...And I Say ToMAHto
by Cherie Tucker
There are many regional differences in the way we pronounce certain words or use certain expressions. For whatever historical reasons, Seattle people stand in line and drink pop, but New Yorkers wait on line and drink sodas. They are both right and important things for writers to know. There are also charming mispronunciations or malapropisms our children or friends might use with impunity, such as that of a dear friend of mine who always got “flustrated” or another friend from Italy who would say, “Now, don’t mis me understand.” These kinds of errors can be endearing in people you know, but there are some words that you must avoid mispronouncing around folks who don’t know you, especially while addressing a rapt audience about your best-seller.
Another vs. A whole nother: Watch out for this easy trap. What is a “nother”? Say either another or a whole other.
Across: Look at this word carefully. There is NO “t” at the end. Don’t add one.
Asterisk: This one comes from aster, the Greek word for star. After you say “aster,” say “risk.” There is no x, so you can’t bend this word into “asterix.”
Boutique: In French, the ou combination is pronounced oo, as in Boo! So the word is pronounced boo-teek, not bow-teek. The same rule applies to coupon, pronounced coo-pon, not keyoo-pon.
Et cetera: The first word is et. Say that, then inhale. The next word is set-er-ah. There are four total syllables. If you say ik-set’-ra, don’t.
Height: This word ends with a sharp t, not th. Pronounce it hite, rhymes with night.
Illinois: The s is silent. It’s Illi-noy; rhymes with annoy.
Jewelry: Start with jewel, and then add ree. Do not insert an extra syllable in the middle to make it joo-lah-ree.
Mauve: This one has a long o, not an ah; say mohve not mahve.
Niche: Nich rhymes with itch, really. Neesh is in secondary position in the dictionary, indicating that the first pronunciation is preferred.
Nuclear: Please. New-clee-r not noo-cue-lur. Please.
Often: The t is silent.. Say off-n.
Preventive: Look at this one closely. It’s pre-ven-tive not pre-ven-ta-tive.
Quay: It’s pronounced key.
Realtor®: This one even has an ® and refers to a member of the National Association of Realtors®. It is pronounced like real estate, real-ter, not real-a-tor.
Sherbet: Too many folks add an r to this one. It’s sher-bit. There’s no bert.
Whether writing or speaking, your language should be neutral, so that the readers or the audience can concentrate on your message and not be interrupted by glitches that cause them to wonder about you. Don’t break the spell you are weaving. It ain’t nice.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference. She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well. GrammarWorks@msn.com