Are you sure that’s how to pronounce that word?

pronunciation matters

While I was cooking dinner one night, my daughter was excitedly telling me about one of the books in her favorite series, The 39 Clues. I was confused about her frequent references to “the Tom,” until I realized that she meant “the tomb.” The mistake was understandable, because most elementary school students don’t encounter the word “tomb” often.

About a week later she was telling me about another book in the series and referred to “Sin-ad.” I understood her mistake instantly and explained the correct pronunciation for that Irish name (shi-NADE). Because my daughter bounces between the paper books in the series and audio books, depending on availability, she had learned that there were several names and words that she was mispronouncing to herself, but sometimes she preferred her version. “If you want to think of it that way when you are reading to yourself, that’s OK,” I told her, “but if you use the wrong pronunciations when you talk with your friends about the books, they won’t understand you.”

If you mispronounce a word in the workplace, others may understand your meaning but the error can damage your reputation as a polished professional. (I wince every time a friend refers to going for her annual “mammy-o-gram.”)

You may have been mispronouncing a word your entire life and not realize it, because others make the same mistake. I’ve been guilty of mispronouncing dilate (dialate), height (heighth), nuptial (nuptual), triathlon (triathalon), sherbet (sherbert) and many others.

You can find numerous lists of commonly mispronounced words online, and here is one to start you off, from Dianna Booher. I’ve written before about mobile applications that pronounce words for you, and I’ve just discovered another option.

If you type “define:” followed by a word in Google’s search bar, it will show you the definition. I’ve used that shortcut for years, but now I’ve discovered that Google also displays a speaker icon that you can click to hear the word’s pronunciation.

Tell us about a mispronunciation that bothers you or a mistake that you’ve made.

[Image Source: Sharon Mollerus]

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2 responses to “Are you sure that’s how to pronounce that word?

  1. When I don’t know how to pronounce the name of a famous person I’ve read about, I do a search on NPR.org so I can hear how they said it on air.

  2. That’s a good tip. You also could search YouTube for a video of the person saying his or her own name.

    Once a co-worker wasn’t sure how to pronounce the name of another employee to whom he would be presenting an award. I suggested that he call the employee’s phone line after hours, so he could hear on the voice-mail system how the employee pronounced his own name.

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