Barbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Did I hear that correctly? Clear confusion caused by Miss Pronounce.
Updated: Dec 2, 2022
What is a sure way to lower one’s credibility?
Mispronounce a word with a familiar pronunciation to the audience.
When this happens, “Miss Pronounce” has made an unwelcome appearance.
Miss Pronounce – AKA I really don’t know this word so I’m going to make it obvious by the way I say it.
Let’s face it… many English words are not spoken as their letter combinations would suggest. As in the illustration above – the word knight doesn’t sound like it’s spelled.
Have you ever encountered “Miss Pronounce”? If you’ve said or heard a word pronounced incorrectly, you’ve made her acquaintance. Let’s explore where “Miss Pronounce” is likely to show up, the problems she causes, and how to prevent her appearance.
Miss Pronounce shows up when saying all types of words.
No word is exempt from the potential to be mispronounced. Formal nouns, technical terms, and unfamiliar words top the list of words said incorrectly. Miss Pronounce can show up any time words are spoken.
Formal names and places are often mispronounced. For example, I recall a presenter describing a research study that was done in Tucson, Arizona. Failing to check how to pronounce this well-known city, they called it Tuck-sun rather than Too-son. After that error, it was difficult to trust the rest of what they said.
Unlike Tucson, some locations are well-known for allowing more than one pronunciation. Louisville, Kentucky even has signs and t-shirts listing the multiple pronunciations for Louisville.
Additionally, some everyday words have more than one pronunciation based on where you are from. Take almonds for example. If you’re from the part of California where they are grown, you may call them a-monds, like salmon. Pecans is similar, with two accepted ways to pronounce the a.
Commonly mispronounced foods include acai (ah-sigh-EE) and quinoa (keen-waa).
Are you curious what the most commonly mispronounced words in the English language are? You might be surprised which ones you stumble on.
Miss Pronounce can make us appear ignorant or insensitive.
Mispronouncing a word lowers one’s credibility because if someone doesn’t know how to say a word, do they truly understand it? Even worse, mispronouncing a person’s name can appear disrespectful or insensitive.
In Chapter 34 of Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide, we address the importance of correctly pronouncing someone’s name when introducing a speaker:
“Each person is a unique individual – with a name that is a reflection of that individuality – making someone’s name an important part of an introduction. It is essential to pronounce the speaker’s name correctly in an introduction. If the pronunciation of a speaker’s name is difficult for you, ask the speaker for the correct pronunciation and write it out phonetically if necessary… Correct pronunciation reflects careful preparation.”
Miss Pronounce also can lead to confusion when the mispronounced word is mistaken for another:
Customer: Do you do lemonade?
Clerk: Do we do… lemonade?
Customer: Yes, I was told you do that here.
Clerk: I’m sorry, this is a graphics and print shop.
Customer: I know that. I’m not an idiot!
Clerk: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…
Customer: Look. If you can’t lemonade these papers then I’ll go somewhere else!
Clerk: Do you mean… laminate?!
Miss Pronounce can be prevented with preparation and practice.
Preparation and practice are the best ways to prevent Miss Pronounce from showing up.
How? Look up how to pronounce unfamiliar words. Pronunciations are spelled out phonetically in the dictionary and by using an online dictionary one can listen to the pronunciation. Practice saying the word out loud. Write out the pronunciation to help you not forget how to say it.
If the hard-to-say word has an easier-to-say synonym, use the simpler term. Jargon is considered insider language for many reasons. Mispronunciation is a good reason to avoid jargon.
When it comes to names and places – ask people for help to say them correctly. Then practice saying the name until it comes naturally.
When two or more pronunciations are used interchangeably, acknowledge that and state which one you choose to use.
Miss Pronounce is an easy way to miscommunicate. Effective communication requires proper pronunciation. Prepare - to know how to say it. Practice - to get it right.
“If you can't pronounce a word correctly, just don't use it.” ~ Amanda Seyfried
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