We’re all been there. We’re happily living our lives, doing that talking thing that we’ve become pretty comfortable with, when – WHAM! – our whole vocabulary is thrown into question in the face of public humiliation, as a horde of people (it’s always when there’s a large volume of people around) fight over telling you that you’ve made a word boo boo. You then go through the horrible realisation that you’ve been living your whole life repeating this word wrongly, and heck, who knows what else?!
On a less dramatic scale, more often then not you’ve been watching the telly, and happen to overhear something that makes you go “huh”. But secretly, you’re glad that you experienced the revelation in private, and you make a note to yourself to fit it into conversation at your earliest convenience.
So, if you’ve ever had a bit of public blunder, private revelation, or plain OMG moment over a wily word, you might appreciate my top 10 , which I’ve seen both flummox, and been flummoxed by myself.
How you want to pronounce it: qwin-oh-ah
How it’s actually pronounced: keen-wha
Ever since I found out about this one (shamefully, merely a few months ago), I honestly can’t stop saying it, most probably out of sheer perplexity. It’s not uncommon that I desperately find a tenuous link in conversation, just so I can say it out loud to reaffirm its existence from the reaction of other people.
And do you know what? I’ve never even tasted quinoa in my life. BOMBSHELL.
How you want to pronounce it: mow-ay
How it’s actually pronounced: mow-ette
Before you start arguing – I’m going to stop you right there and burst that massive champagne bubble. It’s unequivocally ‘mowette’.
Indeed, the winery’s founder, Claude Moët, was of Dutch heritage, and pronounced his name with a hard ‘t’. So if anyone scoffs the next time you offer them a glass of “mowette” (that is if you find yourself offering someone Moët often – I certainly don’t), you have my – and Claude Moët’s – permission to snootily correct them.
How you want to pronounce it: miln-gah-vee
How it’s actually pronounced: mull-guy
If you live in Scotland, you’ve probably wanted to smash your head against the wall every time you see a signpost for this particular problematic Scottish town, when it comes to pronunciation.
Nope, I don’t know why it’s pronounced like that either.
How you want to pronounce it: caw-lawn-el
How it’s actually pronounced: kurn-el
How you want to pronounce it: brush-eh-ta
How it’s actually pronounced: brus-ke-ta
I know, I’m butchering beautiful Italian, but I’m sticking with brush-etta. It sounds softer and – well, that’s my only reason. Yep, I may be head over heels for tasty, toasted Italian bread drenched in olive oil any day of the week, but just don’t ask me to do the ordering.
Italy, you can keep your hard ‘c’ on this one. I’ll keep eating all your delicious food.
How you want to pronounce it: hi-coff
How it’s actually pronounced: hi-cup
Four seemingly inconspicuous letters, EIGHT different pronunciations. The ‘ough’ combination in the English language is one cruel blighter. ‘Hiccough’ has to be the cost ridiculous one at all. WHERE DOES ‘CUP’ COME FROM?! It’s simply madness.
Oh, by the way, if you’ve been mentally counting up the different ‘ough’ pronunciations in your head there, let’s pause for a mini midway lesson:
- though (like o in go)
- through (like oo in too)
- cough (like off in offer)
- rough (like uff in suffer)
- plough (like ow in flower)
- ought (like aw in saw)
- borough (like a in above)
- Hiccough (like up in up)
How you want to pronounce it: pot-poo-ri
How it’s actually pronounced: po-poo-ree
We’re all partial to a sniff of those lovely perfumed dried petals and spices in the more refined of homes (I’ve yet to achieve that milestone in my life), so don’t make a faux pas when it comes to complimenting the host on their ‘pot-poo-ri”s fragrance. Get ready to rewire your brain and get to grips with the firs two syllables – it’s ‘po-poo-ree’ ladies and gents.
Much classier, wouldn’t you say?
How you want to pronounce it: loo-ten-ant
How it’s actually pronounced: left-ten-ant
Were they smoking potpourri when they came up with this one?!
This word was originally formed from two Latin terms; ‘locum’ meaning ‘in place of’, and ‘teneris’ meaning ‘holding’, so combined meaning “holding in place of” someone else. Over time the word ‘locum’ evolved into the French word “lieu”. It’s speculated that when the English heard the French pronounce the compound word ‘lieutenant’, they heard a ‘v’ or ‘f’ sound between the first and second syllables. And alas, we’ve settled on that pronunciation even since.
How you want to pronounce them: feb-roo-ah-ree/wed-nes-day
How it’s actually pronounced: feb-u-ary/ wed-ns-day
If you don’t mentally say ‘feb-roo-ah-ree’ and ‘wed-nes-day’ every time you write the date, I wholly recommend you do it right now. I challenge you not to feel that it’s infinitely more fun to say. And no, now you’ll never be able to get it our of your head. You’re welcome.
How you want to pronounce it: puhye
How it’s actually pronounced: pwee
It may be French, and as a French speaker myself I should have been able to master this one without to much conviction, but this one trips my brain up every time I see it. It doesn’t look French, doesn’t feel French and I don’t want it to be. Now pass me the puhye lentils please.
How you want to pronounce it: cumpf-ter-bull
How it’s actually pronounced: com-for-table
Quite simply, uncumpfterbull with the state of affairs here.
AND HERE’S ONE YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST START PRONOUNCING CORRECTLY…
How you want to pronounce it: ex-press-oh
How it’s actually pronounced: ess-press-oh
Please heed this plea and end the madness. If only for my sanity at least. There’s no ‘x’, there never was. Ever. Shhhh. Stop it.
Go on, let me know what you would add to the list and at the same time probably let me know what else I’m saying wrong.