Habitual mispronunciations have long been an irritation to those of us who revere the spoken word. Mispronunciations are not colloquialisms, malapropisms, spoonerisms or any other type of ‘-ism’; they are simply words spoken wrongly.
I hear all sorts of people mispronouncing common words; professional and public-facing people, not least my daughter’s teacher! This is not a new phenomenon though; my own headmaster was obsessed with the ‘correct’ pronunciation of the letter ‘H’. In MED, the pronunciation for this letter is given as ‘eɪtʃ’ in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and this roughly translates as ‘aitch’. My headmaster, however, was convinced that the proper pronunciation was ‘haitch’, and thought nothing of smacking a boy around the head and shouting ‘HHHHaitch! Not Aitch!’ How is the next generation supposed to ‘talk proper’ if their own teachers stumble at these straightforward hurdles?
Here are some of the common mispronunciations/ misspellings that I come across in both the spoken and written English language, along with the MED definition and my own, outraged comments:
expresso (espresso) – type of coffee. It doesn’t come any quicker than a latté!
mischeevious (mischievous) – a mischievous person, especially a child, enjoys having fun by causing trouble. Does one sound naughtier than the other?
‘pecific (specific) – involving or relating to only one particular thing or type of thing. This actually sounds more like ‘pacific’. Hmm, from one particular thing to a whole ocean of them!
paintent (patent) – very shiny leather, used for making bags and shoes. Yep – those shoes are just leather, painted.
pronounciation (pronunciation) – the way in which a word or language is pronounced. How to say a noun properly?
My dilemma here is whether to behave like my headmaster towards people who mispronounce a word, or just accept that perhaps pronunciation is changing, even evolving. Perhaps I am just being a snob? I don’t go around insisting that the city in which I live be called ‘Oxenaford‘, the original name for Oxford, nor do I lament the fact that the big red thing rumbling down the road is now called a bus, rather than an ‘omnibus’. Perhaps I need to accept that ‘specific’ will become ‘pecific because it’s just easier to say.
This, however, does not excuse the other words above, which are not being conveniently shortened. These are not like words such as ‘February’, now mostly pronounced as Febury and ‘Wednesday’, usually said as Wensday. It could be argued that expresso is less easy and flowing to say than ‘espresso’ and paintent carries one more mouth movement than ‘patent’ – so why should this be? Could it be an attempt by less educated people to overpronounce things, to appear superior – just like the people who hold their fork like a pen and think it is more refined than the correct way? Or could it be to do with the links people make in their mind between the sound of a word and its meaning, as suggested by some of my comments in the list above?
Let me know of any mispronunciations that irritate you and perhaps we should set up our own support group!Email this Post