After Hours

10 mispronunciations that make you sound stupid

Right or wrong, people often judge you by the way you pronounce things. Say a word incorrectly and POW -- they've pegged you as a provincial, poorly educated moron. Toni Bowers offers a list of commonly mangled words so you can double-check your own pronunciation.

Right or wrong, people often judge you by the way you pronounce things. Say a word incorrectly and POW -- they've pegged you as a provincial, poorly educated moron. Toni Bowers offers a list of commonly mangled words so you can double-check your own pronunciation.


 

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.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

366 comments
sue swift
sue swift

Your top three are the same I would list, but you skipped over cavalry.  That one drives me up the wall.    I would have added it as: 


#4 Cavalry/Calvary 


The first refers to soldiers who fight while mounted on horses.   How many times have you heard it pronounced as the latter, which is the place where Jesus died?


Makes me absolutely NUTS.

Stefani O'Daniel
Stefani O'Daniel

I hate the expression that  someone "pissed himself."  It is pissed on herself or himself.  I also hate it when someone says BIG HAIR.   It makes no sense because hair cannot be termed BIG. It can full but not big.

Stefani O'Daniel
Stefani O'Daniel

I cannot stand to hear people say "the person passed himself" instead of passed on himself.  I also have a problem with the term "big hair" ...... how can hair be termed big? Full hair but not big.

bruce
bruce

I, also, have the mispronunciation of often as a pet peeve. Unfortunately, it seems that many school teachers pronounce it with the "t", and have been for awhile. But it is nowhere as annoying as mixing the use of "me" and "I". Thanks for this page.

juddz90
juddz90

These are actually different words, not a mispronunciation of the same word. recur means to happen repeatedly. Reoccur means to have happened again. The tide recurs, WW2 was a reoccurence of the world going to war.

straykitten
straykitten

You must use 'use to' and NOT 'used to' after did/didn't, i.e. always use the bare infinitive after did/didn't. "I didn't used to...", is incorrect, it's like saying "I didn't gone." :S - which sounds wonderfully confusing and wrong to an English native speaker! However, I have to say, as a native (british) English Teacher, some of these mispronunications are regional pronunciations and therefore cannot simply be written off as incorrect. I believe RP is old school snobbery, and also, with regards to the science and theory of linguistics, am not a prescriptivist, therefore I don't see all 'mispronunciation' as mispronunciation!

GizmoGirl
GizmoGirl

#2 is Hilarious. It is so rediculous I can never remember how the pres managed to butcher it. I would like to add a couple, one is butchered in writing as opposed to speaking, it is : Voila...many spell it as Viola (the flower or musical instrument), wa-lah, valah, etc. etc., & I believe there is a web-site devoted to this shameless display of ignorance. A second is URL - there is an on-going controversy where I work, can this be called "Earl"? Or is it U-R-L? I'll confess to saying "Earl" on occasion...

mintche
mintche

Dear idiot, I love how you go on throughout the article about so-called stupid people, quite rudely in fact, and yet make a glaring grammatical error in the first paragraph: "pronounced wrong". That SHOULD be: "pronounced incorrectly", thank you very much. P.S. You are not a linguist. Real linguists are fascinated by spoken use of language, even if people don't pronounce every word correctly, and are not maddened by them, as you are. You are an English nazi, no more.

htroberts
htroberts

Although I agree with the premise or your article, "supposably" and "reoccur" are both indeed words, at least according to Meriam-Webster. If you're going to present yourself as an authority, you should at least make sure your facts are correct...

feliculpa
feliculpa

dear toni bowers (stop) things that make you sound stupid (stop) pontificating on the internet (stop) none of those mispronunciations make anyone sound uneducated (stop) p.s. (stop) get a life.

texpert2
texpert2

Great article, but this Texan is not shy about telling people the correct spelling of y'all. It's not ya'all, as you had it, because it is a contraction of you and all. See, the apostrophe is exactly where it belongs with y'all. Thanks for pointing out MY errors, too. Jayni Mosher

jonlink
jonlink

from random house: 'Often' was pronounced with a t-sound until the 17th century, when a pronunciation without the came to predominate in the speech of the educated, in both North America and Great Britain, and the earlier pronunciation fell into disfavor. Common use of a spelling pronunciation has since restored the [t] for many speakers, and today /??f?n/[aw-fuhn] and /??ft?n/[awf-tuhn] or /??f?n/[of-uhn] and [of-tuhn] exist side by side. Although it is still sometimes criticized, 'often' with a /t/[t] is now so widely heard from educated speakers that it has become fully standard once again.

jmslund
jmslund

9 out of 10- Jewelry is correctly pronounced JOO-el-ree. When one describes a gem, do you say JOOL? No Jethro. JOO-el. Add "ree", and you create JOO-el-ree. My pet peeve is the misuse of incident, incidents and incidence. The construction "Incidences" is not a word in my lexicon or at best, an awkward and fuzzy communication. Incidence usually describes the frequency of an occurence such as: "The incidence of giant, fanged spider sightings seems highest near nuclear power plants."

khenson
khenson

Why is that off-ten when I finish reading a Toni Bowers blog, I feel like SHE is the one who sounds stupid?

MUnruh23
MUnruh23

I would offer up 'EK specially' (especially), and 'EK cetera' (etc.)

bighair1204
bighair1204

I am Chinese, I never thought American themselves also have pronunciation problems. And my oral English teacher, she is a Canadian, said "often" should be pronounced OFF tun, not OFF un. I and my classmates also feel strange because we always say OFF un.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

What's wrong with "We've never done that."?

santeewelding
santeewelding

That revealing yourself as a native British teacher of English, invites examination under handheld glass. You could have dispensed with the second, "I", as well ("...therefore (I) don't see..."). That is, with more efficient punctuation beforehand.

Kenone
Kenone

Some folks heat thier houses wid it to

Ron K.
Ron K.

It's usually because they can't form a corherent argument without it. There's a category lended to folks that use the term nazi in a discussion but I can't remember what it's called. It's called Godwin's Law:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

A little sensitive, are we? Feeling guilty? You joined TR just so you could flame a 2-year-old post? What a schmuck! :^0 At no point in the article did the author call anybody "stupid". As the title says, this is a list of mistakes that, in the author's opinion, make you [u]sound[/u] stupid.

seanferd
seanferd

which is the point in contention.

santeewelding
santeewelding

There are more sayers of rectitude here than I have of my crayons to take note.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

All three of your links specify that the proper usage is as follows: I [u]used to[/u] go swimming every day. I [u]did use to[/u] do that. Before you get snarky in a forum post it's best to make sure you are correct. This way you can avoid looking like both an incompetent educator and an ignorant git.

bighair1204
bighair1204

Which one does American often say? An Canadian teacher taught us OFF tun, but I and my classmates are used to say OFF un. :)

santeewelding
santeewelding

You have noticed the end of a string. If you pull it, America will cease to cohere. Our facade of unity and superiority will fall apart. We will fight to the end of our society over grammar, spelling, and pronunciation, among other things.

GizmoGirl
GizmoGirl

this explains my confusion... :-P

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Then servers should be housecarls! Sorry. Nothing to see here.

MartyL
MartyL

. . . if it were "preventative," it would be "maintenenance." Maybe it's just me.

MartyL
MartyL

. . . but they go nuts and run around "butt naked" while they "hone in" on the real answer to the problem. People do that "alot," especially while listening to their favorite "copulation" CD. Is "dumb ass" one word, or is it hyphenated? (Actually, for some people, it might really be a copulation CD. Just saying . . .)

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

To linguists the only language-use faux pas is normative biatching. To linguists (as in scholar of the science of linguistics) there's no such thing as user errors, just ... interesting phenomena.

seanferd
seanferd

Although I would characterize the pronunciations as "off'n" and "offt'n" or "off ten". The vowel in the second syllable is just a space between consonants, usually represented by the schwa (ə) in phonetic spellings. If I do hear a real vowel sound in "off ten", it is usually more like a short "e" sound than a short "u" sound.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

"OFF un" is the way I was taught to pronounce it. To my ear, "OFF tun" sounds wrong.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Though if we're going to fight to the end (of our society) I'd rather do it over freckles and kinky hair.

bighair1204
bighair1204

I am just give a problem which I met. It is not serious like you said. calm down.:)

GizmoGirl
GizmoGirl

Admit nothing, deny everything, & make counter-accusations...sounds like blame to me ;-) I actually feel kind of silly...had a rough 3 weeks of back-to-back go-lives & did not realize this stinking thread was 2 yrs old when I made my original post...time for a vacation!!!!! :)

santeewelding
santeewelding

You have not consulted the I Ching about this (see further up in the thread). "There is no blame."

bighair1204
bighair1204

'You certainly seem to write in English quite well.' that is a very interesting compliment. ha-ha :) thank you very much.

seanferd
seanferd

and standard. That's about all there is to it. You can check in English dictionaries, many are online. I did not mean to suggest that I know how you pronounce the vowel. I merely mention it as I found some of the "phonetic spellings" in this thread a bit misleading, or that some people may pronounce "often" with a short u sound, like "uh". Anyway, have fun studying the English language. You certainly seem to write in English quite well. P.S. I don't think it has much to do with dialect, and it is certainly not like Chinese polyphony. It is more like many English speaking people are lazy when it comes to speaking their own language. I think that accounts for a lot of vowel drift and elision of consonants in modern American spoken English. If you ever have occasion to speak with a general population of Americans, be prepared to hear all sorts of incorrect and non-standard English, as well as sloppy pronunciation.

bighair1204
bighair1204

I don't know whether i understand in a right way, but i think you want to inform me of the right pronunciation of 'e' in 'often'. I do pronounce schwa (ə) instead of u. I wrote it just because the wirter of article wrote it. I met three spoken English teachers, the first one is Canadian, i have said. The second one comes from Minnesota and the third one comes from California. And latters say 'of en'. To me, the second teacher's pronunciation is more clear than others. I know that there are diferent pronounciations in different areas of America, such as Texas. And the south areas have more rhotic accents than the north areas. But I never thought that one word has a different pronunciation without a condition. I don't think it relates to dialects. And it doesn't like the polyphone in Chinese language. I think you guys also don't know which one is a better pronunciation. Maybe you don't care about it. I consider the website Cactus Pete recommended have helped me to understand. So...anyway, thank you guys.:)

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Haven't seen you around for a bit, hope all is going well for you....old post maybe THAT's why! Duh! As for big hair, I loved the 80's. What most people here can't get their heads around is how your (and most other) cultures are allowed to express themselves as individuals. In North America you are forced to fit in with peers or live life as an outcast that nobody wants to be seen with, VERY material and fake people for the most part. Individuals are looked upon as loners or wierdos, while those who look alike, wear the same clothes and listen to the same music are seen as peers. It seems people here fear cultural and individual differences. In contrast, most other nations accept people for who they are and not what they wear or listen to. As a result, people that are free and encouraged to be individuals elswhere will be seen as oddities in North America. (Who ever thought that shaving your head or wearing baggy pants like you just go tout of jail would be seen as cool or tough though?!) :D Individualism has been lost here, you must assimilate others or be cast away. People here seem to like to live lives of conformity, have what everyone else has, listen to what others listen to, wear what others wear and look as much alike as possile. Sadness indeed. To steal a phrase from the US military: "Be all that you can be" ... as long as you're just like me. ;)

bighair1204
bighair1204

I have learned lots of useful words, such as kinky, freckle... :) have a nice day!

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Marvel is a high compliment! You can learn a lot about our language here. Including pronunciation. Pronunciation, in America, is relative to region. Like I said earlier, when with English speakers, listen to how they pronounce a word, then pronounce it the way they do. And I really do mean Welcome to TR. I'm not a total tech either, and they tolerate me! :D

bighair1204
bighair1204

sorry to bothering you. Actually, I don't care about technical skill of computer or other technical things on TR. My major is tourism English. And I join to TR is because I saw this article and am interested in it. I thought maybe real American could solve some languages problems I met, like how to pronounce 'often'. But now it seems not like what I imagine. sorry, have a nice sleep.

bighair1204
bighair1204

not only in NBA, but also showed in your country's carnivals, or football games, or Super Bowel. I think you must have a special name to it. But I don't know how to say it. crimp, elflock, curl, ringlet, frizzle, tress... I don't know which one is right.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

that is 'big hair', too. I don't watch much TV. When I do, it's only rarely sports.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

TR double post demon strikes again! :D

bighair1204
bighair1204

I thought 'bighair' was like the hair showed in NBA. you know what I say? I like that wig. It is often showed in audiences. what is it?

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

that [i]you[/i] are like that. It is just that your user name reminds us of bouffant hair styles, as 'big hair' is slang for bouffant. In America, at any rate.

bighair1204
bighair1204

I am not like that. I prefer the hair you can see when you watch NBA. so big!

bighair1204
bighair1204

could you kindly explain what bouffants is?

santeewelding
santeewelding

You get to do this without use of the hands. Good test of articulation.

bighair1204
bighair1204

Could you kindly tell me what it is? Does it like the wigs some audiences wear when they watch NBA or Super Bowl, some other games?

seanferd
seanferd

I don't know where the "she" came from, most likely an unfounded assumption. I don't think I'm going to scan the thread for clues as to what may have prompted such pronoun usage, but the username itself may have prompted me (another assumption about gender and bouffants or '80s frizz). So, good point. :D

bighair1204
bighair1204

yes, I Ching, Yi Jing, Zhou Yi... Ching this spelling does not exist in Chinese language.

bighair1204
bighair1204

I often use the Google translator, but sometimes it is not only the literal meaning, but also your culture. Anyway thank you again. In addition, I don't know the saying that Fu Xi 伏羲 is its legendary originator, but maybe. I just know Fu Xi is our ancestor. (I am an antitheism and prefer Darwinism to others. But if we just take it as story or legend, it is fun.)There are many argument about who the author Book of Changes is. It is hard to say that the commentaries on the I Ching are of the Confucian school of thought. Confucius' thought have a strong effect on every branch of China, such as politics, culture, ethics... Apparently,I only can say that I Ching has been influenced by Confucius' philosophy. Actually we learn Confucius' thought and philosophy from another book named 'the Analects of Confucius' in school, not I Ching. Because contents of I Ching have some mentalism or idealism, and you know most Chinese are materialism. Most people want to know it because of its mystery, I guess. :)

santeewelding
santeewelding

Thank you for your altogether literate help. I was being as gentle as I could without reducing it to guidebook phrases. "She"? Now, that takes it into an entirely different and fascinating realm.

seanferd
seanferd

that BigHair just didn't get that it was a transliteration. What with little exposure to western idiom (idioms, idia?), let alone TR; at least two transliteration schemes (PinYin & Wade-Gilles), and a multitude of mutually unintelligible Chinese languages (or dialects if you prefer); I find it unsurprising that BigHair did not pick up on the I Ching thing, nor that she thinks that you and boxfiddler were somehow upset by her comments. Ah, language barriers. :D

seanferd
seanferd

I thought I would try to clarify the transliteration to I Ching or Yi Jing, as that is how westerners learn to pronounce Chinese. I did not know how accurate the translation "Book Of Changes" would be for an actual speaker of Chinese. To add to the confusion, most westerners learn the Standard Mandarin dialect if they learn Chinese, and know nothing of the other dialects, such as Cantonese or Min. I know only a little bit of Chinese history, but I do know that the Book of Changes was not written by Kung-Tze (Confucius). I thought that the book did not have an identifiable author, but seems to have Taoist, Confucian, and more ancient influences, and evolved over a very long time. (Tao = 道 The Way) I think most commentaries on the I Ching are of the Confucian school of thought? I looked it up. The legendary originator of the I Ching is none other than Fu Xi 伏羲, the one who brought culture to the world. I did not know that! For fun, you might like a web translator, Google has one. You can translate to Simplified or Traditional Chinese characters. Translation is not always perfect, though. :) You can translate text or entire web pages. http://www.google.com/translate_t?hl=en#zh-CN|en|

bighair1204
bighair1204

we all know 'Book of Changes', there are six famous books in that era. 'I CHING',like you say, is just one of them. The reason I can't know what you say at the first time is I never thought you would say that and some of translation thing. As far Confucius, if I were not known him, I would be killed and I also would like to kill myself. We learn his philosophy from very young. And I just have bachelor degree. Is that fine.

santeewelding
santeewelding

You had to Google the I Ching? How about Confucius? These were not elements of your education, or your post-educational reading?

bighair1204
bighair1204

not everyone. Maybe it is about education system. Westerner, special American, own good imagination comparing with Chinese. Our education system have big problems, especially in high school and university.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

:D Are not all men full of imaginations?

bighair1204
bighair1204

I am sorry, you do not apologize. I should practise my English and learn more knowledge about genetics:) God, I never thought my reply can cause such replies. No wonder that the Westerners are full of imaginations.

bighair1204
bighair1204

thank you for your help. Now I know how to reply after I reply several times. I had googled 'I Ching' and I got it. I thought 'Book of Changes' maybe is the better translation of it. And it is not the Confusious' works. They just share the same era.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Hair type, color, length, lack thereof are surface properties that I perceive as irrelevant to the intrinsic worth of a human being. Just as I perceive that skin color, and race are surface properties irrelevant to the intrinsic worth of a human being. I use them in my 'analogy' because they are genetic tendencies from which we cannot escape. In the event we should all some day be one color, the genetic variances of hair and eye, color and form would likely still be with us. I attempt, badly I see, to get to the ridiculousness of a small-minded human liking for hate and violence. There is nothing wrong with your user name, and there is nothing wrong with your race. If I have implied so, I deeply apologize and ask that you forgive me.

bighair1204
bighair1204

Thank you for your explaination.You know what, I am just wondering that I just stated one problem which I met in the course of learning English, but no one help me to explain that why my ex-spoken English teacher who accepted higher education taught us maybe the wrong pronunciation. I don't know whether I feel right, but all of you discuss seems related to my nickname, my race, 'I am a Chinese'... If 'bighair' is wrong English combination and break the English grammar and pronunciation, I am sorry, Ok. I just like it. If Chinese is sensitive word, I will not write is anymore, Ok? About your comments, is there a special meaning for kinky hair and freckles? Actually I can't totally understand it. As for blue eyes and hairy backs, I hope there is no one like this. Horrible:)

seanferd
seanferd

Is what santee was getting at. If you reach the "maximum level", and cannot reply directly to a post, you can reply to the post above it, or reply to the article or very first post. Have fun. :) edit to add: 易經 as it is hard to see in the bold in the post title.

seanferd
seanferd

Nothing wrong with big hair or your Big Hair nickname. We are just being silly here. Santee and boxfiddler are good people, you'll understand once you see how silly we all can be. Welcome to Tech republic! :D edited for bad spelling. LOL

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Nothing bad about kinky hair, or freckles. I sarcastically reference my notion that no matter what, humans like to hate and fight and kill for no good reason, and that those who practice temperance and growth in areas related to that tendency are the exception, not the norm. For example, I am of the opinion that if the races were to mix it up for a few generations, such that all mankind is eventually one color, some other excuse for hate and killing would be invented in the minds of those whose preference is hate and death. Like kinky hair and freckles. Or maybe blue eyes and hairy backs. I hope that clarifies.

OnTheRopes
OnTheRopes

. :^0 Now that's funny right there. I might wish that I never involved myself but I had to laugh. :^0

bighair1204
bighair1204

I have sent a letter to you. I can't reply to your latest reply.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Distillation of long Chinese wisdom. It is, admittedly, a title translated into English. I believe, without checking, that it may predate Confucius, with whom I like to think I share cognizance and a grin. Do you? Or are you a recent intellect? Edited to change "latter-day" to "recent", in order to make clear to all speakers of any language what I am about.

bighair1204
bighair1204

you want to say my English is Chinglish? yes, I admit it. And I still learn it further. If we still communicate like this, I will die. I am totally insane.

bighair1204
bighair1204

you want to say my English is Chinglish? yes, I admit it. And I still learn it further. If we still communicate like this, I will die. I am totally insane.

bighair1204
bighair1204

sorry for my poor understanding, i don't know what you say. my nickname have some problem? i am really a Chinese, but I have curly hair, which is different from most chinese, but some of them. And then, I got a perm. I think it is funny that my hair is big. What is wrong with that?

santeewelding
santeewelding

(I take liberties with your moniker) I, and if I may speak for Boxfiddler, genuinely appreciate your presence. We make play with English. No matter how carefully you say you are with Chinese, I suspect otherwise. We celebrate human fun and confusion.

bighair1204
bighair1204

You have a great sense of humor. But kinky hair maybe is not bad.:)

santeewelding
santeewelding

May just be to arrange wisdom into good, better, and best.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Listen to how those around you pronounce it, then pronounce it as they do.

bighair1204
bighair1204

I have stupid enough without other helps. So for avoiding more stupid, I really want to know which one is the best.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

according Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, and the Oxford English Dictionary. off un off tun

bighair1204
bighair1204

I just see your comments. I do not get serious. I just don't understand what others say. Probably my English is not good enough to understand your humour and I just want to get it. And the aim of sending my comment is that I want to know which the correct pronunciation of often is. Clearly!!

justhockeycards
justhockeycards

To bighair1204; We play with English words and phrases from time to time to break up busy schedules. Welcome to the TR Message Boards-the site of brotherly (and sisterly) love and abuse. It's all in fun. You can't get serious here.

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