Photo credit: Peter Ashton via Flickr
Hello friends, I’m back from sick leave! I have a lot of catching up to do on writing and reading and commenting and… whew. Let’s start here, with an issue I’ve wanted to gripe about — I mean, ponder meaningfully on — for a while now.
An embarrassing problem I shared with many of my reader friends back when we were all younger was mispronouncing words I knew only through reading them. These were usually more obscure or formal words, because the key is that I didn’t hear people using them in everyday conversations or on television. Of course, now that I try remembering even a single one of these words, I’m drawing a complete blank. (Because the other embarrassing problem I have is my abysmal memory. Although having written that, I’d be willing to bet I mispronounced abyss and/or abysmal as a youth.)
Oh wait, here’s one: epitome! In college I kept saying it as EH-pih-tome. (blush) That’s even worse than usual, because I’m pretty sure I was hearing people say that one aloud and simply didn’t recognize it as the written word I knew.
The other problem I had was spelling words using British English instead of American English, and sometimes adding or subtracting syllables, à la our friends across the pond, when saying them out loud. I still prefer “grey” to this day. So much more lovely than “gray.” Although I draw the line at left-tenant. (What the heck, Brits?)
Then there are words I just mispronounce and have no idea why. Like sovereignty. Granted, based on the word “sovereign,” that sure looks like it should be at least four syllables (sov-er-en-tee) instead of three (sov-ren-tee). But I add the fourth syllable in the wrong place: sov-REN-i-tee. Like serenity, with a “sov”. WTH, self? I do the same thing with “mischievous,” for some reason turning it into “mischevious.” Sigh… I want to blame my mother who has what might graciously be termed a creative approach to spelling. (“Mom, it’s not spelled ‘fourty.'” “Why not? It should be.”) But I’m pretty sure none of her many letters and emails have ever included these words, so I’m on my own with that one. (Update: My latest theory is to blame the British for the sovereignty problem, because I have the same problem with “specialty,” pronouncing it as “spesh-ee-al-ih-tee.” Where’d that extra syllable come from? Because that’s how the Brits pronounce it (in their defense, at least they also spell it that way; not like, say, lieutenant). So apparently I’m unconsciously doing that to other words too. Sigh…)
I also have the darndest time with entrepreneurial. I cannot convince my brain to remember which syllable to emphasize, and have to say it at least two or three times before more-or-less accidentally hitting on the correct one. First one? Second? Third? Fourth? Just now, I have said it over so many times that every version sounds horribly wrong. Ugh…
I confess all of this now to show what a total hypocrite I am to bitch about my pet peeve: which is when people, particularly writers, mispronounce “overarching.” I even understand where it comes from. Character “arc” is clearly pronounced with a hard K sound. And we probably all remember learning that “archetype” is also pronounced with a hard K sound. (And perhaps feeling very proud of ourselves for using such a fancy word at a precocious age.) So I can see why writers in particular, being seeped in these terms, want to say “overarKing” instead of “overarCHing.”
BUT IT’S WRONG!
STOP DOING THAT!
Sorry, gentle readers, I got flustered. But even so, stop doing that. Look it up in whatever dictionaries you use. It’s not even an alternate pronunciation. And yet I hear so many writers use it, even public speakers who should know better, and it makes my eye twitch every time. In one of my absolute favorite podcasts about writing (which will go unnamed), everyone involved pronounces it incorrectly and it drives me absolutely bonkers.
Whew, I feel better getting that off my chest. I’d love to hear from you all: what words drive you crazy when people mispronounce them? The challenge being: for every error from others that you bitch about, you should confess to at least one of your own mistakes. Remember that readers can relate more to flawed characters!