Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spice Doesn't Always Rhyme with Nice

We all have words we pronounce incorrectly. If we knew better, we wouldn't say them wrong. In my experience, they're usually Latinates we've only read and never heard said aloud, so why should we know how to say them? The art of reading the phonetic spellings in the dictionary is just about dead, I'm afraid.

For years I thought detritus was pronounced DEHT-ruh-tus, until an editor friend corrected me with deTRYtis.

I recently heard a lawyer on a radio discussion pronounce panacea as puhNAYshuh.

But when it's a fairly common word, you have to wonder just a bit, as in this story from Not Always Right:

And the main lesson here is that it's always dicey to correct someone's pronunciation, even if you're doing it to make sure you understand what they're saying.


Michael Leddy said...

I remember learning from a student that a certain word in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is pronounced “heffer,” not “high-fer.” I was grateful to be corrected. But issuing corrections is usually a dicey matter, esp. if the person in need of correction knows it all.

Daughter Number Three said...

I remember having no idea how to pronounce heifer on sight, but since I'm from farm country, I found out pretty fast.

Ms Sparrow said...

I always thought detritus was pronounced "duh-TREAT-us". I grew up around farmers so I knew how to say heifer before I knew how to spell it. It seems sometimes there is the pronunciation favored by the literati vs that used by the rabble.
Homage--I say "hom-edge", they say "ohm-mahge" which sounds pretentious to my ear. Also, I say "nitch" for niche, and they say "neesh". Isn't that swell?