11 Common Words You're Probably Mispronouncing

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Ever feel embarrassed when you don't know how to say a word? Don't be. Even the most fluent English speakers—and, ahem, political figures—stumble. Besides, pronunciations change over time. See if you've been mispronouncing these common words.

1. Seuss

Pen names don't always make things easier. Theodore Geisel's college buddy Alexander Liang made a rhyme to teach you the right way to pronounce it:

"You’re wrong as the deuce/And you shouldn’t rejoice/
If you’re calling him Seuss/He pronounces it Soice" (or Zoice).

2. Kibosh

Let's put the kibosh, pronounced "KY-bosh," on saying this word like "kuh-BOSH."

3. Celtic

An initial hard (k) sound is the standard, but linguists say the (s) sound emerged as far back as the 17th century. Still, you'll sound ridiculous (but correct!) if you bring that hard (k) to a Boston Celtics basketball game.

4. Comptroller

This word sounds just like "controller." If you're tempted to pronounce that silent (pt), please comptroll yourself!

5. Cache

Maybe it's because it's one letter short of "cachet." Maybe it's just more fun to mispronounce. This words sounds just like "cash."

6. Chicanery

This word meaning "deception by trickery" is aptly tricky to pronounce. The beginning (ch) sound is "sh," as in "Chicago." The French pronounce the word "shih-connery," which makes it easy to remember the definition. However, Americans love a long (a) and tend to pronounce it "shih-cane-a-ree." Choose your own adventure.

7. Banal

You'll be the butt of the joke if you pronounce this "BAY-nul." It's "buh-NAHL."

8. Affluent

If pronouncing it "a-FLU-ent" is wrong, some people don't want to be right. The stress on this word is supposed to be on the first syllable—"AFF-lu-ent." But stressing the second syllable became so mainstream that dictionaries started validating the pronunciation in the 1980s.

9. Forbade

Pronunciation quirks and mistakes happen when people try to read and speak by the rules. Too bad the English language doesn't always make sense. The past tense of "forbid" was originally supposed to be spelled and pronounced "for-bad." But then people started spelling it "forbade" and rhyming it with "made." Now linguists say the word sounds archaic any way you say it. Most people use "forbid" as a past or present-tense verb.

10. Boatswain

Okay, so maybe this word's not that commonly used. But now that you know it's pronounced "bo-sun," you might find more reasons to work it into conversation.

11. Niche

When this word was borrowed from French in the 17th century, it was quickly Anglicized to rhyme with "itch." But in the 20th century, more people embraced a true French pronunciation and decided to pronounce it "neesh." Both are correct.

January 11, 2013 - 12:02am
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