Showing posts with label pronunciation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pronunciation. Show all posts

29 June 2019

Am I Saying It Right?



by John M. Floyd



A couple of months ago I posted a column here at SleuthSayers about a book I'd discovered called Dreyer's English, written by Random House executive Benjamin Dreyer. That book offered what I thought were great tips on literary style, with sections on how to use, capitalize, and spell certain difficult words. As a stylebook, what it of course didn't offer was advice on how to pronounce those words. But . . . I have since discovered some other resources, including a bunch of YouTube videos and a delightful book by Ross Petras and Kathryn Petras called You're Saying It Wrong. And I found that I was indeed often saying things wrong. (Which was nothing new, for me; I can remember when I first learned that calliope and Penelope weren't KALLY-ope and PENNA-lope. (I think that was last week.)

Anyhow, the following are some examples I've stumbled onto, of how to pronounce--and how not to pronounce--certain words. I've even included a few people and place names. I hope you might be as surprised as I was, by some of these:



forte -- It's pronounced FORT. Not fore-TAY.

pathos -- PAY-thoss. Not PATH-oss.

comptroller -- con-TROLL-er. Not COMP-troll-er.

Porsche -- POR-sha. Not PORSH.

dais -- DAY-is or DYE-is.

Gillian Flynn -- GILL-ee-an (with a hard G). Not JILL-ee-an.

J. K. Rowling -- ROE-ling (rhymes with GO). Not ROW-ling (rhymes with COW).

Jodi Picoult -- PEE-ko.

O'Neil De Noux -- da-NEW.

Leigh Lundin -- lun-DEEN. Not LUN-din.

Brendan Dubois -- du-BOYS. Not du-BWAH.

Herschel Cozine -- KO-zyne. Not KO-zeen.

Andrew Gulli -- GOO-lee. Not GULL-ee.

Dr. Seuss -- SOYSS (rhymes with voice). Not SOOS.

often -- AWF-un. Not AWF-tun.

segue -- SEG-way.

banal -- ba-NAL. Not BAY-nul.

kibosh -- KYE-bosh. Not ki-BOSH.

nuclear -- NOOK-lee-ur. Not NOOK-yew-ler.

chimera -- ky-MEE-rah. Not ka-MERR-ah.

alumnae -- ah-LUM-nee. Not ah-LUM-nay.

Celtic -- KEL-tick. (Unless it's a Boston basketball team.)

Hermes -- AIR-mez.

Christian Lacroix -- luh-KWAH.

Yves Saint-Laurent -- eev sahn-LOR-un.

espresso -- ess-PRESS-o. Not ex-PRESS-o.

salmon -- SAM-un. Not SAL-mun. (This one I knew.)

almond -- AH-mund. Not AHL-mund. (This one I didn't.)

electoral -- e-LECK-toe-ral. Not e-leck-TOE-ral.

Pete Buttigieg -- BOOT-ah-judge.

lambast -- lam-BAYSTE. Not lam-BAST.

hegemony -- heh-JEM-ah-nee. (As in hegemony cricket.)

Seamus -- SHAY-mus.

Siobhan -- shih-VAWN.

biegnet -- ben-YAY.

oeuvre -- OOV-ruh.

Charlize Theron -- THERE-in.

Gal Godot -- gah-DOTE. Not gah-DOE or gah-DOT.

Jake Gyllenhaal -- yee-len-HAY-la.

John Huston -- HEWS-tun, Not HUSS-ton.

Houston Street, in NYC -- HOUSE-tun. Not HEWS-tun.

Qatar -- GUT-tar.

Oaxaca -- wa-HAH-ka.

Cairo, Illinois -- KAY-ro. Not KYE-ro.

Versailles, Kentucky -- ver-SAYLES. Not ver-SYE.

Louisville, Kentucky -- LOO-ah-vul. Certainly not LEWIS-vul.

Kissimmee, Florida -- ka-SIMM-ee. Not KISS-ah-mee.

Lake Tohopekaliga, Florida -- lake TO-ho. (According to locals, the pekaliga is silent.)

Peabody, Massachusetts -- PEE-buh-dee (Almost like puberty.)

Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan -- soo saint ma-REE.

Pierre, South Dakota -- PEER. Not pee-EHR.

Terre Haute, Indiana -- terra-HOTE.

Biloxi, Mississippi -- ba-LUCK-see. Not ba-LOCK-see.

Arkansas River -- ar-KAN-sas in Kansas, AR-kan-saw in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Pago Pago -- PANG-o PANG-o.

Curacao -- KURE-ah-sow. (What the vet does for a female pig.)

St. Lucia -- LOO-shah.

Worcester -- WOO-ster.

Leicester -- LESS-ter.

boatswain -- BOSS-un.

forecastle -- FOKE-sul.

gunwale -- GUNN-el.

quay -- KEE.

Nguyen -- WEN.

Joaquin -- wah-KEEN.

gyro -- YEE-ro. Not JYE-ro.

plethora -- PLETH-o-rah. Not pleh-THOR-ah.



To tell you the truth, the words I most want to pronounce correctly are the people and place names. I can't remember ever using "oeuvre" or "plethora" in a conversation, and I hope I never feel the urge to. But if I ever meet Nikolaj Coster-Waldau or win a trip to Phuket, Thailand, I'd rather not say something that makes me sound like an idiot (or gets me arrested).

NOTE 1: From Leigh Lundin: The THERE-in for Charlize Theron was suggested by her agent, but the TH is actually a hard T, as in Thomas. The name is probably Afrikaans, and would be pronounced something like T'rawn, where the first vowel is barely heard and the H not at all.  (Thanks, Leigh! My reply: It's almost like Game of Therons, but not quite. THERE-in lies the difference.)

NOTE 2: The pronunciation shown above for Jake Gyllenhaal's name is the way he says it, but almost everyone else--even interviewers--seems to say GILL-en-hall. The burden folks with uncommon names have to bear.

What are some of your most difficult words to pronounce? What are some that you hate to hear others mispronounce? Do you have one of those names that make strangers blink when they see it written, or that could be said several different ways? (My wife's sister married a Schnegelberger, so this is familiar ground.) And how many of you live in or near cities or towns or counties with names that might not be pronounced the way they look? Inquiring travelers want to know.

(Any time this subject comes up, I'm reminded of a joke I heard about a lady who stopped for an ice-cream cone in my hometown of Kosciusko, Mississippi. "I'm not from here," she told the girl behind the counter. "How do you pronounce the name of this place?" The girl, speaking very slowly and carefully, said, "Dai-ree Queen." And yes, I know, you've probably heard that one before.)

Quick note: In your future endeavors, may all your references to creative techniques like onomatopoeia and synecdoche and chiaroscuro be written and never spoken. It's just easier that way. And let's not even think about medical terms.

I'll leave you with one of my own poems on this topic, which is (unfortunately) a good indicator of my literary talents. It's called "Incontinent Consonants":


I never seem to understand
Our neighbors overseas;
A city named Vrnjyzkryleszka
Makes me say. "Oh, please."

The problem is pronunciation,
Not mere nouns and verbs;
Hawaiians should delete some vowels
And give them to the Serbs.


(Eat your heart out, Carl Sandburg.)

See you next Saturday.







21 January 2012

Tricky Diction





by John M. Floyd


Twelve years ago, just before our oldest son's wedding, he sent us an e-mail saying he and his fiancee had decided on St. Lucia for their honeymoon. A couple days later I was chatting with an old classmate of his and told her their plans, except that I pronounced their destination "Saint loo-SEE-ah." She suddenly looked as if she might be trying to pass a kidney stone. Only later did I find out that the correct pronunciation is Saint LOOSH-ah.

Mispronunciation can cause that kind of distress, and it's even worse for the speaker than for the hearer. It's like a piece of spinach stuck in your teeth: you never know it's happened until you get home and realize what an idiot you are.

That's easy for YOU to say

Strangely enough, most writers I know are obsessive about correct pronunciation. Maybe it's because we fancy ourselves knowledgeable in the area of language, or maybe it's because we don't want to come across as fools in the occasional radio or TV interview (a valid concern)--but mostly I think it's just because writers like words and word usage. I was delighted a couple of years ago when James Lincoln Warren (an excellent writer and a good friend of many of us at this blog) did a column expressing his disdain for those who pronounce "short-lived" with a short "i," as in "I lived there," rather than with a long "i," as in "I thrived there." I agreed with him. If something is short-lived, it has a short life. With a long "i."

Not so strangely, we seem to notice mispronunciation more when it involves place names. A local TV weatherman--he's since moved away--once told me that when he hired on at the station here, the first thing his boss did was take him aside and say, "You'll be talking a lot about places like Belzoni and Shuqualak and Sebastopol. What you gotta do is learn how to say those names, and don't ever, ever screw them up." (The "i" in Belzoni is pronounced "ah," as in Jonah. If you say Belzonee, even if you're not a weathercaster, you'll get nothing but sighs and eyerolls. And for God's sake don't mispronounce Biloxi. This runs Southerners crazy. It's ba-LUCK-see, not ba-LOCK-see.)

Unless it's part of your job, getting things like this wrong is nothing to be embarrassed about--I'm sure I'm not the only person who's visited New York City and called Houston Street HEW-ston Street (it's actually HOW-ston)--but it does feel good sometimes, when you're a dumb tourist, not to sound like a dumb tourist.

You ain't from around here, are you, boy?

Some pronunciation rules are as mysterious as they are fascinating. The final "s" is removed from both words in the spoken version of Des Moines, Iowa, but if you did that with Des Plaines, Illinois, you'd not only be wrong, you'd wind up sounding like the little guy in Fantasy Island, announcing the arrival of visitors. And in the case of at least one city I can think of, the correct pronunciation sounds downright silly. The wife of an old Air Force buddy (they both grew up in Norfolk, Virginia) jokingly said they'd been told not to use the following cheer at high school pep rallies: "We don't smoke, we don't chew. Norfolk, Norfolk, Norfolk."

Probably the best way to correctly pronounce a town's name is to visit it, or ask someone who's lived there. A writer friend who was raised in Pierre, South Dakota, says locals call it PEER, not the two-syllable pee-ERR. Whooda thunkit? And an old guy from Port Huron, Michigan, once told me its residents just say "Port Urine."

The town where I went to high school is named Kosciusko, for the Polish general Thaddeus Kosciuszko, and I've heard out-of-towners call it kos-SHOOS-ko. Natives, though, call it kozzy-ESS-ko, or, if they're in a hurry, ky-ZESS-ko. (Mississippi is notorious for wild-sounding names anyway; I grew up twelve miles from the Yockanookany River.)

And Macau jumped over the moon

Foreign place names can be particularly interesting. Leicester is "Lester," Cannes is "Can," Qatar is "Cutter," Curacao is "CURE-ah-soe," and Phuket, Thailand, is (thank God) "FOO-get." And here's a neat little hint that I learned on one of my more pleasant IBM trips: In Hawaii, "ai" is pronounced "eye," "i" is pronounced "ee," "e" is pronounced "ay," "a" is pronounced "ah," "o" is pronounced "oh," "au" is pronounced "ow," and "u" is pronounced "oo." Once I knew that, it was easier to manage the names of all those islands and mountains--and other things too. Luau becomes loo-ow, Pali becomes pah-lee, Maui becomes mow-ee, etc. Another old Air Force friend, who still lives in Honolulu, pointed out that Kauai doesn't rhyme with Hawaii, although many think it does. Break it into its parts and Kauai becomes kow-eye, while the state name is the three-syllable hah-wy-ee.

I often stand corrected, though. Having lived most of my life 150 miles from New Orleans, I've always scorned those who call it noo-OR-lee-uns, in four syllables. Every N.O. resident I've ever known has pronounced it either nyoo-OR-luns or nooWOLLins. And then, the other night, I saw the current New Orleans mayor on television saying noo-OR-lee-uns. Sweet Jiminy. And on top of that, Orleans Parish is always pronounced or-LEENS. Is nothing simple?

Does La Jolla annoy ya?

A lot of place names that should be hard to pronounce aren't, because all of us know them: Phoenix, San Jose, Illinois, Tucson, Greenwich, etc. But here's an extremely incomplete list of some that are often mispronounced:




Spokane, Washington--spo-KANN, not spo-KANE.
Versaille, Kentucky--ver-SAYLE, not ver-SIGH.
New Madrid, Missouri--new MAD-rid, not new ma-DRID.
Worchester, Massachusetts--WOOS-tah, not WAR-chester.
Ouachita County, Arkansas--WOSH-i-tah, not oh-ah-CHEE-tah.
Helena, Montana--HELL-in-ah, not hell-LAY-nah.
Bexar County, Texas (San Antonio)--BAY-er, not BECK-sar.
Martinez, Georgia--MAR-tin-ez, not mar-TEEN-ez.
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan--SOO-saint-maree, not SALT-saint-maree.
Miami, Oklahoma--my-AM-ah, not my-AM-ee.
Kissimmee, Florida--kis-SIM-mee, not KISS-sim-mee.
Bangor, Maine--BANG-gore, not BANG-er.
Berlin, New Hampshire--BURR-lin, not bur-LINN.
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania--LANG-caster, not LAN-KAS-ter.
Willamette River, Oregon--will-AH-met, not WILL-ah-MET.
Valdez, Alaska--val-DEEZ, not val-DEZ.
Lima, Ohio--LY-mah, not LEE-mah.
Oaxaca, Mexico--wah-HAH-kah, not wah-SOCK-ah.
Terra Haute, Indiana--TERR-ah-hutt, not TERR-ah-hawt.
Cairo, Illinois--KAY-ro, not KY-ro.
Sequim, Washington--SKWIMM, not SEE-kwim.
Mackinac Island, Michigan--MACK-in-aw, not MACK-in-ack.

If you pronounce those words as shown, residents in those locations--or viewers, if you're a TV meteorologist--will thank you, or at least leave their guns in their dresser drawers. And if you think of place names I have overlooked (or mispronounced) please let me know.

A guy walks into a Wilkes-Barre . . .

I simply can't resist two jokes that I heard long, long ago:

1. Question: How do you pronounce the capital of Kentucky--Louisville or Louieville? Answer: You pronounce it Frankfort.

2. An out-of-state traveler stops for lunch in the town of Natchitoches, Louisiana. As he's chowing down, he asks a woman seated nearby, "How do you pronounce the name of this place?" Speaking very slowly and carefully, the lady says, "DAYER-ee-KWEEN."

Tongue twisters

I'm not a poet and I noet, but I think a fitting end to this piece is a little ditty I wrote years ago, after one of my far-flung business trips:

I never seem to understand
Our neighbors overseas;
Names like Vzrgkzyrgistan
Just make me say, "Oh, please."

The problem is pronunciation,
Not mere nouns and verbs;
Hawaiians should delete some vowels
And give them to the Serbs.