Myzzled by phonics

Ha- this is funny.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz stumbles into the people-who-read-too-much mispronunciation of “misled”:

I recently ran into this myself, when I was recording my audiobook last weekend.  It seems that I use kind of a lot of words that I am not 100% sure how to pronounce.  (John Herried called this “Homeschooler’s Syndrome.”  Oh lawsy, there she goes again, attacking homeschoolers!!!1!)  It happened a few times, but the one I really struggled with was “minutiae.”   I asked the producer, and he didn’t know, either.  I think I ended up saying “my-NOO-shee-aye.”  I did my best to make it sound authoritative.

My kids all learned to read pretty early, and although I flogged them with phonics, they definitely got in some skimming habits.  One child who shall remain nameless was recently heard to make reference to “filling a lamp with kernose.”  My grandmother told me she once met a guy who thought “fatigued” was pronounced “fatty-gayed.”  He’d surely heard the word pronounced, but I guess he just somehow assumed all his life that there were two separate words, which both meant “tired.”

I just love it when little fissures of naivete are introduced into the professional world like this.  We’re all faking it, at one level or another.


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  • Miriel Reneau

    I thought “to misle” (MY-zul) was a verb for many MANY years. Misle! As in, to lead astray! Oh wait.

  • echarles1

    Years ago I read a biography of Harry Truman. The author interviewing Truman said (or Truman himself said) he sometimes mispronounced words because he was largely self-educated and hadn’t heard anyone else use those words.

  • bearing

    It’s not so much homeschooler’s syndrome as “young person who reads a lot syndrome.” If you encounter words in print frequently before you hear it pronounced, unusual spellings may misle you.

    As a young person, I was led astray not only by “misled” but also by “initial” (I wanted to put the stress on the first syllable) and, to the great amusement of my younger siblings, “Yoze-might Sam” of Warner Brothers fame.

    And lots and lots of people are thrown off by “short-lived” (second syllable rhymes with thrived) and “bade” as in “he bade me farewell,” which sounds exactly like “bad.”

    • silicasandra

      Wow, really? I’ve been mispronouncing those last two my whole life…and yep, I had “young person who reads a lot syndrome.”

      “Ethereal” is one I STILL have to think about before I say. Add “short-lived” and “bade” to that list.

      • Anne

        My mind is REELING. Truly, short-lived rhymes with thrived?? How can this be?

        • Anna

          Well, my dictionary gives both pronunciations, so I don’t think you’re wrong to say it with a short “i” (though my dictionary does list the long-i pronunciation first. Yes, I ran to look this up since my mind was reeling too.)

        • Heather

          I’m pretty sure it’s a specifically American regional variation. I never in my life heard it pronounced rhyming with thrived until I heard an American audiobook narrator pronounce it that way. (Actually it was long-lived rather than short-lived but same principle.) I thought it was bizarre.

          • Andy, Bad Person

            I would defend to the death its pronunciation with a short i. You wouldn’t pronounce “long live the king” with a long i, would you?

            Actually, I would say that since “lived” is pronounced with a short i when used as an adjective, so should its time modified relatives.

          • Heather

            Amen to that! I thought it must have been a mispronunciation when I heard “long-lye-vd” until the narrator read it consistently that way in a couple of other places, and I heard an online friend from Louisiana pronounce it that way too. But it sounds super goofy to my Canadian ears.

            I would also go to the barricades to defend “shone” rhyming with “gone” rather than “bone.” Another Americanism that I don’t understand, though I’ve heard it up here a time or two as well.

            My own example of spelling pronunciation: chuts-paw for chutzpah. I think I was in my twenties before I learned how it was actually supposed to be said.

        • perpper

          Might it be an ancient/Old World variation, rather like EYE-ther instead of EEE-ther? Or neither? heh

  • Aimee Langan

    For years growing up, I always pronounced clandestine as “candle-stine” in my mind. I never spoke the word aloud until years later, and my mother just looked at me and said, “what the heck do you mean? What is candlestine?” Truth be told, I still revert to my original invented pronunciation when I am reading that word silently.

  • Naomi Kietzke Young

    “Hyperbole” = high-per-bowl

    Although not a pronunciation error, for many years, I thought “gingerly” was a synonym for “snappy.” I hope you can see how I got there.

    • simchafisher

      That is an adorable misunderstanding.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Debacle = DEB-uh-kul.

      That was embarassing.

  • James

    Hyperbole = Hyper-Bowl.

    • Hieronymus_Illinensis

      Which is the next step beyond the Superbole, which is, as everyone knows, a very large tree trunk.

    • anna lisa

      Haha, my kid came home from college saying “hyper bowl” He flung it at me authoritatively in an argument. I refrained from correcting him because I thought he was actually using a word I didn’t know. I had a good laugh when I figured out what was going on.

  • Finite is always “fih-nit” in my head, not “fie-nite.” It just makes sense, because of how infinite is pronounced!

    And just last night my husband called me out on pronouncing fiery as “feery.”

    I know I have quite a few others, and I definitely attribute them to being a homeschooled kid who read too much. 😉

  • As a teenager I read a lot of science fiction, and one day I was startled to finally figure out this puzzling noun “biped,” which I’d thought rhymed with “striped.”

  • Alinea

    It took me a long time to figure out that ‘mused’ is not pronounced ‘mussed’. And fatigue means tired in French, and is pronounced fatty-gay. So that guy was not really wrong!

    • silicasandra

      I used to say “fatty goo” – does not at all make me think “tired.”

      • Alinea

        Now I might start thinking ‘fatty goo’ every time I read ‘fatigue’!

  • Fr Kevin

    ‘Horizon’ entered my reading vocabulary years before I had to use it in conversation. I recall at 11 or 12 yrs old hearing HOR-ih-zahn come out of my mouth and being pretty sure that that was incorrect.

    Even after learning the proper pronunciation, I had to concentrate pretty hard to keep from falling into the old ways.

  • So here’s a new resource I’ve discovered:

    If only it would do proper nouns. Until the movies came out, I pronounced the Smartest Griffendor’s name as “Her-me-own”. As soon as I heard it, I recognized the Greek phonemes, but proper names are always difficult for me.

  • Glad I’m not the only one. I remember saying PHO-to-graph-er and REP-tacle (rather than receptacle).

    And indeed, I was homeschooled.

  • ladycygnus

    When I was younger I loved astronomy and learned everything I could about it from books. When I was in college I studied astronomy and was constantly getting weird looks. Most I heard other people say first, so I learned that IO isn’t Oie (like Oie vey!) and Aldebaran is pronounced …oh nevermind – I don’t even remember which is right anymore.

    Best one was Betelgeuse which I pronounced Beetle-guise and not like the character from the movie. I did that one in front of my professor and he looked at me like I had six heads. Oh embarrassing.

    • simchafisher

      Ha! That reminds me of a story a professor told me. They were reading about Io and the Bull. One student was puzzled, and wondered why the Ancient Greeks would name a girl “Ten.”

  • “We’re all faking it, at one level or another.”

    Not me. I am a bona-fee-day professional.

  • Lindsey

    I tend to look up pronunciations online these days if I’m not sure. But when I was a child, I remember once telling my mom about a chaotic noise, calling it a “COCK-uh-phony.”

    My oldest, a very well-read person, bristles mightily at being corrected on a spoken mispronunciation of a word that she uses correctly but doesn’t know how to say. In fact, if I correct her, she will shut down the conversation and leave the room if she is able (she can’t do this in the car). We’re working on it; I tell her, she should be glad I’m telling her, and not a teacher in front of all her peers. It’s an opportunity to learn, definitely not something I tell her to make her feel ignorant!

    • ladycygnus

      I would say Cock-uh-phony as well – up until I was corrected by a teacher. Actually it took several minutes because he couldn’t figure out what I was trying to say and then burst out laughing when he figured it out. Much better to be corrected by mom!

  • Anna

    Your pronunciation of “minutiae” sounds right to me. Plus, you followed the advice in Strunk and White: If you aren’t sure of the pronunciation, say it louder and with authority. And if you follow Strunk and White, you’ll always be correct.

  • It relates to real English (rather than your American dialect) but see the classic poem The Chaos.

  • Barbara Fryman

    Phoebe= Fobe. My mother laughed so hard when she realized my mistake. I, perfect in my pride, was mortified.
    I also read the first book of The Great Brain series as The Great Brian, which made no sense since the kid’s name was Tom.

  • richard

    As the British say “shedule” instead of the American “skedule”.

  • Jordan

    I still laugh to myself thinking of my middle school teacher’s prononciation of Persephone as “Per-se-PHONE” instead of “Per-SEPH-unny”.

    • KL

      My fifth grade teacher (who was brilliant and wonderful and I still have wonderful memories of her class) pronounced the name “Jacques” as “Jay-kwee”.

    • Margaret

      My daughter was horrified in her humanities seminar to hear classmates discussing “Aunty Gone.”

  • anna lisa

    My daughter and I sometimes carry out entire conversations via text in blackanese. I’m the big black mama and she’s she’s my sassy girl. We spell it like it sounds in the hood. One day she sent me a picture on her phone of a peach that had an unfortunate deformity that looked *just* like (ahem) certain lady parts. I was speechless for a second and then lit into her like her big black mama, for sending me fruit porn. I was so convincing that the text that came back was just….”Mom??”
    So I said “yeah?” She sent me back a text saying, “Oh good, I thought some black lady had your phone.”

    • Mr. X

      This is not something you ought to feel comfortable sharing.

      • anna lisa

        Our family is mixed race. As in *very, very* mixed I suppose it would make me uncomfortable if we were in fact racist. Bouts of “White man’s conscience” would be funny too if they weren’t so terribly awkward. Ask me which groups I’d rather hang out with, and I’ll give you an honest answer.

        • Mr. X

          So you, Anna Lisa, are African American or part African American? Or your children are mixed race and at least half African American? Not to be impolite, but if you were, say, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman, your comment about “blackanese” would be racist and really offensive. Please tell me that is not the case.

          • anna lisa

            Right now I’m a raven haired lady because when I go dark it rocks my raven haired husband’s world…

            MISTER X

          • anna lisa

            It’s ok, I forgive you. Those argyle sweaters can get a little itchy over there in whitebreadsville.

          • Mr. X

            Good to know. I’m done. You can do or say what you like, but I have a right to say it is awful.

          • anna lisa

            Who peed in your Wheaties Mr. X?
            Why the witch hunt?

          • anna lisa

            Simcha, I appreciate you taking out his most inflammatory accusation, but it allows Mr. X to get away with an air of self restraint–and makes me look like I’m talking to myself. 🙁
            whatevs! 🙂 My poor daughter is going to be so sad when Big Mama refuses to come out and play again. It just wouldn’t be the same. (chastened, and hanging my head)

          • simchafisher

            Uh oh, I missed all of this – I’ve been out of the house all afternoon. I guess Mr. X deleted something on his own? Anyway, I hope we can all play nice now.

          • anna lisa

            I guess that depends on what “nice” entails.

          • Margaret

            Anna Lisa, anyone who reads this blog with any regularity already KNOWS you talk to yourself… 😉

          • anna lisa

            Ah well, than I guess it’s a habit I should have sworn off a long time ago dear Margaret. The blogsphere can be so swampy. I guess I have enough swamp creatures of my own to contend with.

          • anna lisa

            Why didn’t you tell me SOONER that I had so little to add to the conversation?

          • simchafisher

            Aw, come on, now, no! I know for a fact that several people read my blog solely because they know you’ll be commenting here. Don’t go away!

          • anna lisa

            Simcha, you know why I love you? Because you liberated me from that lingering belief that I have to be like “an amalgam of the Virgin Mary and Grace Kelly” to be a worthy Catholic woman. Thank you. The sassy mess this leaves me with….I’m working on, I really am. It’s easy to convince me that I inflict it upon others.

          • sarah

            I do!!! (ok I also think Simcha is awesome but I do scroll through the comments until I see your name!)

          • anna lisa

            So as long as we’re playing truth or dare…I have a hunch: the people who like to stand the tallest on their soap boxes are the ones who have something to hide.
            Drumroll please…
            Mr. whoeveryouare that hides behind consonants:
            Have you ever made a joke in good fun that involved racial attributes?

          • anna lisa

            I bet you’re done because…perhaps you couldn’t answer the question *honestly*…?

            I’m terrible at telling jokes.
            If I were to be racist, I think I’d choose the ones that have their sphincter muscles in overdrive.

            What made me laugh was the context in which this conversation arose. My daughter would call it a “White whine”. I enjoyed it however, because it reminded me of my own childhood. The one where I had an eyelet canopy in a practically airless room. Books were my friends and I did indeed make many of the same mistakes that the carefully cultivated former children in this thread made.
            Maybe that’s why I need to channel my big, warm-hearted black Mama, when my saucy daughter texts me a picture of a peach that looks like a perineum. But then–she always knows how to give me a severe attack of awkward. When I finally got serious with her, I commented (about that peach) “you’ve gotta wonder why God does that kind of stuff!” She answered me with another photo. That one involved shellfish.

  • anna lisa

    Oh, my gosh. My husband has the opposite problem. English is his second language, and even though he is extremely articulate he tends to switch some words for others. It delights us every time:
    “He’s not fat, he’s o-beast”
    “that woman is off her rocket”
    “He was so drunk he was in-cohesive”

  • An Aaron, not The Aaron

    Your name in my head until embarrassingly recently was “smeesha.” Does poorly pronounced AND dyslexic win some kind of award?

  • sarah

    I still hesitate before I say ‘rhubarb’ as I spent my childhood saying ‘rha-boob’ and I’m paranoid I’ll get it wrong.
    My friends Mum calls Hors d’oeuvre – whores-da-vors, that makes me giggle a lot.

  • tacy

    I do believe there are different interpretations on how to pronounce minutia (sing) and minutiae (plural). It’s from Latin, and because no one uses the word “minutia” singular, minutiae, as I understand it, is pronounced the same way….if i’m wrong, i’ll take it up with my dad! 🙂