More Than Regional Differences

by Cherie Tucker


I once told a Seattle visitor that he had picked a good day to come here because all the mountains were out.  He looked at me and asked what we said about them when they weren’t out.  Did we say they were “in”?  I told him we didn’t talk about them then.  There are many regional sayings like that.  A friend from Alabama was always “fixin’ to do” something.  And everyone has heard a Southerner say “y’all” or someone from Boston say he went to “Havahd.”

These regional pronunciations and expressions are useful to movie producers who need to use dialogue to establish a character’s background.  But mispronunciations that are not confined to a region may come across as mistakes or lead to misspelling or wrong word choices in your writing.  There are many, but these are some common errors that you should be sure you aren’t guilty of.

·      Across:  There is no “t” at the end.  Ever.

·      Boutique:  Say boo-teek, not bow-teek.

·      Et cetera:  There is no “k” in the first word.  It’s not ikcetra; say all four syllables: et-cet-er-a.

·      Height:  Notice that it ends with a spoken “t”; there is no “th” there.

·      Mischievous:  Say miss-chv-us, NOT miss-cheev-vee-us.

·      Often:  The “t” is silent.  It’s off’n, NOT off-ten.

·      Sherbet:  Notice that there is only one “r” here.  Say sher-bit.

·      Tack:  A sailing term that means to change direction.  Often confused with tact.

·      Tact:  Pronounce the final “t” when meaning “careful not to offend.” 

You certainly can use the wrong ones to illustrate your character’s background or unusual speech patterns.  I had a dear friend who got charmingly “flustrated.” It made us all smile.  Keep these mistakes in your intentional dialogues to develop your characters, but do not make them when accepting your awards.

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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.

William Kenower