In an earlier installment of “The Language Perfectionist,” I presented a list of the most commonly mispronounced words, courtesy of Charles Harrington Elster, a leading expert on pronunciation. In that column, I pointed out that if you don’t pronounce words properly, your image and reputation could suffer.

That Top Ten list, however, hardly exhausted the roster of words that are frequently mangled. So I asked Charlie for a sequel. He emphasizes that the following list, like the previous one, isn’t necessarily in order of offensiveness.

  • Pronouncing the “t” in often. Say AWF-in, not AWF-tin.
  • Rhyming assuage with massage. Correct: uh-SWAYJ (rhymes with “a sage”), not uh-SWAHZH.
  • Putting a spurious “beast” in bestial. Say BES-chul, not BEES-chul or BEES-chee-ul. The word has two syllables, not three.
  • Inserting an extraneous “moment” in memento. Pronounce it muh-MEN-toh, not moh-MEN-toh.
  • Pronouncing height as if it were highth or height-th. The word rhymes with “right.”
  • Stressing the “par” instead of the “dis” in disparate. It’s DIS-puh-rit, not dis-PAR-it.
  • Putting a “he” or a “he nee” in heinous. Say HAY-nus, not HEE-nus or HEE-nee-us.
  • Finally, two pronunciation crimes often committed in courtrooms: saying “or” at the end of juror and “ant” at the end of defendant. It’s JOOR-ur, not JOOR-or and dih-FEN-dint, not dih-FEN-dant.

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

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Thanks again, Charlie. You have our GRAT-uh-tood!

[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.]

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Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years.
He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic.
Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World’s Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.”
He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993).
Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise.
Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.

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