Shiver me Timbers! Words readers have read but have no idea how to say!

Ahoy there me mateys!  Though I don’t do weekly wrap-up posts meself (too lazy), I very much enjoy reading those written by the crew.  Matey Nicki @ secretlibrarybookblog does a links round-up where I particularly enjoy the “Other Links” section due to the miscellaneous treasure she finds for me.  Recently she linked to “The Guardian – Words We Think We Know, But Can’t Pronounce: The Curse of the Avid Reader.”  And of course what reader hasn’t suffered this issue?  I went on an adventure and thought mehaps the crew would enjoy it as much as I did.

So I of course started with the Guardian article.  That reader seemed very embarrassed by her mispronunciations. I tend to find mine to be rather fascinating and hysterical in retrospect.  Did you know that awry is one of the most mispronounced words in the English language?  Well I have no problems with that one.  A word that I still read incorrectly every single time is “quay.”  I pronounce it as “kehway.”  It wasn’t until I read an Irish book that used it in a joke that I learned the real pronunciation.  The joke didn’t make sense (and I wanted to get it) until I learned that the word is said “key” from the French word meaning wharf.  I am still surprised at how much I read this random word, how I still misread it as “kehway” always, and how I chuckle every time I do.

The Guardian article was fun but light on the examples.  Luckily it referred me to the “New York Public Library’s – Words That Reader’s Can’t Say.”  This had a list pulled from the expert readers – the librarians themselves!  So here be a short list of the words that both they and meself find difficult:

  • brooch – “brohch” NOT “broo-ch” though technically ye can say it the second way
  • antimacassar – “an-ti-me-ka-ser” NOT “anti-mack-ah-sar” a word I didn’t even know existed much less how to say
  • sergeant – “sar-gent” NOT “sir-gent”
  • wyvern – “why-vern” NOT “weh-vern”

I also took NYPL’s pronunciation quiz and scored 6 out of 7 with “terpischore” being the problem (Greek muse of dance i.e. “terp-i-shore”).  Also if ye click on the word in the article, it will take ye to a page where ye can listen to the pronunciation.  Awesome!  All others on their list I can say but I do see where they would be tough.  Like Socrates (NOT “so-crates) or inchoate (NOT “inch-o-ate.”  There are also problem words that are not on this list.  I can’t never read (or say) colonel.  I say “co-lone-el” when it should be “kernel” and aye, I had to look it up AGAIN.

Then the last fascinating stop dealt with another reader problem – how do ye pronounce those tricky author names?  One of me favourite authors whose name ties me tongue in knots (“nots” NOT “ka-nots”) is Paolo Bacigalupi.  Luckily there is a website called Teaching Books which offers an author and illustrator pronunciation guide of  2,758 people who not only tell ye how to say their names but tell ye fun background about the history of those names.  Wonder how to say Eoin Colfer or Chieri Uegaki.  Wonder no more.

As a lover of words, I don’t mind being corrected for any mispronunciation I might make.  Reading a word but not knowing how to speak it goes right up there with knowing the different meanings of two similar words but not being able to explain to others why they are different.  And those same people insist those words mean the same thing like “idiot” vs “fool.”  But that is another problem for another day.  Arrrrrr!

Always remember:

Q: Why don’t pirates drive on mountain roads?

A: Scurvy!

Hardy har har!

x The Captain

Side note:  The First Mate insists on saying Antigone as “An-ti-go-nay!” even though he knows it is wrong.  He says, “It’s just more fun that way.”

I order y’all to share yer favourite mispronounciations in the comments.  ARRR!

27 thoughts on “Shiver me Timbers! Words readers have read but have no idea how to say!

  1. When I was little, my Grandfather used to give me a quarter every time I used a new word correctly in a sentence. It was like magic to me. How did he know that word was new to me?! Oh, because I often mispronounced it. He knew I was learning from reading and honored that. It makes me super happy.

    My husband I mispronounce words intentionally all the time. Chamomile tea, for example. “Chuh-mom-oh-lay”. Chihuahua is “chuh-hoo-ah-hoo-ah”. Etc. When baby comes we’ll need to be more careful about that, I think…

    Most of the words I mistakenly pronounce wrong are based in French. French, man. I get it. I wouldn’t want to change how we spell our words, but changing the official pronunciation instead gets me so hard. Once I think I know the rules BAM! They are all changed. To your point in the recent Coifer post you wrote, it depends on the origin of the French word! So, yeah. I’ve got guillotine down but perhaps not crudités? Unclear.

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  2. Ha- loved this post. I do this all the time but I can’t think of any examples of the top of my head. I’ll think of them at 3 am tonight and post them tomorrow 😂.

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    1. Those are the best pronunciations of all. Because seriously trying to speak me own language is rough. When I took French, me accent was so bad that I was hesitant to speak it. Hence why I can’t now. The favourite word for me and me French friends was squirrel / écureuil.
      x The Captain

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  3. This is such a fun and interesting post! I remember being docked points on a speech I did SO WELL on in high school just because I pronounced “albeit” wrong, a word I had only ever seen in print at that point. It felt unfair. Ever since I’ve been cautious about saying aloud words that I see written more often than hear verbally, and I’ll even look up pronunciations while reading silently in my head to make sure I don’t learn new words incorrectly and embarrass myself later. I place more importance on getting names right I think, because I worry more about offending someone, but mispronouncing words shouldn’t be such a big deal! Especially among readers- it seems like such a common problem, and is generally a honest mistake rather than bad intent.

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    1. The only time mispronunciation annoys me is when someone is trying to use big or difficult words on purpose to sound smart or special. But that is rare. I think in general saying words wrong is just honest mistakes. I also am not embarrassed by asking someone how they want their names said. A lot of people I know with difficult names just choose a “good enough” pronunciation for non-native speakers and leave it at that.
      x The Captain

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  4. Indict is my downfall. For years I thought it was pronounced as it’s spelled, so therefore there must be another word spelled Indite that I heard people saying but just never saw written. I still read it wrong in my mind every time I see it.

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  5. I know there are non-name words that have tripped me up, but I can’t think of any beyond some of the ones you’ve listed. (Colonel being one of the ones I’ve had trouble with, for example.) However, I do know that SFF character names have always given me trouble! One of my favorite hard-to-pronounce character names is Mnementh from Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. At one point my sister and I were trying to figure out how to say it, and ended up singing that “Mahna Mahna” song from the Muppets.

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    1. I never say character names correctly and overall don’t care. Occasionally there will be names that I do like learning how they are really said like Eoin (Owen) or Aisling (Ashlin). Of course when I read them I still read them the way I want to. Mnementh. Ummm I think it be something like Menmeth in me noggin. The only exception is Welsh or Nordic names because I know that they should sound way better then whatever gobbledygook comes up when I see them.
      x The Captain

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  6. My mom laughed so hard back in the day while I was reading Asterix and Obelix. I was asking what let-use was as it featured a lot in the comics. Lettuce being the vegetable. I also mispronounced cholera, but that was due to me reading it in Afrikaans and not the English way…

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