Mispronouncing Words: An “Overarching” Issue

Svaneti_Museum,_Mestia_(4) by Peter Ashton

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.”




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!



33 thoughts on “Mispronouncing Words: An “Overarching” Issue

  1. Oh… there are too many to name… Febuary (no r), Supposably instead of supposedly; he could of said instead of he could have said… and the list goes on… I would like to know why plaid is pronounced plad – what’s with that useless ‘i’? And why do we pronounce the ‘e’ in recipe, calliope, epitome, etc. but not in, well, pretty much every word ending in ‘e’?
    What a can of worms you have opened, Joy! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • And while we’re at it, why doesn’t plaid rhyme with said? The English language makes no sense at all, that’s incontrovertible. No surprise, given how it was cobbled together.

      Plus, pronunciations simply change over time. I’d say most people I know pronounce February without that first R. And of course there are regional dialect differences. But at least people aren’t that surprised when you say those. I feel a little sloppy or casual when I say things like my small-town Midwestern family, but I don’t have that same horror that I’ve just accidentally pronounced a word so incorrectly that I’ve outed myself as a fool! Ah well.. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Let me also admit to Feb-you-air-ee. And, to make it more absurd, I was born in that month.
    But my stellar achievement was, no, not Stellar’s sea cow (already extinct when I was born), but the then-still-extant nation of Czechoslovakia. I ran into this country in a stamp-collecting book. And for some reason, my phonetics-trained brain ran off the rails, off the bridge, and into the chasm below. I turned it into “Check-lis-no-va-kea.” Fortunately for all concerned, I corrected my pronunciation before it ever became public knowledge, and now there no longer is a Czechoslovakia. I’m just going to have to mispronounce “Qatar” instead!

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I just said to Dale, I think February without the first R is becoming a more acceptable pronunciation (that’s how language develops, after all — people dropping letters that are tricky to squeeze in there). But your Czechoslovakia story is an excellent example of what I’m talking about, thanks for sharing it! It’s so bizarre when we ADD IN extra letters or syllables that aren’t there, and yet it seems to be such a common mistake! People are funny and weird and interesting that way. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the differences between the pronunciation of two-but-the-same language. It shows how languages evolve. But as with Americans who get frustrated with out ‘incorrect’ pronunciation, so too do we Brits fume at you. Ours, of course, is correct.
    Of even more interest is the origin of the words, and why we say it one way, and you another.
    Two true Geminis, hey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And yet I’ve read linguist historians who argue that it’s the Brits who changed their pronunciation more after the split, and that Americans pronounce the mother tongue more similarly now than the British do. Aha! But of course, it’s a long-standing and fruitless argument. We could just as easily say that all of us are “incorrect” because we don’t sound like Shakespeare’s version of English. Or point to all the various dialects and accents within each version of English and debate whether any one of them are “correct” and the others wrong.

      As long as one can be understood, that’s half the battle won. Being kind about differences, that’s the rest of it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s especially relevant for us readers, because on average, we’re both more likely to make mistakes when talking (having learned so much through text) and also more likely to be grammar and spelling perfectionists — an odd and amusing combo!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post, Joy, and as Dale above said, you’ve certainly opened a can of worms with it. So much food for thought. Word derivations are fascinating, and I agree that US English has kept the original pronunciation of some words better than UK English. We only have to think of the American use of ‘gotten’ – which was taken across the Pond with early British settlers in the ‘New World’. The word was very soon shortened to ‘got’ over here (although with TV and film etc. the word gotten is creeping back in here). As for the British pronunciation of the word lieutenant, it’s all to do with the position in battle of a lieutenant. He always stood of the left of the higher officer, to protect it. (The officer would have his sword in the right hand.) So the name/rank simply became left-tenant, although the spelling remained lieutenant. Weird, I know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t mean to open up a discussion about the entire English language, but there it is! It’s so fascinating (and sometimes frustrating) how the pronunciations and spellings develop in their own ways, and don’t match up with each other. Lieutenant is an interesting case. In the original French, “lieu” is position or location and “tenant” means holding or person who is holding. So that makes perfect sense, as the officer who is holding (protecting) a specific position. OED thinks that the “lef” isn’t about being on the left side though, but because the French “u” was transliterated to an English “v” which later became an “f”. And yet that’s completely consistent with language, that we would change the pronunciation for one reason and then come up with a perfectly reasonable *other* explanation for why it makes sense. LOL!

      Funny that nobody has responded to my original gripe about overarching being pronounced wrong. (Given that over-arking isn’t correct in *any* dialect, I think I can use the word “wrong” here.) It’s such a pet peeve of mine, and now that I’ve noticed it, it drives me crazy each new time I hear it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It was a great post and so thought-provoking. The many comments were excellent, too. There are always different opinions when it comes to word origins and pronunciations. There are still many different opinions over here regarding the pronunciation of lieutenant – which I won’t go into here.
        Your original gripe made me smile, and I think there are many people (including me) who struggle with the pronunciation of certain words. And the spellings of some English words don’t help at all!. Studying words is such fun. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Very interesting indeed, I agree. And even more so from the lens of constructing languages (or at least, new words) for fictional worlds. If you wrote a fictional language that was as incoherent as English, it would not feel believable, I think!


  5. This article cracked me up because I can fully relate to the hypocrisy of being annoyed by mispronunciations while being entirely guilty of many myself. One I used to do consistently was pronoun “onion” as if it had an “ng” sound immediately after the “O.” So I would say it like “ongion” the first syllable rhyming with “young.” I blame that one on being raised by a mom and grandma with mid-western accents, (they also like to put an “R” in “toilet.” Also, I have pronounced “gesture” with a hard “G” for years and often still do even though I know it’s wrong. I blame that on all the commercials for the board game “guesstures” saturating the TV during my childhood. It just got stuck!.. All that being said, it drives me absolutely crazy when some one pronounces “supposedly” with a “B.” I hear it often from multiple sources, “supposably.” And every time it grates on me something fierce! 🤷🏻‍♀️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh those are good ones, Jean! Yes, there are so many little weird regional dialect things across this huge country. I can see why linguists can spend whole careers studying them. And I agree: supposably drives me nuts too. NO B! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Heeeeey you! How are you feeling? I’m one of those who makes up words by tacking the wrong prefix or suffix to a word, like “conflictions,” “undirect,” and the like. I figure that if I speak them with a bunch of other words like they themselves of words, then whooooooooo’s going to know I made something up? English is such a screwy language anyway. And when in doubt, I just blame the upper peninsula of Michigan, where I lived for a couple of years and where the “Ya der hey” dialect is at its strongest. xxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My youngest son used to call “sprinklers” “plinketers.” The middle (now adult) son still mispronounces “probably” as “plobally.” I’ve read so many words that I’ve never actually heard spoken that I’m sure I’m guilty. Is vegan pronounced “vey-gun” or “vee-gun.” I feel sorry for non-native English learners.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh kids are great for mispronunciations! And I totally agree with your sympathy for non-native English learners: the only way I know most of these things is by sheer exposure. You can’t possibly apply logic to English spelling OR pronunciation!


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