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.

367 comments
Ed Tully
Ed Tully

I always love hearing "it's a mute point", mispronouncing the word moot.

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.

mas1365
mas1365

in writing: 'would of' instead of 'would've' or 'would have'

sandy.berry
sandy.berry

The irony is that the intro blurb ought to start 'rightly or wrongly' instead of 'right or wrong'

justhockeycards
justhockeycards

The one around here is just plain stupid. On interstate highways the center piece is called a Median strip, not a Mer-rid-i-an strip. Even the radio broadcasters do it!

RossB
RossB

Geez, will ya look at the responses. It makes a writing instructor proud. For all you almost lexiconic authorities out there here's the book for you. Think of it as '1000 mispronunciations that make you sound stupid'. "Grammer Snobs are Great Big Meanies" is a wonderful new book by June Casagrande. ISBN-10: 0143036831 ISBN-13: 978-0143036838 Of course I prefer the audiobook version ISBN-10: 1400102189 ISBN-13: 978-1400102181 since I'm an audiobook producer/actor (MountainWhispers.com Audiobooks)and have a long commute to school. I love the way narrator/voice actor Shelly Frasier brings a humorous voice to the work. Ross Ballard

jdclyde
jdclyde

such as Island. Come one people, lets get with the program! X-(

KKRipken
KKRipken

Here's mine: Everybody say "TeeWanna." Try it first. Ok, that's how you say "Tijuana." Not "TeeUhWanna." Let's show a modicum of awareness of our brothers south of the border.

Violetw
Violetw

What is with the author???!? Often.... off-ten is correct pronunciation... if you wanna pronounce it off-en, fine, but don't think that is 'the' only way to pronounce the word, it's the AMERICAN way. Just like 'superfluous'... who says it is pronounced su-PUR-flu-us? You can just as easily pronounce it sue-per-flu-us. Words are dynamic in nature not static.

tom.archer
tom.archer

The word is verbiage : pronounced ver-bee-ij It is not pronounced: verb-uj The ironic thing is that verbiage refers to someone's choice of words, whereas verbage is a "deliberate misspelling and mispronunciation of verbiage that assimilates it to the word garbage" (dictionary.com) Alas, so many people mispronounce this word, that the incorrect way is becoming the "accepted" form of pronunciation.

rikh
rikh

'preogative' or Perogative'... which one is correct...? Many get this wrong.....! :o)

pammy56
pammy56

Specific / Pacific The "l" is silent in salmon. There's only one "r" in "sherbet."

debbiemet1
debbiemet1

#3 It's not JOOL-ry, it's JEWEL-ry. Pronounced as written. #6 Used to/use to - they have two different useages. Used to: Having become familiar with by custom or habit, for example "I used to smoke." Use to: is used with the word "did" and/or negative - "Did you use to smoke?" "No, I didn't use to smoke." (from the Consise Oxford Dictionary)

rainydayzz07
rainydayzz07

its EURO. not GI RO. people need to get it right. biggest pet peeve. the best is when they try to correct YOU though. and i once had a waitress "correct" me--that was the most entertaining

flim
flim

Dunno how you could ignore one of the most common and most ANNOYING mispronunciations of all. ASK is pronounced ask (as in asskiss without the -iss), not axe or aks.

big_mcgrumpy
big_mcgrumpy

The accepted pronunciation of the word often can be either Off-tun or Off-un. The former being the original pronunciation and the latter being the more recent. Although both are accepted as common pronunciations. Furthermore, the word jewelry is not pronounced either way, it is Joo-el-ree. This article comes across as petty anyway, as anyone who judges someone based upon one mispronounced word is a simpleton. Judge a man on the richness of their character and content of their conversation and you may learn something.

jimcairl
jimcairl

First, a correction. Realtor can be, and is more accepted as ree'-al-ter - three syllables (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/realtor). Regarding the rest of the postings, there are some - like supposably - that i agree with. But most i find not just picking nits, but silly. February? Really? feb-yoo-er-ee is a generally accepted pronunciation. Worse though is the implication that i will sound stupid if i don't pronounce a word correctly. We should measure the intelligence of a statement by the content of that statement and not the rightness of our pronunciation. I know this article was named to keep continuity and that having a title that challenges people will probably get more page views, i just wish that it wasn't tied to the intelligence of the person.

mediablarg
mediablarg

Wingzer0 is right. It would be great (if perhaps a little boring) if language worked the way the author of this blog post thinks it does. But, alas: http://tinyurl.com/5d4x88 (mediablarg.blogspot.com)

WingZer0
WingZer0

I haven't met anyone in person who can pronounce 'err' correctly. The correct pronunciation is 'urr', not 'air'.

dingle
dingle

OMG! What are your credentials? Perhaps you should have continued your education through graduate school before you made yourself look stupid by publishing the intolerant crap. I will only point out three of your many errors in this article: recur is a word, as a Latin Scholar I will be glad to take you through the history of it's development, and as an english scholar I will be glad to continue my critique of your cry for help: February. The R is silent and saying Febrooary makes you sound stupid. The last one I'll point out is jewelry. It is actually Joo-wel-ry. Based on your level of education, I can predict that you also mispronounce the word controversial by saying con-tro-ver-see-all when most with a higher education know it's con-tro-ver-shel. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, look who sounds stupid now! Yooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

piornet
piornet

"Off tun" was once the only correct way of saying "often" - "Off un" was itself a mispronunciation that eventually found its way into acceptable use - just like contractions.

archune
archune

"Supposably" is a word. This was established years ago in a well-known online debate. I don't say it but it's a word. "Heighth" is not a word. Though people add the final 'H' to make it part of the set with width and depth. "Libary" is criminal. People writing "should of" in place of "should've" should be beaten to within an inch of their lives. My friend e-mailed me yesterday that she was "weary" of the days lunch plans. (She meant "leery"). 2 weeks ago, Buzzfeed described a man with a disease that disfigured him as being covered with "legions" Really... covered with Roman soldiers? They meant "lesions." Some dumbass online last week wrote that his friend was a very "intent" guy. I used to have hope that the rise of e-mail would bring about a new age of literacy. I underestimated how stupid people are. All misspelled and mispronounced words pale in comparison to a more excruciating contemporary pet peeve. People wearing bluetooth earpieces even when they're not on a call. Oh how I want to beat them for a few hours with a crowbar.

axxchor7
axxchor7

Wow! What an educated and brilliant person Toni Bowers must be to know that the correct and "non stupid" way to pronounce "often" is NOT to pronounce the "t"! 'Tis a new dawn for language speakers everywhere! I simply shudder to imagine the collective amount of *meaning* that was lost by all those English "speakers" who deigned NOT to pronounce the "d" in "supposed". The insolence and base ignorance!! Surely, the world must produce more linguistics specialists so that we all may sit around practicing our glottal stops and postalveolar affricates. Tell me, Bowers, what is the proper way to pronounce "cavil"?

NorwayRed
NorwayRed

Some elements of linguistics, including pronunciation, might be inherited (hard-wired in the brain). Dr Edrie Greer is featured on TechRepublic. http://whitepapers.techrepublic.com.com/abstract.aspx?&kw=greer&docid=341154 She is a *very* smart lady who specializes in communication, and she says dit-int. Incongruous, I know. Stereotyping people doesn't always work, but we probably all do it anyway. Sometimes it is a useful shortcut to a quick decision, but caution is advised.

mail2
mail2

There are many more out there than what you listed. I once StumbledUpon an entire table full of commonly mispronounced words (I think this page, http://www.yourdictionary.com/library/mispron.html, contains approximately the same content). I have personally started hearing people use the non-word "irregardless" quite a bit, and I can't stand when people pronounce "drawing" as "draw ring". It's just sad...

kristi_robison
kristi_robison

Actually, "supposably", while it is the bane of my existence, is a word. See www.HapsandMishaps.blogspot.com.

JACK08
JACK08

IT'S NOT SAMWICH, IT'S SANDWICH!

adam
adam

Most of these mispronunciations are mainly made by the American arm of the English-speaking world. So while y'all hear these errors as "mispronunciations that make you sound stupid", the rest of the English-speaking world hears them as "mispronunciations that make you sound American".

marc247
marc247

and the big one!!! "ANYWAYS" no such word, as you can't have a plural adverb

alanrae82
alanrae82

Bollocks. Regional variations affect many of these spellings and you can't tell me otherwise. I pronounce often as "off-ten" and jewelry should be pronounced "jewel-e-ry". In fact jewelry was spelt as "jewellery" until North America bastardised the languaged. It is still spelt that way in English English. Stop telling people how to spell or pronounce words. It's nothing more than the evolution of a language. It is interesting to note that US English and UK English are actually diverging languages which may become mutually unintelligible in the (fairly distant) future. This is because people are interpreting the language in a different way in the US from the way they interpret it in the UK or the rest of Europe. With so many countries beginning to speak English, each will come up with its own way of speaking the language. You will probably tell them that they are speaking it wrongly. They are not. They are simply interpreting the language differently and if they decide to pronounce words in a different way, that it their choice. Does it make it any less "English"? Of course it does, but it doesn't seem to matter to the Yanks. In North America, "different than" is perfectly acceptable - but not in the UK. Words like "center", "realize" and "thru" are simply wrong here. But they shouldn't be. A lecturer from Buckinghamshire New University has today suggested that some of the more common "misspellings" should be accepted into common usage and even listed as variants in the dictionary (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7546975.stm). I would tend to agree. English is nothing more than a bastardised form of German anyway, with its many influences. It has been battered about for generations by illiterates while the government used French and the Church used Latin. Perhaps this is why it is the most popular language in the world? English has become what it is because it has been allowed to evolve. Let it.

tommabe
tommabe

What about? Cavalry (cah-vuh-ree) (horses soldiers ect) & Calvary! (cal-vuh-ree) (mountain Jesus supposedly died on)

cade85
cade85

Obviously, Toni was upset with someone when he typed up this mistake of an article. Are you qualified to make these claims? Have you studied regional linguistics or referenced a dictionary? How about multiple dictionaries from different English speaking countries? I guess anyone with access to wikipedia can call themself a "researcher". Americans have murdered the English language. "Jewelry", however, is still a three-syllable word. Do you actually use the phrases "supposed to" and "used to" in your written and verbal communication? I would suggest you attempt to utilize "should" and "once" or "previously" instead of "supposed to" and "used to", respectively. And since when did the word "often" contain a silent "t"? Also, "February" could be pronounced FEB-roo-ary. Try these tips out in the future. People may even stop believing you were raised in Alabama. It is comical how you wish to publish your thoughts on how words make people sound stupid (which, by the way is a poor choice of word) and, in doing so, have made yourself appear ignorant. Keep up the mediocre work, Toni!

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