I Now Pronounce You…

As a copywriter, I collaborated from time to time with a friend, a marketing consultant, and we worked as a team. On one occasion, we drove to another city to spend a day with a client – let’s call him Dave.

After the meeting, as we walked back to the car, I asked my colleague, “Did you notice the word that Dave mispronounced repeatedly?” My friend didn’t hesitate. “Lambaste,” he said. Dave had pronounced the second syllable, as many people mistakenly do, with a short A, to rhyme with “fast,” instead of correctly, with a long A, to rhyme with “taste.”

The incident slightly tarnished our opinion of this client. And if you don’t pronounce words properly, your own image and reputation could similarly suffer.

Charles Harrington Elster may be America’s leading expert on pronunciation. At my request, Charlie agreed to share “Elster’s Top 10 Pronunciation Pet Peeves” with you. He wants to make it clear, though, that the following aren’t necessarily listed in order of offensiveness!

1. One of the most frequent mispronunciations, even by presidents and TV personalities and others who should know better, is nuclear as NOO-kyuh-lur. Correct: NOO-klee-ur.

2. The word loath (meaning reluctant) is pronounced differently from loathe (hate). Loath rhymes with oath, while loathe rhymes with clothe.

3. Don’t stress the second syllable in affluent, affluence, and influence. The correct stress is on the first syllable: AF-loo-int, AF-loo-ints, IN-floo-ints.

4. It’s wrong to stress the “or” syllable in mayoral, pastoral, pectoral, and electoral. The correct pronunciations are MAY-urul, PAS-tur-ul, PEK-tur-ul, and eh-LEK-tur-ul.

5. The words foliage and verbiage are pronounced not with two syllables but three. Correct: FOH-lee-ij, VUR-bee-ij.

6. A mispronunciation that’s particularly irritating to Charlie is coupon as KYOO-pahn. Correct: KOO-pahn.

7. In the words succinct, flaccid, and accessory, pronounce the “cc” as X or KS, not as S. Correct: suhk-SINGKT, FLAK-sid, ak-SES-uh-ree.

8. The second-syllable stress in preferable and formidable is not only wrong but pretentious. The stress should be on the first syllable. Correct: PREF-ur-uh-bul, FOR-mih-duh-bul.

9. In negotiate, controversial, and species, pronounce the “ti,” “si,” and “ci,” as SH, not S. Correct: nih-GOH-shee-ayt, kahn-truh-VER-shul, SPEE-sheez.

10. The word forte, meaning a skill or strong point, is commonly mispronounced as for-TAY. Correctly pronounced, it rhymes with port or short. But FOR-tay, with first-syllable stress, is now also acceptable.

Charles Harrington Elster is the author of the quintessential guide The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations. The current second edition paperback contains 200 new entries.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book recently published by AWAI that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]