Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Let’s nip this habit in the butt (ouch), oops, bud, I mean!

Life can get downright embarrassing when one’s tongue lets one down, and not gently at that. When I was a teenager, I remember walking up to two nose-up-in–the-air classmates, who spent much of their waking hours listening to Western music. I don’t even know why I did it; I guess I just wanted to show off, and so I spoke airily about a song that was all the rage at the time.
“Don’t you like ------? I think it’s an amazing number!” Their mouths fell open, and there was a trace of mockery in their eyes, which gave me a moment of discomfort. It was only later that I realized that I had made a complete ass of myself by mispronouncing the very name of the song. My cover was blown!

That was the day I decided that I would stop showing off.
That was also the day I realized that pronunciation rules.

I had always loved my books (blame that on my grandparents and my parents!) and I took up Literature in college, a period when words created music in my mind, a music that I could listen to for hours, till one wrong tone would jar my ears. Every time I heard the story of ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’, I would wince, as the poor slow reptile’s name was mutilated every time. From a very young age, it had been dinned into me that ‘tortoise’ was to be pronounced as ‘tortis’ and that the extra ‘o’ had been put in to make life difficult.

Isn’t it amazing that the English language has so many words with redundant letters? The words ‘subtle’ and ‘indebted’ often go together, and you are often tempted to say, “B(e) silent, please!” What does it take to dumb down the ‘b’s in comb, dumb, tomb, bomb and plumber, (just think of Christopher Plummer!)? There is nothing that rattles the eardrums as when the said letter is tom-tommed in all its glory.

 ‘Receipt’ (ri/seet) and ‘colonel’ (ker/nel) should be shorn of their extra fittings, and there is a whole section of folks that roll their ‘r’s when they ‘ir/on’ their clothes.

You do need to mind your  ‘t’s when you go to a ‘restaurant’ and savour a ‘buffet’. I saw an interesting video in which a gentleman explained that there were three ways to pronounce the former. ‘Rest-ront’ (British), ‘rest-o-ront’ (American) and ‘rest-o-ron’ (French). And once you are there, you do not have ‘break/fast’ or ‘brayk/faast’, but ‘brek/fust’. Finally if you want to have a sweet (sweet) in your suite (sweet) dressed in a suit (soot), it is entirely up to you! You are the ‘connoisseur’, ‘con/uh/zur’, not the ‘conoee/sear’, after all!

Certain words have given me sleepless nights as well. For instance, all through my growing years, I abused the word ‘awry’, till I heard it on TV, and bit my tongue. My version was ‘aw/ry’, a far cry from the actual ‘a/wry’. Likewise, I had a bet with a good friend on how the word ‘ennui’ was to be pronounced. He called it ‘on/vi’ and I, with all the arrogance of youth, preferred to let it stay as ‘on/u/ai’. I lost the bet, and retained my friend, of course.

The list below has words found in novels read over the years, and often mispronounced as well.
1.      mischievous: mis/che/vus,  NOT mis/chee/vee/us
2.      nuptial: nup/shul, NOT nup/shoo/al
3.      extempore: ex/tem/puree, NOT ex/tem/pour
4.      cemetery: sem/e/tary, NOT symmetry
5.      nuisance: nyu/sens NOT noo/yee/sens
6.      chimera: kiy/meer/a, NOT chim/er/a
7.      banal: bun/ahl, NOT bay/nal
8.      heinous: hay/nus, NOT heen/i/us
9.      coupon: coop/on or cew/pon, NOT coop/un
10.  poignant: poi/nyant, NOT poig/nant

Did you know that teddies like ‘beer’? At least, it sounds as if they do, especially when folks call them ‘teddy beers’. However, the ‘bear’ in this case is actually pronounced as ‘bare’, and not ‘beer’ in a case. It is also uncommonly common to pull one’s hair out over common words like ‘hair’ and ‘heir’? The former is pronounced as ‘hare’, but ‘heir’ is pronounced as ‘air’, even if the said heir has a good mop of hair.

So, ‘sew’ is pronounced as ‘so’ or ‘sow’, and not as ‘sue’, which is a whole new word that is so widely used in today’s libellous world, and there is nothing anyone can do about it! Heard of chalk and cheese? Here are two words that are spelt one way and uttered totally differently, which is quite unpardonable. They are ‘ewe’ pronounced ‘you’, and ‘quay’ pronounced ‘key’. Why, but why would any language want to do that?

One word that is quite literally killed off is ‘corps’, meaning an organized group of people, especially in the Armed Forces. The word in its singular form is pronounced as ‘core’, and as ‘cores’ in its plural form. My heart breaks when I hear the word being mispronounced as ‘corpse’, because the Armed Forces don’t need that kind of labelling ever!

Certain endings are oh-so-confusing! While ‘league’ and ‘colleague’ are ‘leeg’ and ‘ko/leeg’, ‘ague’ is ‘ai/gyu’ and ‘dengue’ is ‘den/gi’. Maddening, aren’t they?

Literature has its own little words that are never what you want them to be.
Epitome: e/pi/tummy, NOT e/pi/tome
Hyperbole: hy/per/ba/lee, NOT hy/per/bowl
Plagiarism: play/ja/rism, NOT play/jee/a/rism
Genre: zhon/ruh, NOT jen/ner
There is plenty more from where these came from, but too much would be overkill, methinks!

Ironically, one word which I have heard pronounced and spelt wrong a lot is the word ‘pronunciation’ itself, as folks imagine an extra ‘o’ and go all out to pronounce it with gusto. The word is ‘pro/nun/ciation’, and not ‘pro/noun/ciation’, which is but a slip between the cup and the lip, but one which could leave egg on one’s face! And if I have offended any with my plain speaking, let me pour oil over troubled waters. Fred Astaire and Ginger Roberts could not have said it any better than in this delightful video (Let's Call This Whole Thing Off!) which you must absolutely watch! Cheers to a facile tongue!


  1. This is loads of fun !!!Only you can write about pronunciation in such a fun and interesting way,Deeptichechi

    1. Thank you so much for that lovely comment, sanchararini! :)

  2. This was enriching as it was extremely funny . I had a whale of a time, pronouncing these words

    1. AJ, just saw your comment! Thank you so much for your encouraging comment. i am thrilled that you had a whale of a time. :)

  3. My god! That is one treasure trove! Excellent post. Must share for all.

    1. Inderpreet, coming from you, I take that as a compliment. Thank you so much.

  4. Wonderful post! Funny and useful. Sharing. :)

    1. Tarang Sinha, thank you so much for your comment and the share! I am thrilled. :)

  5. I only speak English and have the same trouble. I am American and pronounce both the t's in not to confuse you but I think both pronunciations of mischievous are correct...I also pronounce the t in nuptial nup/tual...and epitome I pronounce e/pit/ome and pla/jer/ism arghh! Brilliant post Deepti! Ps...I pronounce the w in sow when referencing a pig....there is so, when you are talking about a consequence, i.e. So, I will move on to sew a stitch in time, or a hole in my theory...but the word sow, definitely has a w sound as that sow is getting too big and is not pronounced so....�� Have a great day!

    1. Carly, thank you for that wonderful and elaborate comment. There is a difference in the British and the American accents, and in the Indian accent as well. 'Sow' is pronounced as 'how' when it comes to a female pig :) Thank you again. I enjoy such discussions.


Remember When by Preethi Venugopala

“Remember when I was young and so were you…” Remembering is what Tara does best, wallowing in the past, a past which has left...