Episode 8: September 12, 2008
by Lisa B. Marshall
Especially, especially, especially...Oh, man, it's pronounced i-spesh-uh-lee. That means I've been saying it wrong for forty years. How embarrassing. Worse I got it wrong in front of thousands. And of course, I didn't just say it wrong once. In the first six episodes I used the word nine times. Maybe I should go back and re-record those episodes. I don't know. What do you think?
Yo Adriene, Did Ya Hear Her Say Ekspecially [sic]?
Truthfully, proper pronunciation is something I have been working on my entire life. I was born and raised in southern New Jersey just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That's right, home to the fictional Rocky Balboa of "Yo, Adriene" fame. And also, interestingly, home to one of the most studied US dialects. Remember that Gershwin classic? "You like poh-tay-toh, I like poh-tah-to, you like toh-may-toh, and I like to-mah-to..." Well, in Philadelphia it's neither "toh-may-toh" or "to-mah-to", it's "to-may-ta" and "po-tay-ta". Where I grew up, "wooder" was the clear liquid that came out of the tap. Of course, that would be "water" for everyone else. So, I always appreciate, sincerely, when somebody corrects me. Especially if I mispronounce a word. (Hey, did you notice? I said it right! or did I?) Don't get me wrong, constructive feedback still stings, but certainly it's better to improve than continue with mistakes. So, I'd like to publicly thank the listeners who privately, tactfully, and gently pointed out my error. (OK, thanks to the many listeners who pointed out my mistake.) With each new email pointing out the error, I just kept telling myself, "This is a learning opportunity. Constructive feedback is good thing." Then, suddenly I thought, "Hey, I should do an episode on this."
So, the goal of this episode is to prevent future embarrassment for both of us. (OK, mostly for me, but maybe for you too.) To be clear, the show is not about regional differences in pronunciation (I'll cover accents in another episode), but actual mistakes, "mispronounciations".
Did you hear it? It should have been mispronunciations. (I always imagine a little tiny nun, hitting a ruler on a wooden school desk every time a mistake is made.) Anyway, I figured that word was a good one to start with. (It's kind of like starting with "misspelling" when you are talking about common spelling errors.)
I Went to the Library to Ask About February
So what other mispronunciations do people make? Well, I went to my public library to ask. Did you see how I cleverly included the words "library" and "ask" in that sentence. Many people commonly say "li-berry," not "li-brery," and "aks" or "ax," not "ask." I know as a child these were two pronunciations that were drilled into my head. My father insisted on practice every time we passed by the town library.
When you make errors, people will make snap decisions about your character and intelligence. So pronunciation is something we should all be aware of, especially in our professional conversations.
But, I just checked the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and for the word "library" it has both "li-brery" and "li-bery". Hmm... maybe the second pronunciation, with a silent "r", is now an acceptable variant of the word? That happens with words. Over time, a mispronunciation can become the standard pronunciation. (But I decided to check another dictionary, this time my Random House. They didn't include "li-bery").
That got me thinking, my father also used to drill us on the word "February." It also has a similar non-silent 'r'. I decided to check that one out too. What do you know, again the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary has both "Feb-oo-ary," and "Fe-broo-ary." Strict prescriptivists (as well as my Random House Dictionary) insist on two "r"s, but maybe one "r" makes sense? This is the English language we're talking about. Every letter is not always pronounced. After all who says, "Please pass me the "k-nife."
Hmm... so then what about "ask" and "aks." Well ask [æsk] is considered the standard American pronunciation, while ask [?sk] is standard in other English speaking countries. Although [aks] is commonly heard in the U.S., it is often considered substandard. What did Merriam-Webster say? It marked that pronunciation as dialectical.
Probly [sic] You'll Make a Mistake If You Go Fast
But as I said, for this episode, I'd like to concentrate on mistakes... so here are my top four mistakes that I hear in everyday conversations (and yes, sometimes in my own conversations). If you speak quickly, like me, probably you will shorten and mispronounce your words. Listen when I say it fast..."If you speak quickly, like me, 'probly' you'll shorten and mispronounce your words. Did you hear it? "Probly", "you'll". The cure for this is easy... s-l-o-w-d-o-w-n.
Think of "Our" as "Hour"
Another common mistake I hear in "r" conversations is that one! Of course, I should have said "our" conversations, not "r" conversations. To avoid any confusion try to think of "our" as "hour" (h-o-u-r) except, of course that it doesn't have the "h".
Anyways Is Not a Word
Anyways, what can you do? Yep, you caught me; that's another one. "Anyways," (with an "s") isn't a word, and I don't recommend using it in professional communication. It's a mistake. But, I'll admit, that sometimes I like to use it anyway, on purpose. I think it adds a sense of whimsy. For me, in casual conversation, it's almost like saying "anyhoo" but isn't quite as corny. (OK, at least in my own mind. Anyways [sic], I'm sure you'll will write to tell me otherwise!)
Do You Need a Realtor?
And my last one is a word that I'm hearing more often. I suppose it is because of the current housing market. This word, unlike all the others we talked about, is actually a registered trademark. This means that the trademark holder decides the pronunciation. Can you guess the word? Yep, it's realtor [real-ter], two syllables, not three, realtor [real-ter]. Do you find it strange, that somebody made up a word, for marketing, yet many people have trouble correctly pronouncing it?
Anyways [sic] when it comes to grammar, spelling, enunciation, and pronunciation, there are some folks in the world that are highly sensitive. (Yes, I'm talking to you, the one that just cringed when I said anyways [sic].) When a sensitive person detects an error, he will make snap decisions about your character and intelligence. So certainly it's something we should all be aware of, especially in our professional conversations.
Even if your listener is not overly sensitive, errors in pronunciation may still negatively impact your overall message. In professional settings, you're always being evaluated and of course you should always strive to make the best impression possible. This means pronouncing words correctly, in standard English.
At the same time, I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention, that the primary goal of any conversation is communication. For example, when I speak to my husband in Spanish, I make errors in pronunciation, muchos errores. Although I try to correct my mistakes, my main focus is on communicating my thoughts and ideas. If he understands me, I consider myself successful. I think mispronunciations should be viewed from this perspective as well.
So, I'd like to end this episode with three guarantees. First, I guarantee that I will strive for excellent professional communication at all times. Second, I guarantee, that I'll occasionally make a mistake. And finally, I guarantee you'll let me know when that happens. Oh, one more guarantee, I'll never say ekspecially [sic] again, promise.
This is Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker, passionate about communication, your success is my business.
If you have been enjoying this show it would be great if you would write an iTunes review. It will only take a few minutes and will really help out. Thanks!
Also, as a bonus, in the resource section I've added a few links to some interesting related materials, like embarrassing stories of mispronunciation and a list of disputed pronunciations. I hope you enjoy them.
If you have a question, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about keynote speeches or workshops visit lisabmarshall.com.