List of words of disputed pronunciation

From Academic Kids

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The following is a list of words and names which are often pronounced by native speakers of the English language in ways which many others consider to be incorrect. In some cases, speakers disagree on how to pronounce borrowed foreign words; in other cases, the dispute arises from the effect of spelling on a word not pronounced as it is spelled. Many heated arguments are disagreements between the residents of a place and outsiders on how to pronounce the name of a place.

Note: 'AHD' is the American Heritage Dictionary. 'M-W' is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (American). 'K&K' is A Pronouncing Dictionary of American English by John S. Kenyon and Thomas A. Knott. 'OED' is the Oxford English Dictionary. 'EEPD' is Everyman's English Pronouncing Dictionary by Daniel Jones (revised by A. C. Gimson, 14th edn., 1977), which focuses on RP. 'LPD' is the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (1st edn., 1990) by John C. Wells, which provides both RP and General American (GenAm) pronunciations. 'MQD' is the Macquarie Dictionary (Australian). Some data come from the 1998 LPD pronunciation preference poll (http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/wells/poll98.htm) of British speakers; this is indicated by PPP below.

Note: The pronunciations below are displayed in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). See International Phonetic Alphabet for English for information on how to decipher the different phonetic symbols. Some pronunciations are subdivided into (a) GenAm (rhotic, with flat A in words like bath, ask, and the father-bother merger) and (b) RP (nonrhotic, with broad A and no father-bother merger). The differences between (a) and (b) forms are generally not the differences under discussion. Rhotic pronunciations are given first in these cases for consistency. This does not imply that rhotic pronunciations are preferred or are the local pronunciation in the case of place names.


Contents: top - 0-9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A

  • applicable - (1) , (2) .
    PPP gives 84% preference for (1) vs. 16% preference for (2); an earlier poll reported in LPD gives 77% for (1) and 23% for (2). American dictionaries (AH, K&K, M-W) give (2) first; OED gives only (2).
  • arctic - (1)(a) (b) , (2)(a) (b)
    The debate is whether or not the <ct> cluster is pronounced [kt] or just [t]. M-W lists both, with (1) first, but OED only lists (2) while noting that the oldest spelling (dating from the 14th century) is Artik, implying that (1) is the older pronunciation. EEPD lists only (2). LPD lists both for both British and American English, but marks (1) as "considered incorrect" for British. K&K list both but mark (1) as "now rare". Generally, the same pronunciation for the <ct> cluster is used for both arctic and antarctic. However, M-W lists (2) first for antarctic.
  • Arkansas - (1)(a) (b) , (2)(a) (b)
    Arkansas is the name of both a state and a river. (1) is commonly used for both the state and the river, and (2) is usually used only for the river. Some insist (2) is the only correct pronunciation for the river. In the state of Kansas, (2) is often used to refer to the state, as well.
  • ask - (1)(a) [æsk] (b) , (2)(a) , (b)
    (1)(a) is the standard North American pronunciation, and (1)(b) is the standard pronunciation in other English-speaking countries. (2)(a) is common in the U.S., especially in AAVE, but is considered nonstandard. Most dictionaries do not list pronunciation (2)(a), but M-W does, although it is labeled dialectal. (2)(b) is listed in LPD, labeled "considered incorrect". The variation between and in this word dates back to Old English, where both āscian and ācsian are found. According to OED, ax was the regular literary form until nearly 1600.
  • associate (verb) and association - (1) and , (2)
    OED gives only (2) for the verb and lists (2) first for the noun. K&K lists only (2) for the verb and lists (1) first for the noun, noting, "It is doubtful which of these two prons. prevails." M-W lists (1) first for both verb and noun. EEPD, AHD, and LPD list (2) first for the verb and (1) first for the noun. PPP indicates a 69-31% preference for (1) in the verb and a 78-22% preference for (1) in the noun.

B

  • Boise - (1) , (2)
    (2) is the pronunciation used by locals, but (1) is more common outside of Idaho. Only (2) is listed in K&K.
  • booth - (1) , (2) . (1) predominates in America, being the only pronunciation listed in AHD and M-W, the first pronunciation listed in K&K, and the only pronunciation listed for American English by LPD. (2) predominates in Britain, being the only pronunciation listed in OED and EEPD, and the first pronunciation listed for British English by LPD. PPP shows a 62-38% preference for (2), but indicates that (1) is preferred in Scotland.

C

  • cafe, café - (1) , (2) , (3) , (4)
    (1), with the stress on the second syllable, is most common in the U.S., and American dictionaries list it as the only possible pronunciation. (2), with the stress on the first syllable, is most common outside the U.S., and is listed in both the OED and the MQD. (3) is listed in both OED and MQD for the word caff, which is defined as colloquial or jocular slang for cafe. MQD labels (4) as a humorous pronunciation for cafe. LPD says (3) and (4) are used in RP only facetiously.
  • Caribbean - (1) (2)
    Most dictionaries list both pronunciations as acceptable, but PPP shows a 91-9% preference for (1). The Disneyland ride (and related entertainment offerings) "Pirates of the Caribbean" is pronounced with (1). It is sometimes suggested to use (1) for the noun (as in Pirates of the Caribbean) and (2) for the adjective (a Caribbean island), but there is no etymological reason to support such a distinction.
  • Chinese -
    Most dictionaries list only the pronunciation with stress on the second syllable. Some recommend stressing both syllables, a rare exception. K&K and LPD note that stress may shift to the first syllable when an initially stressed word follows, as in the phrase Chinese cabbage.
  • controversy - (1)(a) (b) , (2)
    (1) is listed in all dictionaries. (2), with stress on the second syllable, is listed as an optional British pronunciation, even in American dictionaries like M-W, although notably, (2) is not listed in OED. EEPD and LPD list (1) first. According to LPD, a poll among British speakers reveals a 56-44% preference for (2); the later PPP gives a 60-40% preference for (2) (probably not a significant difference, as this question had a high abstention rate).
  • coupon - (1)(a) (b) , (2)(a) (b) .
    (1) is listed first in AHD, K&K, and M-W. (1) is the only listing in EEPD and OED. (2) is marked "considered incorrect" in LPD. PPP shows a 94-6% preference for (1).

E

  • envelope - (1) , (2)(a) (b)
    Most dictionaries list (1) and then (2). K&K call (2) "pseudo-French", pointing out that the actual French pronunciation is . A survey of British speakers reported in LPD shows a 78-22% preference for (1).
  • equinox - (1)(a) (b) , (2)
    (2) predominates in dictionaries: K&K lists only (2), and AHD, EEPD, LPD, M-W, and OED list (2) first. But PPP shows a 92-8% preference for (1).
  • err - (1)(a) (b) , (2)(a) (b) .
    (1) rhymes with 'her', (2) is homophonous with 'air'. Most American dictionaries list both (1) and (2) although some list (2) before (1). OED, K&K, EEPD, and MQD only list (1). LPD lists (1) first for BrE, marking (2) "non-RP", but lists (2) first for AmE. At least in the U.S. (2) is heard much more often than (1).
  • evolution - (1)(a) (b) also , (2) .
    (1) predominates in America: K&K and M-W list only (1), LPD lists only (1) for American English, and AHD lists (1) first. (2) predominates in Britain: (2) is listed first in LPD for British English and in EEPD, and PPP indicates an 85-15% preference for (2). But PPP says (1) is on the increase, and (1) is listed first in OED.

F

  • February - (1) , (2)
    (1) and (2) are listed in North American dictionaries and LPD, and (2) alone in other non–North American dictionaries. Strict prescriptivists insist on (2), with both 'r's pronounced. However, (1) is most common and accepted by most. M-W has this comment: "Dissimilation may occur when a word contains two identical or closely related sounds, resulting in the change or loss of one of them. This happens regularly in February, which is more often pronounced (1) than (2), though all of these variants are in frequent use and widely accepted." PPP indicates a 61-39% preference for (2), indicating however that this reflects "a sharp rise in /j/" compared with earlier surveys.
  • forehead - (1)(a) (b) , (2)(a) (b) .
    (1) is the older pronunciation, which rhymes with horrid (cf. the nursery rhyme There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead/And when she was good she was very, very good, but she when she was bad she was horrid), (2) is a newer spelling pronunciation. OED, EEPD, K&K, LPD, and M-W list (1) first; AHD lists (2) first. PPP shows a 65-35% preference for (2).
  • forte - (1)(a) (b) , (2)(a) (b) , (3)(a) (b)
    The pronunciation of forte when it means one's strength or strong point, is disputed. M-W has this comment about usage: "In forte we have a word derived from French that in its 'strong point' sense has no entirely satisfactory pronunciation. Usage writers have denigrated (2) and (3) because they reflect the influence of the Italian-derived forte. Their recommended pronunciation (1), however, does not exactly reflect French either: the French would write the word le fort and would rhyme it with English for. So you can take your choice, knowing that someone somewhere will dislike whichever variant you choose. All are standard, however." LPD lists (2) as preferred in BrE and (1) as preferred in AmE. K&K lists only (1).

G

  • garage - (1) , (2) , (3) , (4) , (5).
    (1) and (2) are the only pronunciations used in America; (1) is consistently listed before (2) in dictionaries. OED lists only (3) and (5), in that order. EEPD lists all five, giving (4) first and qualifying (1) and (2) with "occasionally". LPD gives the order (3), (4), (5); (1), (2) for British English. PPP shows a 39% preference for (5), 31% for (4), 25% for (3), and 5% for (1) and (2) together.
  • genealogy (and related words) - (1) , (2)(a) (b) .
    (1) is the historical pronunciation and reflects the spelling; it is listed by all dictionaries. AHD and M-W list both forms but (2) is listed first by both. In British English, form (2) is regarded as a simple mispronunciation and most British dictionaries list only form (1). LPD lists (2) for British English, but marks it as "considered incorrect". (2) has been influenced by the large number of words in -ology.
  • gigabyte - (1) , (2) , (3) , (4)
    The giga- prefix, derived originally from Greek γιγας (="giant"), has been traditionally pronounced as in (2), but (1) today is much more common at least in the United States. Most dictionaries include both (1) and (2) as acceptable pronunciations, and some dictionaries include (3) and (4) as well.
  • golf - (1)(a) (b) , (2) , (3)(a) (b) , (4) , (5) , (6)
    (1) Is the preferred pronunciation in all dictionaries. (2)–(6) are less common variants listed in various dictionaries.
  • guillotine - (1) , (2)
    (2) is the main pronunciation used when the word was first adopted around the time of the French revolution, and, (1) with no l pronounced, has been labelled a "pseudo-French affectation" by pronunciation commentator Charles Harrington Elster in his Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations, but is recognized by most dictionaries and is frequently heard. K&K list only (2).

H

  • Hans - (1) , (2) , (3)
    The standard German pronunciation of this name is , and the vowel is short. The closest English pronunciation is thus (1). However, the German vowel is distinct from and so some English speakers use the front vowel (rhyming with scans). In some dialects, the phone corresponding to is too high, and so they pronounce the name (3), which is usually with an elongated vowel (rhyming with pawns), similar to a pronunciation found in some southern German dialects.
  • harass - (1) (2)
    The debate is whether stress should occur on the first or second syllable. Most dictionaries list both pronunciations. AHD has this usage note: "Educated usage appears to be evenly divided on the pronunciation of harass. In a recent survey 50 percent of the Usage Panel preferred stressing the first syllable, while 50 percent preferred stressing the second. Curiously, the Panelists' comments appear to indicate that each side regards itself as an embattled minority." Even as early as K&K (published 1953) it was noted that the newer pronunciation (1) "appears to be on the increase". According to LPD, (2) is the traditional educated and RP pronunciation, with (1) being introduced to Britain from America in the 1970s (see Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em); a poll among British speakers cited in LPD revealed 68% for (2) against 32% for (1).
  • Hawaii or Hawai‘i - (1) , (2) , (3) , (4) , (5)
    (1) is the Hawaiian pronunciation. The w is a labiodental approximant , which may vary to and , and is rendered in English as both (2, 3) and (4, 5). The ‘okina is a glottal stop . Hawaiian is rendered in English either as (2, 4) or (3, 5). All pronunciations are standard, although the varieties with are probably more common.

I

  • Illinois - (1) , (2) , (3)
    The name of the state is usually pronounced with (1) or (2) by the locals (with either a short i or a schwa for the second "i"), although many view (2) as incorrect. (3) is often used by people outside the state as a jocular pronunciation.
  • Iran - (1) , (2) , (3)
    (1) is the preferred pronunciation in most dictionaries, and the only pronunciation listed in OED. MQD lists (2) first. (3) is considered uneducated or unacceptable to some, but is listed first by K&K, followed by (1). (3) is the pronunciation which is least like the original Farsi pronunciation .
  • Iraq - (1) , (2) , (3)
    (1) is the preferred pronunciation in most dictionaries, and the only pronunciation listed in OED. MQD lists (2) first. (3) is considered uneducated or unacceptable to some. It is the pronunciation which is least like the original Arabic pronunciation .
  • Islam - (1) , (2) , (3)
    (1) is closest to Arabic. (2), (3), and other variations with , , and stress on the first syllable are all common, however.

K

  • kilometer - (1)(a) (b) , (2)(a) (b)
    EEPD, K&K, OED list (2) first. AHD and M-W list (1) first. LPD gives (1) first for American English, (2) first for British English. OED says (1) is "prob. under the influence of such words as speedometer, thermometer, etc." but notes that (1) is the stress given by Webster (1828), Craig, and Cassell. K&K says (1) is "much less frequent". A 1988 poll of British speakers cited in LPD shows a 52-48% preference for (2), but PPP (ten years later) shows a 57-43% preference for (1).
  • Kyoto - (1) , (2)
    The Japanese pronunciation of the name of this city is . Thus (1) is the English pronunciation most like the original Japanese. (2), however, is more common, as syllables beginning with are infrequent in English (unless the following vowel is , e.g. cute) and are often broken into two syllables.

L

  • length and strength - (1) and , (2) and
    (1) is the more prestigious pronunciation and is the only pronunciation given in older dictionaries. In newer dictionaries (1) is listed first, with (2) given as a variant. (2) is traditionally stigmatized but may be gaining acceptance: the 1998 PPP shows an overall 84-16% preference for (1), but among speakers born since 1973 the preference for (2) rises to 30%.
  • Lima - (1) , (2)
    The capital of Peru is usually pronounced (1) (similar to the Spanish), although sometimes it is pronounced (2), which is how the bean and the city in Ohio are pronounced.
  • Linux (1) (2) (3) (4)
    A source of much debate on the internet, the "correct" pronunciation of Linux is not something likely to ever be settled. The person for whom the operating system is named, Linus Torvalds, is a Swedish-speaking Finn, and offers his take, both in audio [1] (http://www.paul.sladen.org/pronunciation/) and prose [2] (http://www.shortfamilyonline.com/tech/unix/history-of-linux/reference/23-Apr-1992-re-how-to-pronounce-linux.html). Neither provides an entirely satisfactory answer, as the language barrier gets in the way. The fundamental problem is that both English and Swedish have both tense and lax variants of the high vowels: and . However, the vowels are located somewhat differently in the vowel space, and Swedish and are phonetically more similar to English and , respectively. So when Linus Torvalds says (Swedish) , it sounds to English speakers like (English) . So, depending on whether a phonetically accurate or phonemically accurate borrowing from Swedish is intended, either (1) or (2) is legitimate. However, when Linus Torvalds describes the pronunciation in terms of English words and uses English words with the short (or lax) vowels, one might conclude that his intention is for Linux to be pronounced with those vowels in English, as (1). (4) is simply a result of the standard phonological process in English of reducing unstressed vowels to schwa, and is thus a more English-sounding version of (1). Phonetically the difference between unstressed and schwa is very slight. (3) is based on the English pronunciation of Torvalds's first name Linus and has the added merit that it is the only pronunciation which respects the (admittedly unreliable) phonics rule, "When a syllable ends in any vowel and is the only vowel, that vowel is usually long" (hence pa/per, o/pen, u/nix).
  • loch - (1)(a) (b) ; (2)(a) (b)
    This Scots word for lake is pronounced by most English speakers as (1), with a final , as the voiceless velar fricative is not normally in the sound inventory of English. Scots, however, and those English speakers who have acquired [x] for words like 'Chanukah' and 'Bach', will pronounce it as (2).
  • Louisville - (1) , (2)
    Local pronunciation in Kentucky is (2), although this may just reflect a local dialectal tendency to reduce unstressed s to schwa. (1) is listed first in most dictionaries.

M

  • Melbourne - (1)(a) (b) , (2)(a) (b)
    (1) is the usual pronunciation for Melbourne, Australia, and for Melbourne, Florida. (Locals of the Australian city under 30 may also say ; most Australians of course use the non-rhotic pronunciation and most Americans the rhotic one). (2), with an unreduced vowel in the second syllable, is listed in LPD as the pronunciation for the places in Cambridgeshire and Derbyshire, England.
  • Moray - (1)(a) (b) , (2) , (3) , (4) , (5) , (6)
    (1a, b) (like Murray in Britain and America respectively) is how the name of the Scottish region is pronounced. (2)-(6) are all pronunciations given by M-W, K&K, LPD, OED, and MQD for how the name of the eel is pronounced.
  • mores - (1) , (2) , (3)
    Most dictionaries list (1), and some have (2), with stress on the second syllable, as an acceptable alternative. No major dictionary lists (3) as an acceptable pronunciation, and it is considered uneducated usage.
  • mortgage - (1) , (2)
    The "intrusive" in (2) is a spelling pronunciation, and is not listed as an acceptable pronunciation in any dictionary. (1) is standard.

N

  • Nahuatl - (1) , (2) , (3) .
    (1) is the native pronunciation. (2) is an English approximation of the native syllable structure. (3) (rhymes with bottle) is an American English approximation of the native sequence of points of articulation. (3) is the pronunciation given by M-W, AHD, OED (for American English), and the Oxford American Dictionary.
  • nuclear - (1)(a) (b) , (2)(a) (b) .
    (2) is generally considered nonstandard and often brings derision on those who use it — more at nucular. PPP shows 6% preference for "nucular".

O

  • och, a Scottish cry of affirmation, should be pronounced , with the velar fricative, like in 'loch'.
  • often - (1)(a) (b) , (2)(a) (b) . Some dictionaries list (2) as the preferred British pronunciation, although according to LPD a poll among British speakers revealed 73% preferred (1) and only 27% (2). Most post-1990 American dictionaries list both pronunciations, but some pre-1990 dictionaries list only (1).
  • Oregon - (1)(a) (b) , (2)(a) (b)
    Residents of this U.S. state pronounce it as (1), and regard alternatives with secondary stress on the final syllable, such as (2), as incorrect, although that pronunciation is common outside of Oregon, particularly in states far away from Oregon.

P

  • paella - (1) , (2) , (3)
    (1) is approximately how it is pronounced in Spanish. (2) is the closest English approximation to the Spanish. (3) (with the /l/ pronounced) is the most common pronunciation given in dictionaries.
  • patronize - (1) , (2)
    (1) predominates in Britain: OED and EEPD list only (1), and LPD lists only (1) for British English. PPP shows a 97-3% preference for (1). (2) predominates in America: AHD, K&K, and M-W list (2) first, and LPD lists only (2) for American English.
  • pianist - (1) , (2)
    American dictionaries generally list both (1) and (2), with (1) first. OED and MQD list only (2). LPD lists (1) first for AmE, (2) first for BrE. Some speakers insist on (1) as a form of taboo avoidance, since (2) may be confused with penis.
  • primer - (1)(a) (b) , (2)(a) , (b)
    American English distinguishes the meaning relating to paint or explosives with (1), from the meaning "introductory book" (as in grammar primer) with (2). British English uses (1) for both meanings.
  • privacy - (1) , (2)
    In general, (1) is preferred in British English, (2) in American English.

Q

  • Qatar - (1) , (2) , (3) , (4)(a) (b) , (5)(a) (b) , (6)(a) (b)
    (1) is approximately how it is pronounced in Arabic. (2) is thus the most straighforward approximation using sounds of English, although is very uncommon at the end of words. (4)(sounds like cutter) is the next closest approximation, and (3) (sounds like cotter) is similar to (4) except it uses the vowel as the spelling might imply, instead of a vowel normally associated with the letter <u>. (5) (sounds like gutter) is commonly heard because several Arabic dialects pronounce as [3] (http://ling.ucsd.edu/~rose/Semitic%20Languages/Phonetics.ppt) and to some ears, English sounds closer to Arabic than English does and . Finally, (6) (sounds like guitar with initial ), with stress on the second syllable, is often heard. Word stress does not work the same way in Arabic as it does in English, so choosing which syllable to stress in a borrowed word can vary.

R

  • realtor - (1)(a) (b) , (2)(a) (b)
    (1) is the "correct" pronunciation (it is a trademark, and thus how it is to be pronounced can be defined by the trademark holder) (2) is listed in M-W, but it is marked as a disputed or substandard pronunciation. American English only, British English uses estate agent.
  • reich - (1) , (2) , (3) , (4)
    The German pronunciation is approximately like (1), and the closest pronunciation using sounds of English is (3), which is the most common pronunciation. Some English speakers have the [x] sound (like in 'loch' and 'Chanukah') and so may produce (2). (4) is uncommon, but is how composer Steve Reich pronounces his name.

S

  • Saddam - (1) , (2) , (3)
    (1) is closest to the Arabic. (2) and (3) are more anglicised pronunciations.
  • schedule - (1) , (2) , (3) , (4)
    OED gives (1) and , and gives (2) as a U.S. pronunciation. EEPD gives only (1). LPD lists them in the order (1), (3), (2), (4) for British English but gives only (4) for American English. K&K and M-W give (4) but include (1) as the British pronunciation. AHD gives (4) and .
  • señor - (1) , (2)(a) (b) , (3)(a) (b)
    This Spanish word for mister is pronounced (1) in Spanish. (2) is the English approximation. The letter <> is usually pronounced in English, and (3), with a plain , is not listed as an acceptable pronunciation in any major dictionary.
  • Shrewsbury - (1) , (2)
    This English town can be pronounced either (1) or (2), though LPD marks (1) as "non-RP". (2) sounds as though the town were spelled Shrowsbury (ow as in show).
  • strength - See "length" above

T

  • temperature - (1)(a) (b) , (2)(a) (b) , (3)(a) (b) , (4)(a) (b)
    (1) is the pronunciation given by OED. (2) is the pronunciation given by most American dictionaries and by LPD. (3) and (4) represent common processes of schwa-deletion and vowel-r metathesis, respectively. All are common and acceptable, although (1) is probably more common in Britain than in the U.S.

U

  • Uranus - (1) (2)
    Most dictionaries list both (1) and (2). (1) is historically the older pronunciation and reflects the first-syllable stress of the original Latin word. It is the only pronunciation given by K&K, and the first pronunciation given by LPD. It is possible that (2) began as a form of taboo avoidance because (1) sounds like urinous, but if so, the euphemism was hardly successful as (2) can be homophonous with your anus.

V

  • valet - (1) , (2)
    (1) is the more common pronunciation in the U.S., while (2) is preferred in Britain. K&K call (1) "pseudo-French", pointing out that the word has been in English with pronunciation (2) since the mid-16th century.

W

  • Washington - (1) , (2)
    (1) is the most common pronunciation, but there is a tendency in American midlands dialects to insert an "intrusive" between and , giving (2) for the first syllable of Washington, and for the word wash.
  • Worcester - (1) , (2) , (3) , (4)
    (1), without either 'r' being pronounced, is the pronunciation insisted upon both by residents of the county town of Worcestershire in England and of Worcester, Massachusetts. (2) and (3), however are more common among speakers of rhotic dialects of English. (4) is often heard from those who are not familiar with the name, but it is not pronounced that way by locals of any of the places that bear the name.

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