24 Words You Might Not Know You’ve Been Saying Incorrectly

In a famous episode of Seinfeld, George gets upset because his girlfriend of the week calls  papier-mache hats “pah-pee-yea mah-shay,” instead of the normal Anglicized version. For George, this is an insurmountable problem and a constant source of frustration, and many of use get angry or upset when we find out we don’t know how to say a word.

However, you shouldn’t fret. The English language is constantly changing and evolving, and sometimes word deviate from their original pronunciation in their everyday use. There are just 24 examples of words you or those around you might be saying incorrectly — myself included.

1. Prescription

Doing it wrong: “Pur – scrip – shun”
Doing it right: “Pre – scrip – shun”

This is a common one where I’m from, the alternate universe between Ohio and Kentucky. It’s the land of warshing machines and cricks, where you get red of something instead of saying good riddance to bad rubbish.

Fact: My mother is still convinced the phrase is “chester drawers” instead of “chest of drawers.” Every time she says it, I ask her who Chester is and why we have his underwear. She has no idea what I’m talking about.

2. Sherbet

Doing it wrong: “Sure – burt”
Doing it right: “Sure – bit”

The word “sherbet” comes from the Persian and Turkish and is almost always pronounced with an “r,” a colloquialism that just kind of stuck. You can pronounce it the correct way, but people will almost always look at you like you’re headless.

3. Sudoku

Doing it wrong: “Suh – doe – coo”
Doing it right: “Soo – doe – coo”

Like sherbet, words of non-English origin are often mangled a bit in translation. If you ask five people to pronounce “Qatar,” the name of the Middle Eastern country, you’ll be lucky if one of them comes up with “Kah – tur.” It happens.

4. Comptroller

Doing it wrong: “Comp – troll – ur”
Doing it right: “Con – troll – ur”

This is a really tricky one, because its pronunciation looks phonetic; however, it’s anything but. Just imagine that when you’re speaking to the guy who supervises your job’s finances and accounting that you’re interacting with a video game remote. Then you’ll be square.

5. Espresso

Doing it wrong: “Ex – press – so”
Doing it right: “Es – press – so”

You might be like, “Hey, I know that!” Why do you think I don’t know how to say words? But work in a cafe for a while. You will be shocked at how many people don’t know that the beans in their delicious Americano don’t come “express.”

6. Gyro

Doing it wrong: “Gee – roh”/ “Hee – roh” / “Juh – eye – roh”
Doing it right: “Yee – roh”

This is one of those words that there are as many mispronunciations of as there are variations on the delicious sandwich. Because it comes from the Greek, there are a number of letters that don’t quite translate. In Arabic, there’s this fun letter that’s right between a G and an H, which just sounds like you’re gargling. So unfortunately, that “hero” sandwich won’t save your life. However, a “yee-ro” is still incredibly delicious.

7. Kibosh

Doing it wrong: “Ki – bosh”
Doing it right: “Key – bosh”

Unfortunately, if you want to put the kibosh on something, it should be the way almost everyone says this word. When articulated incorrectly, it sounds like “kibble” but instead it should recall “Kyle” and “kite.”

8. Lambaste

Doing it wrong: “Lamb – basst”
Doing it right: “Lamb – baste”

This is one that almost everyone I know gets wrong, so much so that I didn’t know I’ve been pronouncing this word wrong my whole life. (#themoreyouknow) A good way to remember how to say is that when you want to criticize someone harshly, it’s like basting a lamb. But far less tasty.

9. Celtic

Doing it wrong: “Sell – tick”
Doing it right: “Kell – tick”

I feel like this is one that a lot of people know, but I’m part Irish so I’m biased on that, and I decided to include it anyway. The popular misuse comes from the Boston Celtics, whose name has long been pronounced as if one is pawning blood-sucking insects for money. If you’re referring to the team, that version is kosher, but for the Irish, it’s a faux pas.

10. Candidate

Doing it wrong: “Can – uh – date”
Doing it right: “Can – da – date” / “Can – da – ditt”

Said correctly, it should sound kind of like “candy date,” but you’ll see few voters clamoring for a romantic liaison with their favorite sugary confection around November. (Or you’re going to eat something candidly.) The “d” is commonly left off. Another way to say it is with an “it” at the end. Both are recognized by Oxford, the grand poobah of saying it right.

11. Açaí

Doing it wrong: There are literally millions of ways to say this incorrectly.
Doing it right: “Ah – sah – ee”

I’ve been in actual debates about how to say this word, because all those accent marks really screw people up. It’s a toughie, but the actual way to say it is the above. And I’m sure I’ll have people fighting me in the comments about it. Don’t fuck with white people and their Whole Foods-approved fruit juice.

12. Cache

Doing it wrong: “Cash – ay”
Doing it right: “Cash”

It’s those foreign words that get you again. Curse you, France! If you are cleaning up the items in your internet browser, make sure to drop the “e” at the end. When speaking French words, it’s a good rule of thumb to just leave off as many letters as possible (I’m joking but not really), and the “e” is an unfortunate casualty here.

13. Niche

Doing it wrong: “Nitch”
Doing it right: “Neesh”

Like “cache,” This is another Anglicization of a French word, one that many English speakers just can’t seem to say correctly. (Although a lot of people I know seem to have gotten the memo.) When said correctly, the end of “niche” should rhyme with “leash” or “sheesh” not “switch” or “Fitch.” The world needs as little Abercrombie in it as possible.

14. Chicanery

Doing it wrong: “Chick – can – urr – ree” / “Shih – khan – urr – ree”
Doing it right: “Shih – con – nur – ree”

Because you don’t often hear the word “chicanery” pronounced, it’s easy to understand why Americans can’t get on the same page about how to say it. If you are saying it with everyone’s favorite Star Trek villain in the word, you want to switch it for everyone’s favorite James Bond. On the plus side, I always invite more Sean Connery references into my life. I’m down with it.

15. Asterisk

Doing it wrong: “Ass – tricks” / “Ass – ter – ricks”
Doing it right: “Ass – ter – isk”

I have to admit: Ass-tricks is much funnier and should be the right way to say it, but it’s not. A more common mispronunciation of the word is to insert a bunch of people named Rick in the last syllable, but Ricks of the world can stay at home. The word should end with title of the popular board game.

16. Aegis

Doing it wrong: “Ay – giss”
Doing it right: “Ee – gis”

Did you know the word Boatswain is actually pronounced as “bo – sun?” Probably not, because when do you have to say this word out loud? Not so often. It similarly common not to know how to pronounce “aegis,” because it doesn’t come up that frequently. But should you have to dictate a philosophy text soon, you’ll now know.

17. Prerogative

Doing it wrong: “Per – og – uh – tivv”
Doing it right: “Pre – rog – uh – tivv”

Any time you say this word wrong, you can just blame Bobby Brown. His most famous tune, “My Prerogative,” has been miseducating the American public on their prerogative for years. First he ruined Whitney, then English. Will his reign of terror never end?

18. Hermès

Doing it wrong: “Herr – meez”
Doing it right: “Air – mezz”

If you’ve seen The Princess Diaries, you know how to say this word, because Julie Andrews, Queen of the fictional Genovia taught you. This pronunication only refers to the French company. When reciting the name of the Greek god, one should say “Hur – meez” instead.

19. Chipotle

Doing it wrong: “Chip – oat -lay
Doing it right: “Cheep – oat – lay”

Yes, fellow Chipotle fanatics, many of you are not saying the name of your favorite restaurant correctly. From the Nahuatl word chīlpōctli, the correct pronunciation of the word has more of a long e in it than a delicious fried potato chip. Then again, I hear people who work there mispronounce it all the time, so you’re not alone, Chipotle eaters of the word. You have company in your linguistic misery.

20. Electoral

Doing it wrong: “E – lek – tor – uhl”
Doing it right: “ E – lek – tor – uhl”

This is a tricky one, of which I am absolutely a culprit. It’s all just a matter of emphasis. Instead of putting the weight on the third syllable, shift it to the second. But don’t feel bad: The Electoral College is more fucked up than our pronunciation of it will ever be.

21. Primer

Doing it wrong: “Pry – murr”
Doing it right: “Prim – murr”

I really didn’t like the 2004 Shane Carruth film of the same name, but I’ve never had a good reason for it. I just hated it. Now I finally have a good reason: They can’t even say the name of the damn movie correctly. Take that, Shane Carruth.

22. Spurious

Doing it wrong: “Spur – ree – us”
Doing it right: “Spure – ee – us”

To say spurious correctly, the beginning of the word should have a “pure” in it instead of an accessory for a boot. Honestly, I think the pronunciation of this word is dumb, so I’m moving on.

23. Affluent

Doing it wrong, kind of: “Aff – loo – int”
Doing it right: “Aff – loo – int”

This is another emphasis issue, just like electoral. Like many words on this list, this word change pronunciation with its everyday (mis)use, so much so that dictionaries got behind the people and started recognizing its dual pronunciation — like “forbade,” which started out being “forbad” and shifted over time.

You should but the emphasis on the first syllable and not the second, but technically, you’re saying affluent right no matter how you say it, but you should always know what the right way is. As Schoolhouse Rock told us, knowledge is power.

24. Seuss (as in Dr. Seuss)

Doing it wrong: How you’ve always said it forever
Doing it right: “Dok – tor Soy – ss”

Did you know that you don’t know how to pronounce Theodore Geisel’s pen name? Geisel figured you wouldn’t know that you didn’t know either, so he wrote you a happy rhyme to clue you in:

“You’re wrong as the deuce/And you shouldn’t rejoice/
If you’re calling him Seuss/He pronounces it Soice.”

Next time you want to fuck with a bunch of people’s childhoods, just inform a room full of adults that they don’t know how to say the name of their favorite children’s book author. Lives will be ruined.

Internet, what words do you commonly hear mispronounced? Where do you fall on the debate on how to say the word “integral?” Leave your own feedback in the comments. TC mark

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  • Gabrielle Castillo

    Reblogged this on Twenty-Something and commented:
    Mind. Blown.

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    Reblogged this on Naked. and commented:
    ‘Cos I’m in love with English phonetics, this deserves to be on my blog.

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