Friday, January 06, 2006

Most Mispronounced Word of All Time?

English, by most estimations, is one of the toughest languages in the world to master. There are so many words with multiple meanings, even though they are spelled the same way for each. There are many words where the spelling seems to have nothing to do with the way it's pronounced. Gauge? Cough? Often? (why is there even a "t" in it?) You get the idea.

I will never know how someone new to our country could ever fully learn the language based on how those of us who are natives use it. The various American dialects give different twists to the same word. So many words are consistently and continuously mispronounced that those trying to learn it must be constantly baffled.

In fact, many mispronunciations seem to be generally accepted over time to the point that noone really seems to care. Over the holidays, I noted two prominent broadcasters misusing words to the point that I thought they must be kidding. One used the word "infamous" in a commercial twice thinking that he was being complimentary to the client's cut of steak.

in·fa·mous ( P ) Pronunciation Key (in-fuh-mus) adj.
1. Having an exceedingly bad reputation; notorious.
2. Causing or deserving infamy; heinous: an infamous deed.

The other used the word "realtor" at least four times in a commercial pronouncing it as "real-a-tor". This is one of those words that is misused so often (don't say the "t") that when we hear it, we don't even recognize it as being mispronounced.

Re·al·tor ( P ) Pronunciation Key (reel-tr, -tôr)
A service mark used for a real-estate agent affiliated with the National Association of Realtors.

We all hear words misused, or mispronounced on a regular basis. But, I would like to nominate a particular word as the most mispronounced word in the English language. It's not because this word is most used in regular conversation, it's because of the number of times it is mispronounced on a daily basis in a mass-audience setting. That setting is every sporting event that is played in this country. We precede the event with the national anthem. And most, not all, but most of the performers botch up one of the words in the song on a regular basis.

The word is perilous.

O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?

per·il·ous adj.
Full of, or involving peril; dangerous

I can't even put the accepted pronunciation (pronounced pro-nun-cee-ay-shun) marks beside the word in this case because the backwards e that is used in the on-line dictionary isn't able to be cut and pasted. I guess the program doesn't recognize it as a real character. But, perilous is supposed to be pronounced--

Pair'---not uh...but soft eh--luss

Having introduced the anthem at Blues games for the last 19 years, I have heard the word screwed up in many variations.

Pair-uh-LESS (most common), Pair-ih-LESS, Pair-IH-luss (not really a mispronunciation, but maybe a little too formal), PEER-uh-luss, Peer-uh-less, Peer-less, Pair-lee-us

Just about all possible "botch jobs" have been used over the years. I usually cringe, politely applaud when they are finished singing, and go about my business.

You may have your nomination for the most mispronounced word in the language, but I would think this word, because of the prominence and frequency of the usage, has to be right up there. We need to get the word out to all singers of the anthem, that there is nothing in the song about a pair-uh-less night..(many times they follow up perilous with night...instead of fight)

Please post your comments and thoughts and I'll do a follow-up soon.


Anonymous said...

4 most mis-used phrases:

It's "till death us do part", not "till death do us part".

It's "centered on", not "centered around". Try "revolves around".

It's "eat your cake and have it, too",
not "have your cake and eat it".

It's "I couldn't care less", not "I could care less".

Anonymous said...

pronunciations that drive me crazy, they shouldn't matter but they do!

Main Entry: con·tro·ver·sial
Pronunciation: "kän-tr&-'v&r-sh&l, -'v&r-sE-&l

please say the first correct pronunciation. the 2nd one sounds stupid

Main Entry: com·pa·ra·ble
Pronunciation: 'käm-p(&-)r&-b&l, ÷k&m-'par-&-b&l

again, use the first, the second sounds stupid

that's all, i'll go by to some other obsessive, complusive things