During my junior year of high school, I made a presentation in English class about Huckleberry Finn in which I pronounced the word “colonel” as “call-o-nell” at least 20 times. I won’t go into the sheer embarrassment I felt upon learning this fact, nor will I launch into an angry tirade about the fact that colonel doesn’t even have an “R” and yet, it is pronounced “kernel.” (Although, if you did want to read about it, I would direct you to this other HelloGiggles article I wrote back in the day…shameless self-promotion.) However, no one can stop me from focusing on the slightly larger subject of mispronunciation, which is very near and dear to my heart (which is to say, it plagues my life on a day to day basis). Some terms that may seem so simple on the outside are actually designed to embarrass you in public.
(NOTE: English has changed over time. I’m not saying anyone who uses such terms should be burned at the stake. I’m merely listing the original pronunciations for these terms and comparing them to how they’re said now, for funzies.)
Mischievous (adj.): showing a playful desire to cause trouble
How you may pronounce it: Mis-chee-vee-us
Actual pronunciation: Mis-chi-vus
I’ve always pronounced mischievous the first way, and I will continue to do so for the sole reason that it fits more with the actual definition. Saying “mischievous” with a long “e” sound sparks images in my mind of an evil dictator tapping his fingers together and belting out a nefarious laugh. It just sounds better. But if you look closely at the spelling of the word, such a pronunciation doesn’t really make sense. There’s no “i” after the “v” and there isn’t an added syllable. Whoever started this trend was intentionally trying to stir trouble.
Crêpe (n.): a very thin type of pancake made from wheat flour
How you may pronounce it: krep, creep
Actual pronunciation: kray-pe
If you learn anything from this post, let it be this: crêpe without the unfinished triangle over the “e” means “a light, thin fabric with a wrinkled surface” and is hopefully not something you wrap delicious berries and Nutella in. Also, more importantly, it is pronounced “kray-pe,” like “grape” but with a “c” or “cape” with an “r” or like “mandrake” but with only one “a” plus some other letters.
Flaccid (adj.): soft and hanging loosely or limply, esp. so as to look or feel unpleasant
How you may pronounce it: flass-id
Actual pronunciation: flak-sid
Let me preface this entry by saying most dictionaries nowadays have come to accept “flass-id” as an acceptable, if not the most acceptable, pronunciation. However, the double “c” was meant to sound like a “k” (think “accident” or “ack-ci-dent”). The popularity of the movie Lake Placid brought the pronunciation of “flaccid” as similar to “acid” into circulation. (A total lie. I just wanted an excuse to show off my knowledge of terrible B-movies.)
Oregon (n.): a U.S. state that has an awesome computer game named after it
How you may pronounce it: Or-eh-gone
Actual pronunciation: Or-a-gun
As far as I know, the only people who have a problem with this pronunciation are people from Oregon, but in the off-chance that you meet one of these said mythical beings, here is your ticket out of getting verbally assaulted. Though the “gon” at the end of this word may spark memories of polygons from your high school geometry class, the “o” actually sounds more like a “u” in this case. Just imagine someone is holding out Oregon in one hand and a gun in another and they’re explaining the situation like “Do you want Oregon? Or a gun?” The second option is the correct pronunciation of the first.
Banal (adj.): boring or ordinary
How you may pronounce it: BAY-nal
Actual pronunciation: buh-NAL (but also, not really)
The pronunciation of this one is all over the place so it may not even be fair to include it in this list because no one can really agree on what’s correct and what’s not. While many dictionaries list “buh-NAL” first (think “canal”) as the first definitions, others list “BAY-nal,” “bu-NAHL,” and “bay-NAHL” as also being correct. In fact, in American Heritage’s Usage Panel, the decision about how this is used is almost equally split, with buh-NAL taking a slight lead, so I’m going with the people on this one. (Source)
Dr. Seuss: American children’s author and poet
How you may pronounce it: soo-s
Actual pronunciation: s-oi-s
I reckon it’s easier to teach children how to say Seuss like “moose” than it is to explain why it is actually pronounced more like “voice.” After the writer was busted for drinking on his college campus, he crafted the pen name Dr. Seuss, borrowing from his own middle name (Theodor Seuss Geisel). Despite the name’s German origin, the American pronunciation of Seuss like “truce” has gained traction in classroom’s everywhere.
Cache (n.): a hiding place especially for concealing and preserving provisions or implements; a computer memory used for storage of frequently or recently used data
How you may pronounce it: cash-ay
Actual pronunciation: cash
Anyone who pronounces “Target” like “Tar-jay” may also be tempted to pronounced this word as “cash-ay” or “catch” but this word actually sounds more like “cash” as in “people who know the proper pronunciation probably make a lot of cash because they work with computers and probably robots and stuff.” I don’t know, I’m just guessing.
In the end, we’re left with this feeling:
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