Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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You’re probably saying it wrong

Interesting post by Kathryn Lilly at Kill Zone Blog: The “eLight” League, And Other Commonly Mispronounced Words

The fear of mispronouncing a word is one of my secret social anxieties. I grew up in a world where one would be mocked or loftily dismissed for mispronouncing any word in the dictionary. As a child, I loved discovering new words through reading books, but I grew fearful of using them in speech after an unfortunate run in with the word “redolent “. It seemed logical to my 12 year old brain to pronounce it as “re-DOH-lent”. The drubbing I received for that mistake (turns out it’s pronounced “RED-i-lent”) made me phobic about using any fresh word in conversation unless I had looked up the pronunciation in a dictionary first….

Interesting! I thought it was re-DOH-lent, which makes sense because after all, we normally do put the emphasis on the penultimate syllable in English. Is it actually RED-i-lent? Just listened to Google pronounce it for me. I guess it really is RED-i-lent.

Now I’m curious: Which of you knew that? Probably everyone but me.

Which of you would have been disturbed or embarrassed at having pronounced it wrong in public?

I would be mildly embarrassed at pronouncing a word wrong in public, at my age, when I should have had time to notice someone else say the word and thus learn how it’s pronounced. Oddly, I would have been much more embarrassed as a kid, though obviously children haven’t had nearly as long to hear every word in the English language pronounced, so how are they supposed to know?

When it comes to science terms and taxonomy and so on, my philosophy is: Pronounce it with confidence! Everyone will think you’re right. Probably not so useful with words like “redolent” and “elite.”

Also, this: The guy who invented the gif says it’s pronounced “jif”, not “gif” with a hard “g”.

Well, so much for him. Obviously it is pronounced with a hard g. Everyone knows that.

(How do you pronounce gif?)

I will add, for the names of fantasy characters and place names, it’s fine with me however you pronounce it. Absolutely fine. I know how I pronounce Tehre and Mianthe and Eäneté and so on. I almost always go with a hard G for words that start with G, like “gif,” but for me “Gulien” is pronounced with an initial J sound. Just the way I do it. But I don’t mind one bit if every reader in creation pronounces every one of my names differently.

This goes double after reading the linked post. We have ample pitfalls with real English words, evidently. No need to add extra for readers of secondary fantasy.

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12 Comments You’re probably saying it wrong

  1. SarahZ

    I like the saying that you shouldn’t give someone too much grief for mispronouncing a word, since that means they learned it from reading.

  2. Elaine T.

    I mispronounced all sorts of words as a child. I even mangled Narnia, somehow missing the second ‘n’. Pedestrian and equestrian I thoroughly mangled, enough so that I can’t recreate it now.

    I’ve always thought it was re-DOH-lent, too.

    offtopic, I know you liked Prineas’ Magic Thief. Her latest MG/earlyYA is a keeper according to the Teen, who keeps wandering by to give updates on reading it: THE LOST BOOKS, Scroll of Kings.

  3. Rachel

    Good comment about “Well, it shows they learned that word from reading.” Very true.

    I’m glad someone else thought it was re-DOH-lent.

    Also, thanks for the pointer to The Lost Books — I’ve seen many other very positive comments about that one and have already picked it up. May be a good long time till I get to it, cause that is true of nearly everything, but we’ll see.

  4. Bret Grandrath

    “Well, it shows they learned that word from reading.”

    Which reminds me of a story…

    In 10th grade high school English class we could get 200 points for doing a book report in front of the class or 100 points if we made an after school appointment with the teacher for a one-on-one report. So being a tall, awkward, shy geeky science fiction fan (you know the type) I would just give my report to the teacher. One book I did a report on was Star Well by Alexei Panshin. The protagonist of the story is Viscount Villiers. I pronounced Viscount to rhyme with miscount, I was surprised when the teacher corrected my pronunciation but I got my 100 points.
    Another word I always mispronounced (in my head) was genre. I don’t think I learned the correct pronunciation until I started going to conventions.

  5. Irina

    It’s fortunate that I speak Dutch (most of the time, anyway; I write> English most of the time) and can pronounce ‘gif’ with [x] like in “Bach”.

  6. Rachel

    I cannot quite imagine how to include a “ch” sort of sound in “gif.” Maybe I’ll ask Google how to pronounce “gif” in Dutch.

  7. Allan Shampine

    I’m much less concerned about this than I used to be. I’ve learned that usage changes over time, and “correct” pronunciation varies by region and year. I do distinctly recall pronouncing macabre as mac uh brr. Most people pronounce it macawb, but according to the OED, both pronunciations are “correct.” But I bet in fifty years, my version will be dropped from the dictionary as it falls completely out of use.

  8. Rachel

    I sort of suspect you are also less concerned about this because as we get older, we just get less concerned about possible momentary embarrassment over mispronounced words. Or we just decide to save embarrassment for things that are more important.

    At least, that’s why I don’t care whether I might say re-DOH-lent in public if I forget it’s supposed to be RED-i-lent. Whatever. Takes more than that to embarrass me these days, I’m glad to say.

  9. Allan Shampine

    That is certainly true! 50 looms in a few months, and we old fogies have other things to worry about!

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