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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.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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science
Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.

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