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Meghan Ward

I'm a freelance writer and book editor represented by Andy Ross of the Andy Ross Literary Agency. You can read an excerpt of my memoir, Paris On Less Than $10,000 A Day, and visit my website for more info about me.

The Editing Hour—More Mispronunciations

More mispronunciations!

Okay, here are a two I’ve been pronouncing wrong: era, pronounced “EAR-ra” not “AIR-uh” and “equinox,” pronounced “EE-kwi-nahks,” not “EH-kwi-nahks.” Also, “err,” is “UR,” not “AIR.”

This guy claims “eschew” is “es-CHOO,” not “e-SHOO,” but he also includes a lengthy letter from the pronunciation editor of Merriam-Webster on why they include both “e-SHOO” and “e-SKYOO” as acceptable pronunciations. So I think it’s okay to say “e-SHOO,” as I do whenever I read that word aloud in my head.

Celtic—we have Celtic (KEL-tic) crosses, but the Boston Celtics (SEL-tics), so which one is correct? Elster (author of The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations” says to always use “SEL-tic,” the rationale being that the older “Keltic” spelling was the one that was pronounced “KEL-tic.” But not all dictionaries agree, so I’m afraid the jury is still out on which one is correct and most people will continue using one for the basketball team and the other for everything else.

Impious—there is no “pie” in impious, and the accent is on the “IM”: “IM-pee-us,” not “im-PY-us.”

Aesop—“EE-sup,” not “AY-sahp,” or so it is fabled.

Rodeo—if you see a city or a street named Rodeo anywhere but Los Angeles, do you pronounce it “ROH-dee-oh” or “ro-DAY-oh”? Elster says “ROH-dee-oh” is the accepted pronunciation, but can Ro-DAY-oh Drive in LA be the only place it’s pronounced the Spanish way? I doubt it.

Route—both “root” and “rowt” are acceptable.

Vase—whenever I hear people pronounce this “vahz” I wonder if I’m pedestrian to call it a “vays” (rhyming with “lace.”) But turns out, no, “vahs” and “vayz” are the accepted pronunciations, and “vahz” is only used occasionally in England and by Americans with an affectation. That makes me smile.

Viscount—the “s” is silent. It’s “VY-kownt”—a deputy or subordinate, related to “vice” as in “vice president,” which is where it gets its long “i.”

Wassail—wahs’l, rhyming with “fossil” and “jostle.”

Worstershire—WUUH-tur-sheer or “WUUH-tuh-sheer” (There’s no “worst” in “Worsteshire”)

Zodiacal—“zoh-DY-uh-kuul,” not “ZOH-dee-AK-ul.”

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6 comments to The Editing Hour—More Mispronunciations

  • "Aesop—“EE-sup,” not “AY-sahp,” or so it is fabled"

    LOL.

    But dude, some of these are hard to believe! It's like you're turning my world upside down. I feel shaken to the core!

    (And I'm only half-kidding…)

  • Martin

    How about "fracas"? I had to go to England to discover it's pronounced FRAH-KA. So embarrassing…

  • I think it's inappropriate for books to be prescriptive rather than descriptive about pronunciation.

    A lot of these are regional. Rodeo, CA, a sleepy little town next to the Carquinez Bridge, is never pronounced "Ro-DEE-o." You can pronounce Celtic "Kel-tic" but a gazillion angry Scottish Celtic fans will beat you down (not to mention the US basketball fans). I dislike Celtic (the Scottish football team) immensely but I would never dream of calling them kel-tic. Not when you can rhyme their name with Smell-tic.

    And then there's Paris — should be "Paree" but isn't, in English, right? One of my favorite defiant examples of this is a street in Alameda, CA, called Versailles Ave, which the locals steadfastly pronounce "Ver-Sales." It kills me every time.

    So when in Rome and all that, but where I draw the line is when people mispronounce words by leaving out letters, ala Bush and his "nook-u-lur" for nuclear, and the frequent problem of "etcetera" — people pronounce this as "EKT-cetera" – there's a "t" in there people forget.

  • Kristan – I know, I feel like people are going to look at me funny if I pronounce some of these properly!

    In an off-blog comment, someone mentioned "fracas" – and, indeed, it is "FRAY-kis" not "FRAH-kis."

    Sierra – I can't believe they say, "Ver-sales"! And yet I was born in a city in Chicago pronounced, "Des Plaines" and they pronounce is "des playnes" just like it's written. I was so surprised when I lived in LA that even my Mexican friends called "Los Feliz" "Lohn FEELis." But they said no one would understand them if they pronounced it the Spanish way. And I find it super obnoxious when Americans say, "Paree." I think the English pronunciation of place names is normal, though. We say, "Germany" not "Deutschland" and "Japan," not "Nippon," so why not pronounce them the English/American way? But beyond proper nouns, I think there is a "correct" way to pronounce words based on etymology. Those pronunciations may change, but I like the idea of at least TRYING to stick to the proper usage.

  • RJSquirrel

    I always understood that the unFrenchlike pronunciation of Des Plaines was due to the Germans who originally settled the town. French explorers in the 1700s gave the name Des Plaines ("of the plains" or "of the prairie") to the 150-mile river that ran through the area. In the 1850s, a railroad was built through the area with a mill constructed on the river for cutting railroad ties. A small village grew up around the mill, and when the railroad decided to put a station there, it named it Des Plaines because of its proximity to the river. But the settlers were mostly German immigrants from the eastern U.S., and they pronounced it their way, not the French way.

  • That was fun. There are a lot of words I've read but never hear so I pronounce them wrong. I once said we should go explore the "anal's" of the store. meaning annals of course. Oh embarrasing

    Also people who say vAz are pretentious and should be knocke dover the head with their vase.

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