Words I Might Be Mispronouncing

Every once in a while a word will gain traction in the press, and reporters, pundits, and other authoritative voices will say it over and over again until it becomes embedded in the public’s consciousness. Occasionally the word that bursts to the forefront of our attention is one that I’ve used, or at least heard others use, in casual conversation for years, the only difference being that now the word is pronounced completely differently. As someone who cares about language and tries to use it properly, both in writing and in speech, I’ve grown increasingly concerned by the realization that I could be blithely mispronouncing hundreds of words and won’t be aware of my misdeeds until the media expose me once again by the new big news.

It all started in the early nineties during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings and the coinciding Anita Hill sexual harassment scandal. For the first 24 years of my life I had thought that the word was pronounced huh-RASS-munt, only to discover that everyone in the media had decided, seemingly on a whim, to start calling it HAIR-us-ment.

The most recent example of the media turning the pronunciation tables on me came with the fighting between Israel and Lebanon. I had the mistaken impression that the Islamic group was pronounced HEZ-bull-uh, but I had to drive that one out of my mind and start referring to the freedom fighters terrorist organization radical Islamic group as hez-BOWL-uh.

the State of Qatar
now pronounced KOT-er

Another Middle Eastern pronunciation shift was the country Qatar — previously kuh-TAR, but now KOT-er, as in “Welcome Back…” (note: you probably need to be at least 35 years old to understand that joke). And don’t even get me started on Al Qaeda, which changes pronunciation about as often as my daughter Lucy changes her clothes (about four or five times a day).

I’m not sure when it happened, but the African country NI-jur turned into nee-ZHAIR and anyone wishing to pay tribute no longer gives an AH-muj but an oh-MOZH. I just can’t keep up.

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7 Responses to Words I Might Be Mispronouncing

  1. Brian says:

    Karl,
    I’ve actually heard/read that the proper pronunciation for Qatar is something between ‘CUT-er’ and ‘GUT-er’
    Welcome Back Gutter

  2. Karl says:

    Brian, you’re too funny! I’m not surprised at all, though, that you heard it was pronounced Gut-er. Just reinforces my point, doesn’t it?

  3. Debbi says:

    I thought that I was the only one bothered by the “harassment!” It drove me nuts! I think some dumb reporter accidently mispronounced it on the monitor and then everyone else just jumped on it. I read in my Official Book Of Ching, that in China, they are actually changing the written form of writing so that when read in English, it will be pronounced correctly. Hear that all you people who call it Tofu? It is really “Dofu!”

  4. Johnny says:

    “GUT-er” is close to how the average Gulf Arabic speaker would say it, although I realize that in pointing this out I’ve sort of missed the point of the article, which is the humor of it all.

  5. Terri says:

    So many common mispronounced words drive me crazy..like comparable and advertisment. I shudder everytime I see judgment spelled with that extra “e”, and my favorite shudder was hearing Don Rather use irregardless. Regardless of the fact that our so-called experts choose to add these errors to dictionaries creating the illusion of legitimacy.. If usage makes something legit, it would certainly nullify all that idiotic political correctness crap.

  6. Jessica says:

    I think, misponounciation is a common thing in all countries. Besides, take into account globalization. There are so many immigrants who mispronounce English words and often influence the normal pronounciation of native speakers. But I agree with Terri about ads. It does drive me crazy!

  7. Melody says:

    Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary provides both pronounciations of the word harass (which I hear in my head as harass. But as I listened to it, I realized that in the context of media, this could be a minefield. Have you noticed that in a quirky onomatopoetic extension harass sounds like the very thing it might be objectifying: her ass? Maybe they want avoid any potential confusion or further charges of speculating about (what) her ass meant.

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