October 29, 2009

Are you mispronounciating your words?

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A client told me recently that she sometimes has trouble pronouncing words properly because she was raised by parents from another country and still has a bit of their accent at times. I suggested that she's not pronouncing words incorrectly if that's how they're pronounced in another English-speaking country. But she's self-conscious about it, so I decided to devote today's blog post to pronunciation.

How do you know if you're pronouncing words properly? You probably don't, because most of us have ways of speaking that we've developed over a lifetime of influence from parents, friends, our culture, and our state or region. The way we say things is the way we say things, and no one is going to tell us when we're wrong.

However, there are some words that are frequently mispronounced by native English speakers that have nothing to do with region or accent. One of the very first blog posts I wrote three years ago was about the mispronunciation of the word "a." There is one pronunciation for the word "a" and a different pronunciation for the letter "a."

Here are some other words that are frequently mispronounced/misunderstood. How many of these do you say?

No: Antartic | Yes: Antarctic

No: card shark | Yes: cardsharp

No: chomp at the bit | Yes: champ at the bit

No: excape | Yes: escape

No: expresso | Yes: espresso

No: forte (fortay) | Yes: fort (I only discovered this about a year ago!)

No: heighth | Yes: height

No: mannaise | Yes: mayonnaise

No: nuptual | Yes: nuptial

No: perculate | Yes: percolate

No: sherbert | Yes: sherbet

No: supposably | Yes: supposedly

No: triathalon | Yes: triathlon

For more fun with mispronounced words, check out this list. You will be shocked to see some of these; I guarantee it. You can click on the link for each correct word and hear the proper pronunciation.

If you're not sure about a word, look it up. Study lists like the one above to make sure you know what you're talking about. Pronunciation plays a big role in a presentation; don't let yours be a distraction to the audience. Maintain your credibility and authority as a speaker and an expert by using and pronouncing words properly.

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7 comments. Please add yours! :

Rich Hopkins said...

I wonder if the audience would be more distracted by pronounciating it 'fort' - since most people think its 'fortay'? Perhaps better to avoid the word all together.

By the way - nitch or neesh? :)

Lisa Braithwaite said...

I know what you mean, Rich. There's a word in the tea industry - "pekoe" - you've probably seen it before. It's actually pronounced "peck-oh" not "peek-oh," but if I were to say that to a casual tea drinker, they would think I didn't know what I was talking about. What to do in that kind of situation? Either don't go there, or be prepared to explain the proper pronunciation when you use it!

I like "nitch." :-)

Rich Hopkins said...

I can agree with that assessment. Can always replace forte with strength or strong point - simpler to catch on the fly for the audience anyway.

Definitely nitch!

Business Communcation said...

That's so funny. I remember learning to properly spell Wednesday and it changed my pronouncing forever. Bush used to say 'Nucler' Arms. But sometimes these mispronunciations have to do with one's regional accentuation of vowels and consonants. It might be annoying and still some people get away with it. Is it ever really okay?

Lisa Braithwaite said...

I specifically avoided the regional or cultural mispronunciations like "aks" for "ask," because those can be controversial. I don't ever think it's right for the president of the United States to say "nucular," however. There's no way that's ever correct.

Trevor Ambrose said...

If I'm not sure I would rather try to avoid pronuncing the word.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Good point, Trevor! There's always another word you can use.

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