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How did you say that word?
Feb 17, 2012

 

Many a word we run across in print is almost never spoken aloud. An example is “mien.”
I have never heard anyone use mien in conversation. People are far more likely to mention someone’s “demeanor,” or, “appearance,” or “attitude.” 
Why? 
Since we all know the meaning of the word, why don’t we use it?
I imagine it’s because we’re unsure of mien’s pronunciation — MEEN. In fact, mien is one of the words listed in Words Most Often Misspelled and Mispronounced, by Ruth Gleeson and James Colvin.
Unlike mien, “desultory” often pops up in speech and, just as often, is mispronounced. Oxford defines this word as, “jumping from one thing to another; random; rambling; devious,” and tells us it is pronounced DEZ-ull-TOR-ee, not dez-ULL-tory.
Another word found in Words Most Often Misspelled and Mispronounced is “asphalt,” which is pronounced AS-fault, not ASH-fault. And “aegis” is EE-jis, not AE-jis.
Even so, the book about misspelled and mispronounced words is a U.S. publication compiled by American authors. That means some official pronunciations are open to question.
“Acumen” is one of these. Our U.S. source says the correct way to say acumen is a-KOO-men. Oxford disagrees, giving the correct pronunciation as a-CUE-men. Since Canadians are neither here nor there regarding British vs. American pronunciations, I suppose we’re free to choose either way to say acumen. Just make sure the stress falls on the second syllable, not the first.
The U.S. pronunciation of “schedule” is SKED-yule. The British way is SHED-you-al.
“Redolent” is RED-oh-lent (U.S.), but RED-lent (British).
During the Second World War, when we endured “rationing,” Canadians said RASH-un. South of the 49th parallel, our allies said RAY-shun.
It’s sad, but true, that some words have mispronunciations inflicted upon them by someone considered important. When people hear this mistake, they assume that since the speaker is a public personage, he must know how to say the words he uses. After that, the incorrectness is adopted by everyone.
“Iraq” is a case in point. The name of this country was mangled by George W. Bush who always said EYE-RAK. Although U.S. media decried this error and have generally been careful about saying that initial “I” as in “dim,” ordinary Americans followed their president’s example. Today, studies indicate that the majority of Americans say EYE-RAK. We easily see this in movies about that war and in many TV programs.
In old dictionaries, American or otherwise, “covert” is pronounced CUV-urt, like “cover” with an added “t.” By 1954, many Americans, but not yet Canadians, were saying KOE-vert, and the word appeared in U.S. dictionaries with two “correct” spellings.
At the beginning of the Gulf War (1990-91), U.S. government representatives spoke of Iraq’s KOE-vert arms accumulation. By the end of that conflict, radio and TV journalists everywhere were also saying KOE-vert. By 1997, the Nelson Canadian Dictionary offered three acceptable pronunciations: KOE-vert, KUV-urt, koe-VERT. The Oxford Canadian (1998) supplied KOE-vert and koe-VERT.
A frequently heard mispronunciation involves “chaise longue.” French for “long chair,” the second word is spelled  longue not lounge. The phrase is pronounced SHAYZ-LONG.