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Andrea Harner
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August 8, 2008

10 mispronunciations that make you sound stupid, Word Nerd Series!

From Toni Bowers' list of commonly mangled words:

Previously, TechRepublic ran an article about 10 grammar mistakes that make you look stupid. The examples cited involved the misuse of words in written and verbal communications. I’d like to go a step farther here and talk about words that may be used correctly but are pronounced wrong. They also may be much more flagrant examples of stupidity.

A caveat: My ear may be abnormally sensitive to mispronunciations since in college I developed an unnatural affinity for linguistics (can you say “Get a life?”). However, people often make snap decisions about character and intelligence based on their language biases, so it’s something you should be aware of. Here are some of my pet peeves, which you may or may not ever use in your life.

Note: This article originally appeared in our Career Management blog.

#1: Realtor

Many people — I’ve even heard it from people on national TV — pronounce this word REAL-uh-ter. Is this a case of wide-spread dyslexia, transposing the a and the l? It’s REAL-tor. That’s it. You’d think only two syllables would be easier to pronounce, but apparently not.

#2: Nuclear

Do you know how tough it is to be an advocate for the correct pronunciation of this word (NU-clee-er) when the president of the United States pronounces it NU-cu-lar? I don’t buy that it’s a regional thing. Ya’ll is a regional thing; nu-cu-lar is not.

#3: Jewelry

It’s not JOO-la-ree, it’s JOOL-ree. Again with the making things harder by turning a word into three syllables. What’s with that?

#4: Supposedly/supposably

The latter is a nonexistent word.

#5: Supposed to/suppose to

I think this one is more a matter of a lazy tongue than of ignorance. It takes an extra beat in there to emphasize the d at the end, but it’s worth it. And never omit the d if you’re using the term in a written communication or people will think you were raised in a hollowed-out tree trunk somewhere.

#6: Used to/use to

Same as above.

#7: Anyway/anyways

There’s no s at the end. I swear. Look it up.

#8: February/Febuary

As much as it galls me, there is an r between the b and the u. When you pronounce the word correctly it should sound like you’re trying to talk with a mouthful of marbles — FEB broo ary.

#9: Recur/reoccur

Though the latter is tempting, it’s not a word. And again, why add another syllable if you don’t need it?

#10: Mischievous/mischievious

I know, I know, it sounds so Basil Rathbone to say MIS cha vous, but that’s the right way. Mis CHEE vee us is more commonly used, but it’s wrong.

And last but not least, my personal all-time pet peeve — the word often. It should be pronounced OFF un, not OFF tun. The t is silent.

* The Word Nerds thank BuzzFeed!


If a word gets used in the lexicon frequently enough and for long enough, linguists reluctantly recognize the validity of the word. Thus "supposably" is a word, as is "irregardless"...

AH.com: Ew. So annoying.

Posted by: Hasan at August 8, 2008 4:22 PM

One of my peeves is people who combine "instances" with "incidents" to create the non-word "incidences"

AH.com: So true and so annoying!!!

Posted by: Rita in Toronto at August 11, 2008 5:05 PM

In Sweden there is what’s called "The Language council" which purpose is to monitor and inform the public about the way the Swedish language evolves, since no language ever stays the same. But also to help out when there is an uncertainty about which linguistic rules actually applies. There is always the influx of new words (called “Borrowed words”) from foreign languages arriving with groups of immigrants, the more and more important use of technology and not the least the never ending use of English that trickles down from the corporate world and TV/entertainment.

And then it’s the creation of completely new words. Mostly from combining already existing words and filing a gap that lacks a single word to explain an item or action etc. When before one would have needed to but together a phrase of mutual understanding rather then an actual and precise word for what was meant to be said. Every year they compile a list of new words that has made it in to both public and editorial use, and online publicize “Word of the month”. For august this year it’s the word “Burkini” for which the following explanation apply:
“As the seas and lakes in Sweden maintain a pleasant temperature and august is being forecast to become a pleasing month for bathing for all, regardless of religion or dress codes. For Muslim women who whishes to enjoy bathing, a special swimsuit has been developed that covers the needs of traditional Muslim dress codes – the “Burkini”. The word is of course a combination of the words “Burka” (Burqa in English) and “Bikini”. The garment was originally designed by the Lebanese/Australian woman Aheda Zanetti. The Burkini has been a success the world over and is today available for purchase at numerous locations, so to in Swedish indoor swimming halls."

However, this doesn’t justify the type of language abuse listed in the article.

Posted by: Johan at August 12, 2008 12:21 PM

I know too many people who use the WRONG words, on your list, on a more than regular basis. It made me laugh. One of my friends sent me an email that stated "I don't have the patients." .. she is not a doctor.

My big pet peeve for made-up language is "addicting" .. not sure if it is a word but it totally sounds wrong!

Posted by: Kendyl at August 15, 2008 11:36 PM

shao-li, i made you proud--i got 9 out of 10 right, and english is not my first language (or the second or the third)!!!!

Posted by: reichi at September 4, 2008 11:51 AM

Three things:
1) February came up on a list of the words most often mispronounced in the UK. I'm pretty sure that it would be on a list in the USA as well.

2) It's y'all (contraction for YOU ALL) not ya'll.

3) "Anyways" is one of the words that irks me most, and I'm not sure why.

AH.com: Anyways *is* super annoying and I'm always tempted to tell people, "you know that's not a word!"

Posted by: MissMeliss at September 25, 2008 12:05 PM
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