Monday, November 30, 2009

Five words that you are probably mispronouncing

When I was in graduate school, I served as a teaching assistant for the lowest-ranking professor in the history department. He had never published anything, so his salary was unbelievably small -- under $30,000 in 1991. I heard him pronounce a few words strangely during his lectures, and I mistakenly jumped from his lowly position in the department to the belief that he must be wrong. I had to eat humble pie when I looked those words up in the dictionary and found out that he was right, contrary to almost everyone else I have heard say those words. Here they are, along with some others that I have been surprised to learn:
  • schism: ignore the "ch" in this word; it is pronounced "sism."
  • eschew: unlike schism, pronounce the "ch" firmly in this word; ess-chew.
  • long-lived: most people say this with a short "i" sound, like the verb, "to live." It should be a long "i." Think of it as "long-lifed," with the "f" changed to a "v." This makes sense when you think about other words that you might add "long-" in front of: long-legged, long-winded, long-eared. They are all nouns.
  • coitus: there is no "oy" sound in this word. It is co-itus, literally "going together."
  • dour: pronounced like "door"; it does not rhyme with "sour," despite appearances.
I'm not sure of the value of pronouncing words correctly. You might impress someone with your erudition, but it's more likely that he doesn't know the correct pronunciation, so he will think you are doing it wrong. I do it because, once I learn the right way, I can't bring myself to say it the wrong way; but I don't know that it does me, or anyone else, any good.

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