The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations: The Ultimate Opinionated Guide for the Well-Spoken

Overview

How do you pronounce affluent: AF-loo-int or uh-FLOO-int? Does it make a difference? Charles Harrington Elster believes that yes, it does make a difference (and that, for the record, one should pronounce the word AF-loo-int). Elster, the author of Is There a Cow in Moscow? and There Is No Zoo in Zoology, has chosen more than six hundred of our most commonly mispronounced words, arranged them alphabetically, and written entertaining essays that unapologetically offer his informed opinion as to why a word should be...

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Overview

How do you pronounce affluent: AF-loo-int or uh-FLOO-int? Does it make a difference? Charles Harrington Elster believes that yes, it does make a difference (and that, for the record, one should pronounce the word AF-loo-int). Elster, the author of Is There a Cow in Moscow? and There Is No Zoo in Zoology, has chosen more than six hundred of our most commonly mispronounced words, arranged them alphabetically, and written entertaining essays that unapologetically offer his informed opinion as to why a word should be pronounced a particular way. Where pronunciations commonly vary or dictionaries disagree, Elster is an eager arbiter. Easy to use (there aren't any confusing diacritical marks), and with references from Will Shakespeare to Will Smith (for "aunt") and Jerry Seinfeld (for "clitoris"), this is an excellent argument-settler - and debate-starter. A Houghton Mifflin Paperback original.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
The most beautiful words can sound absolutely horrific when placed in an unfortunate mouth. But there are some words out there that cause the tongue to trip and the mind to disconnect. If you want to be able to pontificate on what you've read but aren't sure exactly how to pronounce that word that was probably on your SATs, The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations is for you.

A witty guide to the parts of speech that boggle the brain and the lips, The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations will simultaneously provide you with a new way to look at words on the page and more opportunities to wax eloquent (after all, is there nothing more embarrassing than pontificating on a subject that is unpronounceable to you?). Referencing popular culture from William Shakespeare to Jerry Seinfeld, this book is accessible and can help anyone get his mouth around tricky members of the lexicon.

Library Journal
Contending that a laissez-faire ("rhymes with guess way there") approach to English language pronunciation is not acceptable, this appealing guide awakens readers to the sad truth that "lots of people mispronounce words every day and plenty of people notice." Host of National Public Radio's A Way with Words, Elster has expanded and extensively revised his three previous books--including There's No Zoo in Zoology--into one delightful pronunciation guide that is not just for the cognoscenti ("KAHN-yuh-SHEN-tee"). The list of words ranges from "a"--"uh (as in ago)" or "ay (as in ate)"--to "zydeco"("rhymes with try to go"), but Elster goes way beyond a simple list of correct pronunciations. His explanatory essays refer to a wide array of research and reference tools, including dictionaries, etymologies, and such guides as the NBC Handbook of Pronunciation. Some may dismiss Elster's efforts as Sisyphean ("SIS-uh-FEE-in") or his compilation too anal ("AY-nal"). But he presents his entries with such aplomb (the second syllable "rhymes with Tom or bomb") and affection for the double entendre ("DUHB'L ahn-THAN-druh") that one cannot demur ("Pronounce mur as in murder not mural"). Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395893388
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Pages: 437
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.01 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Harrington Elster is a guest contributor to the New York Times Magazine's 'On Language' column and has been a commentator on NPR and hundreds of radio shows around the country. He is the author of numerous books, including There Is No Zoo in Zoology and Is There a Cow in Moscow?

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


A


a = a t / a = final / ah = spa / ahr = car / air = fair / ay = hay / aw = saw ch = chip / e = let / e = item / ee = see / eer = deer / i = sit / i = April ng = sing / o= carrot / oh = go / oo = soon / or = for / oor = poor ow = cow / oy = toy / sh = she / th = thin / th = this / u = focus / uh = up ur = turn / uu = pull, took / y, eye = by, l / zh = measure / (see full key, p. xiv)

a UH (as in ago); AY (as in ate) for emphasis only.

I am often asked if it is wrong to pronounce the indefinite article a like the letter a (AY). The answer is yes, except in special situations. Here are some expert opinions:
    In The Orthoepist (1894), Alfred Ayres writes: "This vowel is pronounced [AY] as a letter, but [UH] as a word, except when emphatic. Then it has its full name sound. Thus: I said Cleveland is a [AY] large town, not the [THEE] large town of Ohio."
    In Comfortable Words (1959), Bergen Evans states that "the pronunciation of the indefinite article depends on how emphatic we want to be. In normal, unemphatic speech (`There was a boy here looking for you'), it is always spoken uh. Anything else is an affectation. However, if we want to emphasize the idea of singleness (`I did not say eight boys; I said a boy!'), it is pronounced to rime with `say.'"
    In their Pronouncing Dictionary of American English (1949), Kenyon & Knott note that "the use of [AY], the stressed form of a, in places where the unstressed [UH] belongs, often gives an artificial effect to public address."
    The precept is simple enough, and sensible to boot, yet few abide by it with any consistency, and charges of affectation and artificiality have done little to prevent the AY for UH substitution from becoming rampant. I have heard prominent public speakers, from President John F. Kennedy ("the torch has been passed to AY new generation") to erstwhile Masterpiece Theatre host Alistair Cooke use AY where unstressed UH belongs. Many speakers nowadays are fond of saying AY to give extra (imagined) weight to their words, many pop singers employ it, and if you listen carefully to TV and radio broadcasters you will catch nearly all of them using AY in unemphatic contexts frequently.
    Try conducting your own informal survey of any radio or TV talk show and you may be surprised at what you hear. I once did this during a Firing Line conversation between William F. Buckley, Jr., and Barry Goldwater. In the course of a half-hour show (that's UH half-hour show, not AY), Goldwater used AY in unemphatic contexts four times; Buckley (who is sometimes accused of hyperenunciation) turned out to be a gold mine of overemphasis, using AY at least ten times in such phrases as a major problem, a general rule, a balance of power, and a free man.
    I have a hunch why AY is so popular among broadcasters. No, it's not because they are trying to speak more clearly; AY actually is more difficult to say than UH, and overusing it makes one's speech less fluid, hence less clear. Nor have they been taught that it is proper, in formal speech, to overemphasize with AY. Instead, they have been taught—and for good reason—to avoid filling pauses in their speech with uh or um. Thus, if they happen to pause on the article a when pronouncing it UH, they will appear to have committed this cardinal sin.
    This bit of overniceness unfortunately has led many to assume that it is better to say AY than UH—an understandable assumption, given how often today you hear educated speakers and broadcasters use unemphatic AY. But don't be fooled by all these AY-sayers. There is nothing preferable about AY; it has no noble pedigree. Nor is it any clearer or more natural than UH. In plain, unemphatic utterances, AY is neither wrong nor right; it's simply unnecessary. And, as Evans points out, it usually sounds affected. For clarity and simplicity's sake we should try to restrict AY to the name of the letter and to those rare situations that call for special emphasis.


abdomen AB-duh-men. Occasionally, ab-DOH-men.

Veteran radio commentator Paul Harvey says ab-DOH-men, with the accent on the middle syllable, and some speakers still insist that this is the proper pronunciation. Not so. Both ab-DOH-men and AB-duh-men have been used in cultivated speech for more than a hundred years, and both are acceptable. However, since the 1960s AB-duh-men has become so prevalent that it has nearly eclipsed ab-DOH-men.
    The Imperial Dictionary (1884), Funk & Wagnalls Standard (1897), the Century (1889-1914), and Webster 2 (1934) all countenanced AB-duh-men as an alternative pronunciation. Vizetelly (1929) noted that it was "gradually displacing the more formal" ab-DOH-men. Alfred H. Holt, in You Don't Say! (1937), remarks that "there is something too forthright and booming about `ab-dó-men,' though it has long been standard. Five of the leading dictionaries now allow the first syllable accent, and one approves it." When Kenyon & Knott (1949) and American College (1952) gave AB-duh-men preference, it was clear old ab-DOH-men was taking it in the gut.
    Today AB-duh-men is the norm, and though current dictionaries still list second-syllable stress in good standing, even Paul Harvey would probably tell you that it's only a matter of time before ab-DOH-men goes belly up.


aberrant a-BER-int, uh-BER-int, or a-BAIR-int, uh-BAIR-int.

The initial a- may be pronounced as in hat or as a schwa (an unstressed, obscure vowel): uh-. Be sure to stress the second syllable (aberrant). Easterners give this e a short sound, as in bet, while most other Americans blend the e into the r so that it sounds like air.
    Aberrant is now often heard with first-syllable stress: AB-ur-int. This fairly recent (c. 1960-1970) aberration is listed second in M-W 10 (1993)" and RHWC (1997), and in WNW 3 (1997) it is qualified by "also." American Heritage 3 (1992) recognizes only the traditional a-BER-int. Stick with second-syllable stress.


abhor ab-HOR or uhb-HOR. Do not say uh-BOR.

Random House II (1987) and American Heritage 3 (1992) give only ab-HOR, with the a clearly pronounced, as in abject or absolute. WNW 3 (1997) and M-W 10 (1993) also recognize uhb-HOR, in which the a is a schwa (obscure), as in about.
Be sure to pronounce the h in abhor and in the corresponding adjective abhorrent: ab-HOR-int (or, for eastern speakers, ab-HAHR-int). The beastly mispronunciation uh-BOR (which sounds like a bore or a boar) is not recognized by dictionaries.


abyss uh-BIS (rhymes with amiss), not AB-is (like abbess).


academia AK-uh-DEE-mee-uh.

This is the only pronunciation given in two recent American dictionaries, American Heritage 3 (1992) and M-W 10 (1993). OED 2 (1989) sanctions only AK-uh-DEEM-yuh.
    Avoid the beastly mispronunciations AK-uh-DAY-mee-uh and AK-uh-DEM-ee-uh, now popular among some academics and listed in a few dictionaries. There is no day or dem in academia. The word should rhyme with anemia and Bohemia.
    Academia, the incestuous offspring of the professoriat, entered English in the 1950s. The word academe (sometimes capitalized, and pronounced AK-uh-DEEM or AK-uh-DEEM) is far older; it first appeared in 1588 (spelled Achademe) in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost.


academician uh-KAD-uh-MISH-in (uh-KAD- as in academy, primary stress on -MISH-).

This is the only pronunciation in Funk & Wagnalls Standard (1897), the Century (1914), Webster 2 (1934), and OED 2 (1989), and it is the preference of Vizetelly (1929), Opdycke (1939), Lass & Lass (1976), and the NBC Handbook (1984).
    The alternative AK-uh-di-MISH-in (with AK-uh pronounced as in academic) is the only pronunciation given by Worcester (1860) and American Heritage, new college edition (1969). Preferred by Phyfe (1926), it has been sanctioned by most dictionaries since the 1940s. Given this record of acceptance, one can hardly claim that AK-uh-di-MISH-in is wrong. The debate, however, is not yet academic. Careful speakers should note that throughout the 20th century the weight of authority clearly has been with uh-KAD-uh-MISH-in.


accelerate ak-SEL-uh-rayt. Do not say uh-SEL-uh-rayt. See accept, acceptable.


accent AK-sent (noun); ak-SENT (verb).

Properly, the AK-sent should fall on the second syllable of the verb to ak-SENT. Regrettably, most folks now ignore this nicety and pronounce both noun and verb with first-syllable stress. See decrease for an explanation of the rule for accenting (did you say ak-SEN-ting?) two-syllable words that function as nouns and verbs.


accept ak-SEPT; acceptable ak-SEP-tuh-buul.

First, take care to clearly pronounce the t in accept. Second, be sure to articulate the ks sound of the double c in these words. Don't change it to an ss sound and say uh-SEPT and uh-SEP-tuh-buul, as if they were spelled assept and asseptable. These are Un-ak-SEP-tuh-buul, certifiably beastly pronunciations.
    In his delightful book Say It My Way (1980), Willard R. Espy, the dean of light verse on language, offers this advisory poem:


In words with double C's, express
C first as K, and then as S:
Ak-SEPT, ak-SEDE, ak-SESS-ory.
(One time there was a silly lout
Who always left the K sound out.
He said ass-EPT, he said suss-INCT;
He luckily became extinct
Before he could propose that we
Reverse the sounds of double C
And say ass-KEPT, ass-KESS-ory.)


    See the next two entries, and also flaccid, succinct, vaccinate.


accessible ak-SES-uh-buul. Do not say uh-SES-uh-buul.

Assess and access are different words, with distinct spellings and pronunciations. Assess (uh-SES) makes assessable (uh-SES-uh-buul); access (AK-ses for noun and verb) makes accessible (ak-SES-uh-buul). See previous entry, and also flaccid and succinct.


accessory ak-SES-uh-ree. Do not say uh-SES-uh-ree.

Despite what you may hear from the salesperson at your local department store, there is no such thing as an assessory. Pronounce the double c in accessory like ks. See the two previous entries, and also flaccid and succinct.


acclimate Traditionally, uh-KLY-mit. Now usually AK-luh-mayt.

This word came into the language in 1792, and for well over a hundred years was pronounced uh-KLY-mit (like a climate) in educated speech. This is the only pronunciation listed in Worcester (1860), Ayres (1894), Century (1914), Webster's Collegiate (1917), New Century (1927), and OED 1 (1928).
    AK-luh-mayt, with first-syllable stress, seems to have sprung up in the early part of the century, and by the 1920s and 1930s it was popular enough to attract the attention of various orthoepists. W. H. P. Phyfe (1926) called AK-luh-mayt "a very frequent error"; Vizetelly (1929) said, "The pronunciation of this word is sometimes confused with that of ACCLIMATION"; Lloyd (1938) complained that acclimate had "always been put down as [uh-KLY-mit], to the great distress of many who felt that [AK-luh-mayt] sounded better"; and Holt (1937), speaking of the adjective acclimated, says, "What seems to many Americans the more natural accentuation (on the first and third) is not yet the approved."
    In 1934, Webster 2 recognized AK-luh-mayt as an alternative pronunciation, and since then most dictionaries have followed suit, listing both pronunciations, usually with uh-KLY-mit first. In 1976, Lass & Lass duly reported that all four major dictionaries of the decade listed both pronunciations, and noted their preference for the traditional uh-KLY-mit. By the 1980s, the tide seemed to have turned in favor of the alternative AK-luhmayt, which appeared as the preferred pronunciation in the fourth edition of NBC Handbook (1984).
    Here's how the major current dictionaries weigh in on the matter: RHWC (1997) and M-W 10 (1993) list AK-luh-mayt first; WNW 3 (1997) and American Heritage 3 (1992) list uh-KLY-mit first; and OED 2 (1989) gives only uh-KLY-mit. Decide for yourself which pronunciation has the stronger tradition; I'm sticking with uh-KLY-mit. In the meantime, you may want to get accustomed to acclimatize (uh-KLY-muh-tyz). According to the OED lexicographer R. W. Burchfield in The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (1996), acclimate "has totally given way to acclimatize (1836) in the U.K.... and partially in the U.S...." See confiscate.


accompanist uh-KUHM-puh-nist, not uh-KUHM-puh-nee-ist.

Accompanist has four syllables (ac-com-pa-nist), not five. Don't add an extra syllable and say accompany-ist. (Accompanyist once was a legitimate word — Dickens used it in Oliver Twist — but accompanist has long supplanted it.) Some dictionaries also sanction a three-syllable variant, uh-KUHMP-nist, which, because it is both less common and less articulate, is not recommended.


accouterment, accoutrement uh-KOO-tur-mint, not uh-KOO-truh-mint.

The spelling accoutrement, which Burchfield (1996) and other sources note is chiefly British (it was originally French), has unhappily caused many speakers to think the word should be pronounced uh-KOO-truh-mint, with -truh- following -tre-. No matter which spelling you prefer, the overwhelming number of authorities prefer uh-KOO-tur-mint, and it is the only pronunciation countenanced for the -ter- spelling. We don't say THEE-uh-truh for theatre or SEN-truh for centre, so don't be a wiseacre. Say it in plain old American: uh-KOO-tur-mint.
    An admonition for Francophiles: do not Gallicize the final syllable (-ment) by pronouncing it -maw(n). The Frenchified pronunciation a-KOO-truh-MAW(N) is an affectation unrecognized by English dictionaries (even really old ones).


accurate AK-yur-it; accuracy AK-yur-uh-see. Do not drop the Y sound in the second syllable and say AK-ur-it, AK-ur-uh-see, or worse, AK-rit, AK-ruh-see.

It grieves me to report that Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition (1993), the latest product of the storied house of lexicography in Springfield, Massachusetts, has, with unusually dogged permissiveness, recognized the ugsome pronunciations AK-ur-it and AK-rit for accurate, and AK-ur-uh-see and AK-ruh-see for accuracy — thus conferring upon these variants, at least within the pages of M-W 10, the lofty status of "standard."
    Do not be fooled by this linguistic flimflammery. AK-ur-it and AK-rit are not standard, they have never been standard, and they have not suddenly become standard simply because the pronunciation editor of one dictionary has decided to list them, apparently in flagrant disregard of the fact that the vast majority of educated speakers consider these pronunciations, to put it mildly, slovenly and boorish.
    If that seems too bold a generalization, then why is M-W 10 alone in recognizing these abominations? Why do the three other major current American dictionaries — WNW 3 (1997), RHWC (1997), and American Heritage 3 (1992)— ignore AK-ur-it? Why do orthoepists — including Ayres (1894), Phyfe (1926), Vizetelly (1929), Gilmartin (1936), Holt (1937), Opdycke (1939), and Shaw (1972) — unanimously condemn AK-ur-it and its boorish brethren, often calling them "illiterate"? And why, under accuracy, does the notoriously permissive Webster 3 (1961), the unabridged predecessor of M-W 10, bother to place an obelus [/] before AK-uh-ruhsee and AK-ruh-see, indicating that many consider them unacceptable and "take strong exception" to them?
    No, I'm afraid it just doesn't wash — or perhaps that should be warsh. That these beastly mispronunciations exist (and persist!) no one would dispute. That they are "the general practice of the nation" (Noah Webster's criterion for propriety), or even customary among educated speakers, is preposterous. Their appearance in a reputable dictionary, with no caveat or label whatsoever, is nothing less than an affront to all who aspire to speak well and who would sooner be dead wrong than AK-rit.


across uh-KRAWS. Don't add a T at the end and say uh-KRAWST.

In Say It Right! (1972), Harry Shaw issues this dictum: "Only across is acceptable in pronunciation and spelling. Acrost is substandard, either dialectal or illiterate."
    Shaw is right in saying that acrost is substandard, but the mispronunciation is hardly confined to "dialectal or illiterate" speakers. I have heard many educated speakers say acrost. This is unfortunate, for as Shaw's words reveal, when an educated speaker makes an error that is considered illiterate, it can be very damaging.
    We know that dialectal and illiterate speakers are at a disadvantage when it comes to using standard English, so when we hear them say acrost we tend to have more sympathy for their mistake, knowing that this is but one of many solecisms they will have to overcome. On the other hand, an educated speaker who says acrost lays himself open to disparagement or ridicule. Substandard, in dictionary lingo, means "unacceptable to educated speakers." The illiterate speaker who says acrost does not know his pronunciation is substandard and may not possess the means to find out. The educated speaker who says acrost has no such excuse. See ask.


actor AK-tur, not AK-tor. See juror.


acumen uh-KYOO-men, not AK-yuh-men. Stress the second syllable (the "Q").

The recessive-stress variant AK-yuh-men was first recognized by Webster 3 (1961) but was ignored by most other dictionaries until the 1980s, by which time it had gained considerable ground on the traditional uh-KYOO-men.
    Perhaps AK-yuh-men will ultimately prevail, like AB-duh-men for abdomen (see above); the spoken language is often partial to recessive stress. I cannot, however, shake off my suspicion in this case that AK-yuh-men was the innovation of younger (not-well-enough-) educated speakers who think nothing of shifting an accent here and there in an effort to sound more urbane or savvy. (The recessive-stressing Brits may be guilty, too; the Oxford Guide (1983) recommends "stress on 1st syllable.") Like most pseudosophisticated innovations, AK-yuh-men soon became a follow-the-herd pronunciation, and here we are today with two quite different ways of saying acumen countenanced by the dictionaries where one, in my opinion, would do just fine. (See confiscate for a discussion of recessive and progressive stress.)


address (noun, meaning "location, place, where mail can be sent") uh-DRES or A-dres; (noun, meaning "speech") always uh-DRES; (verb) always uh-DRES.

Many have asked me: which is right, uh-DRES or A-dres? Do you ever wonder which is "more correct"? Read on.
    Most of those doing the wondering believe (or have been taught to believe) that uh-DRES is proper for both verb and noun and that A-dres is wrong. Indeed, the first-syllable accent for the noun (I have never heard anyone say A-dres for the verb, though some say it is a frequent error) has been criticized by orthoepists in the past, and those infamous, heavy-handed English teachers of yore surely have contributed to the widespread notion that a careful speaker never says A-dres.
    A-dres has been heard for over a hundred years, and has been attacked since its inception. Ayres (1894) prescribes uh-DRES for both noun and verb. Phyfe (1926) writes, "Although analogy may suggest the pronunciation [A-dres], it is not countenanced by any of the standard dictionaries." "Always stress the final syllable," advises Vizetelly (1929). And Lloyd (1938) says, "I very strongly favor `adDRESS' over `ADdress.'"
    Webster 2 (1934) was the first to accept A-dres, noting that it was used especially for "the directions for the delivery of a letter, package, etc." This led Opdycke (1939) to predict that, although address "has stubbornly stood out for second-syllable accent as both noun and verb," it "will eventually fall in line" with the custom for two-syllable words that function as both nouns and verbs, where the former are accented on the first syllable and the latter on the second. (See decrease for more on this rule.) Opdycke then went so far as to recommend that we "help force this word into line — first-syllable accent as noun, second as verb."
    Since Webster 2, A-dres has enjoyed good standing in the dictionaries. All current sources countenance first-syllable accent for the noun, though most give second-syllable accent precedence; several — including American Heritage 3 (1992), M-W 10 (1993), and WNW 3 (1997) — qualify A-dres with the label also, indicating that it is less common in educated speech. I disagree. The judiciously prescriptive Morris & Morris (1985) prefer A-dres (in the place-mail-is-sent sense) and I have heard A-dres at least as often as uh-DRES from cultivated speakers in all parts of the country — more often in recent years since having an email address has become de rigueur (q.v.). What's more, I have frequently heard the same speaker use both pronunciations within a single conversation.
    I usually say uh-DRES, but once in a while I say A-dres without the slightest twinge of self-consciousness. It all depends on the context — the flavor of the conversation and the syntax one chooses. For example, say aloud, "There were thirteen," and the accent falls on -teen; say, "There were thirteen men," and the accent shifts to the first syllable, thir-. Shifting accent in two-syllable words is "a tendency widely operative in present English speech," says Webster 2 (1934). In some cases it is helpful to preserve a particular stress, especially when precision and clarity are at stake. But a shift in stress does not necessarily "harm" the language, and your accentuation, in this type of case, only reflects your personal preference — what you were taught or what you are accustomed to hearing from others.
    If there is any distinction to be made, it should be this: for the verb, always say uh-DRES; for the noun, say uh-DRES or A-dres as you prefer, when you mean the place to which mail is sent or the place someone lives or works; however, when you use address to mean a speech, say uh-DRES (as in Gettysburg Address), the undisputed preferred pronunciation for that sense of the word.


adieu uh-DYOO, not uh-DOO.

Yes, you'll find the y-less uh-DOO in current dictionaries, and sometimes listed first; it's been acceptable since Kenyon & Knott (1949) and American College (1952) recognized it as an alternative. Bear in mind, however, that historically the weight of authority — including Worcester (1860), Funk & Wagnalls Standard (1897), Phyfe (1926), Vizetelly (1929), Webster 2 (1934), Opdycke (1939), Lass & Lass (1976), WNW Guide (1984), the NBC Handbook (1984), and OED 2 (1989) — favors uh-DYOO, with a y sound, probably for the same reasons I do: adieu comes from French, where it has the y sound; we always use the word to add a little French flavor to our speech (if we didn't we'd simply say "good-bye"); uh-DYOO is euphonious, uh-DUO is not; and finally, uh-DYOO avoids potential confusion with ado. The plural is uh-DYOOZ, preferably spelled adieus. See dew.


ad infinitum ad-IN-fi-NY-tum.

Note that the primary stress falls on -ni-, which should rhyme with fly, not flee.


adjective AJ-ik-tiv. Pronounce the c (like k). Do not say AJ-uh-tiv.

Some people drop the hard c (k) sound in adjective and say AJ-uh-tiv. What's worse, they often insist they're right in doing so. This AJ-itates me.
    A voice talent I once worked with told me an English teacher had taught her that AJ-ik-tiv, with the hard c audible, was wrong. Sorry to be the teacher's pest, but if AJ-uh-tiv were preferable, or even acceptable, wouldn't most (if not all) authorities list it? Funny thing is, since Webster 3 (1961) included the note "rapid sometimes [AJ-ud-iv]," only Merriam-Webster's dictionaries have recognized AJ-uh-tiv, and in M-W 9 (1985) and 10 (1993) it is preceded by also, which in dictionary lingo means "appreciably less common." In my book, AJ-uh-tiv is appreciably less acceptable — in other words, beastly. Careful speakers vocalize the hard c, even in rapid dialogue.


admirable AD-mi-ruh-buul. Do not say ad-MY-ruh-buul.

Always stress the ad in admirable. Current authorities do not recognize the beastly ad-MY-ruh-buul (like admire a bull). "The pronunciation `AD-mirable' is so well established," wrote Charles Allen Lloyd in We Who Speak English (1938), "that only children and uneducated people are likely to say `adMIrable.'" See formidable, comparable, irreparable, lamentable, preferable.


adult (noun) uh-DUHLT or AD-uhlt; (adjective) uh-DUHLT.

Since the 1930s, when Webster 2 (1934) recognized AD-uhlt, first-syllable stress has been acceptable in American speech, although, as Burchfield (1996) indicates, AD-uhlt is probably more common among educated British speakers than their American counterparts, who on the whole still show a preference for uh-DUHLT. (The Oxford Guide [1983], a British usage manual, recommends first-syllable stress for both the adjective and noun.)
    Although you will occasionally hear Americans stress the adjective adult on the first syllable — for example, for adult education or adult bookstore some say AD-uhlt—careful speakers tend to preserve second-syllable stress. See address, ally.


adversary AD-vur-SER-ee. Do not say ad-VUR-sur-ee.

Dictionaries do not recognize ad-VUR-sur-ee, and it is not, as some may imagine, the customary British pronunciation; OED 2 (1989) ignores it and the Oxford Guide (1983), a British source, says "stress on 1st syllable." Second-syllable stress is an example of what Follett (1966) calls an "eccentric pronunciation." See controversy, faucet.


advertisement AD-vur-TYZ-ment (American); ad-VUR-tiz-ment (chiefly British).

The pronunciation ad-VUR-tiz-ment, with the accent on the second syllable, has always been the standard in England, despite the preference of a number of English authorities — including Thomas Sheridan (1780), the celebrated elocutionist John Walker (1791), and James Knowles (1835) — for third-syllable stress. In the United States, the story is reversed. American authorities of the 1800s preferred or gave priority to ad-VUR-tiz-ment, but by the turn of the century AD-vur-TYZ-ment had caught on for good and was destined to prevail.
    Funk & Wagnalls Standard (1897) was the first American authority to favor AD-vur-TYZ-ment. Though subsequent dictionaries, including the Century (1914) and Webster 2 (1934), continued to give ad-VUR-tiz-ment precedence, the comments of contemporaneous orthoepists indicate a clear and widespread preference for AD-vur-TYZ-ment in early 20th-century America. Phyfe (1926) says: [AD-vur-TYZ-ment] is more commonly heard in the United States of America." Vizetelly (1933) says: "[AD-vur-TYZ-ment] is a word the American pronunciation of which has jarred on the sensitive ears of our British friends." Holt (1937) says: "Ordinary Americans show a decided prejudice against the ver accent in advertisement." Opdycke (1939) says: "Advertisement is preferably accented on the second syllable, as always in England. There is sound authority, however, for [AD-vur-TYZ-ment] and this is customary in the United States." And Lloyd (1938) says: "My own observation is that in America `adver-TISE-ment' is heard more often, and this fact, combined with the fact that it is the one I have been familiar with from early childhood, makes it my personal choice."
    I'm with Lloyd, all the way. For at least sixty years most Americans — ordinary and extraordinary alike — have preferred AD-vur-TYZ-ment, with the accent on the third syllable, and ad-VUR-tiz-ment, though still listed in good standing in current dictionaries, now sounds stilted coming from an American.

(Continues...)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2004

    It's not just me!!!

    I have always had this sort of, well, 'short-fuse' when it comes to people misprnouncing words and now I finally know it's not just me! While this book seems at first a rather comical idea, I think it's a great tool for anyone who has to speak in front of others...George 'Dub-ya' could definitely put it to good use (noo-kyu-ler!).

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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