in -graphy. So from that side of the family I get my weird anxiety about saying things like "specific"…

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Kit

I remember reading the word 'antique' outloud in front of some friends when I was in something like third grade but pronounced in antycue and feeling quite dim. Only about a year ago, I said inevitable with way too many syllables. I've been reading it wrong in my head all these years!

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Bryony

For some reason I have real difficulty trying to remember that 'cutlery' doesn't start off with a 'cuttle' sound at the beginning, as in cuttlefish, and I distinctly remember getting into a discussion with my Dad when I was reading Lord of the Rings for the first time and being quite insistent that Frodo was Bilbo's heir, but without the silent h, as I'd only ever read it before. Much laughter was had at my expense 🙂

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David Tibbetts

I also say ‘cuttlery’, I pronounce the first syllable as cuttle then say ‘ree’ at the end. Been doing it for 30 years, can’t stop now.

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Anonymous

I also didn't realize there was any other way to pronounce mauve. Probably cause it's a French word…and that's how they say it in France. Pretty sure Americans are the only ones who effed that one up! 😉

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Anonymous

It's funny…I'm sure I must mispronounce plenty of words. But I honestly don't know a single human being who mispronounces any of the five words listed here – I didn't even know there were WAYS to mispronounce some of them….
Strange. I guess everyone's got their thing!

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Anonymous

I used to pronounce mauve as m-or-ve, but I like the sound of m-oh-ve much better.

My word is circuitous, which I read aloud to classmates in high school as sirkit-us. I was much older before I made the connection between my version and the sir-q-it-us I could hear others say.

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Marie Elliott

Hello all, I was an early avid reader, pronouncing words I didn’t know any old way. I knew what they all meant and in what context they ought to be used. But, pronounce them out loud?! No. Too embarrassing. So, what do I do? At age 51 I met my partner, Brian, who is a former NY copy editor and a linguist and NEVER mispronounces anything! It’s embarrassing and frustrating. He is pretty hard on people who do not speak good grammar, let alone not pronounce it right! Any ideas how to counter him?

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Sarah Von Bargen

Hi Marie,

To be honest, it sounds more like an issue of Brian being hurtful and insensitive than it is of you mispronouncing anything. Have you tried the ol’ “I feel ________ when you ___________”?

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Marie Elliott

I might add to the above, I am a published author of a book of poetry that has done pretty well and is in bookstores and on Amazon. I write every single day, have had winning essays and poetry since I was in high school. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from college. My intellect is higher than my partner’s. I began talking before one year old and the joke in the family is that I came out talking. So, what is the problem? Reading too early? Anything?

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