An idiotic list of alleged mispronunciations compiled by someone going by the alias “Dr. Language” has been making the rounds of the internet, and now that it’s turned up on MetaFilter as well, I guess I’ll bite the bullet and blog the thing. I may as well simplify my life by just reproducing the heart of my MeFi comment:

Even for those who believe in the concept of “mispronunciation” (by native speakers), this list is useless, because its few worthwhile nuggets (words whose “wrong” pronunciations will actually make many people think less of you: Calvary, escape, et cetera, &c) are easily found elsewhere and are drowned in a sea of natural variants whose subtle difference easily escapes notice (acrosst, barbituate, cannidate), perfectly normal dialectal forms (aks, bob wire, bidness), bullshit forms reminiscent of those “Kids say the darndest things!” pseudo-mistakes some people e-mail lists of (Old-timer’s disease, a blessing in the skies, Carpool tunnel syndrome—this is the title of a book, and it’s a deliberate pun, for Chrissake!, Heineken remover—which they as good as admit is bullshit, &c &c), and (most annoying of all) perfectly good pronunciations that “Dr. Language” (if he has a doctorate in linguistics, I’m a neurosurgeon! [actually, he does — see Mark’s comment below]) doesn’t happen to like: “close” for clothes, “diptheria,” duck tape (not only is it almost impossible to pronounce both t’s audibly in “duct tape,” but as kozad points out, duck tape is the original form!), herb with silent h– (this is completely insane), long-lived with short i, “mawv” for mauve, often with the –t-, “parlament” (this one leaves me speechless—the word comes from Anglo-French parlament, the –i– is purely graphic, and as far as I know nobody on either side of the Atlantic pronounces it; does Dr. Language also recommend pronouncing the -c- in Connecticut?), persnickety (not only do they admit they’re being ridiculous, they make a laughably erroneous comment, “It is a Scottish nonce word to which U.S. speakers have added a spurious [s]”—a nonce word, which they seem to think means ‘dialect word’ or something, is actually a word invented for a single occasion—remember, kids, you can’t spell “nonce” without “once”!)… Well, you get my drift. Oh, and they’re wrong about card shark too; see the American Heritage Dictionary definition of shark: “2. A person regarded as ruthless, greedy, or dishonest; A vicious usurer. 3. Slang A person unusually skilled in a particular activity: a card shark.”

Please, I beg you: do not go to quacks like this for information about language! If you want to know how a word is pronounced or what it means, go to a dictionary—that’s what they’re for, and they’re compiled by people who spend their lives studying this stuff for real, not passionate amateurs with websites.

Addendum. See the interesting thread at Crooked Timber.


  1. I think it’s time to start up a Bone-headed Prescriptivist Linguist Awards. It can be like the Academy Awards with multiple categories: e.g., the Professor Pullum Umpteen Bajillion Inuit Words for Snow Award.

  2. Could Dr. Language be Charles Harrington Elster, the author of this and other travesties? If not, they should date, or at least meet for coffee.

  3. I think you’ve got something there. Too bad there’s no “search inside the book” feature; the matter could easily be settled by checking a few of Dr L’s loonier bugaboos.

  4. I am so glad that I’m not the only one who thinks the Elster book is a travesty! I read it got sick of being told over and over that my Westernisms were wrong, but *his* personal nonstandard uses were OK because, well, he said so.

  5. That should be “I read it and got sick…” etc.
    I could use Preview once in a while, I suppose.

  6. I’m afraid that this list is the word of an actual linguist, Robert Beard. Some interesting correspondence with him on the subject can be found at

  7. Mitch Mills says

    I agree that the list is bullshit (and highly annoying). However, regarding “old timer’s disease”, this term is apparently actually in use in Appalachia among people whose only experience with the word is via visiting healthcare workers.
    Apparently it’s also common there to refer to cardiograms as “heartiograms”. Basically most people have only heard the word, they’ve never seen it written, and literacy rates in the region are generally rather low anyway. To me, “old timer’s disease” and “heartiogram” seem quite reasonable suppositions, i.e. they make a lot of sense etymologically despite being “wrong”.
    I learned about this via radio, most likely an NPR segment, but haven’t been able to find a cite quite yet.

  8. Surprising that “Austraya” wasn’t included in Dr. Language’s list.

  9. Mark: You astonish (and sadden) me. I’ll have to go check out that correspondence once I’ve had my breakfast and feel strong enough to take it.
    Mitch: That’s very interesting. Under those conditions, it makes sense. I guess I was so overwhelmed by the general stupidity of the list I assumed it was another red herring. (I’m tempted to say something like “And remember, there are two r’s in herring—don’t say “HAIR-ing,” say “HER-ring”!”… but I’m afraid somebody might believe me and start correcting people.)
    Jonathon: It was! It’s under “Ostraya.”

  10. OK, I’ve visited Mark’s link; it turns out that Beard (a retired professor) somehow managed to get a doctorate in Slavic linguistics without absorbing some of the basic tenets of linguistics. If I had a kid interested in language, I sure wouldn’t send them to his alma mater (or his website, for that matter). But he comes by his moniker honestly, dammit.

  11. Though I’m reticent to get involved in this, I admit I go nucular over pronounciations. Amurka is a hard place to live in when you’re a pedant like me, one who believes it’s always the other guy who urs.

  12. To believe it’s always the other guy who urs is human, to take a linguistic perspective divine!

  13. Michael Farris says

    “Beard … somehow managed to get a doctorate in Slavic linguistics without absorbing some of the basic tenets of linguistics.”
    Makes sense in a way. IME in a number of Slavic speaking countries, there is a very big ‘correctness’ hang up.
    I’ve known more than one Polish linguist who cannot discuss usage without assigning labels like ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ (I’ve heard usage that’s essentially universal like denasaling final -e~ or using ta~ instead of te~ (this – fem. acc.) labelled ‘incorrect’).
    The Russian speakers I’ve known are prone to simialr attitudes.
    Maybe he absorbed these attitudes unconsciously from long acquaintance …. or maybe he’s just a prick.

  14. Chinese teachers in Taiwan are fanatical about pronunciation. I bought the hype; even now, and poor as my comprehension of spoken Chinese is, North Chinese Mandarin sounds pretty, and Taiwan Mandarin sounds ugly. (And Beijing Mandarin, some say, is prettiest at all, with “nar” instead of “nali”, etc.)
    The canonical Chinese term to be used to designate Taiwan Mandarin speakers is, of course, Mencius’ 2300-year-old phrase “the shrike-tongued barbarians of the South” (tr. Legge).

  15. How d’y’all feel about ‘eckonomic data’ and ‘esstrogen deficiency’?
    How on earth did they get to be that way?
    I blame spelling ‘reform’.

  16. any opinions on new-kuelar weapons?

  17. tdent: I’m not sure what you mean. If you mean pronunciations, those are both fine; if you mean (mis)spellings, I don’t think I’ve seen either of those.
    bryan: NUCULAR.

  18. Shane Cavanaugh says

    It came as a surprise to me, but Dictionary.com has two references for cardsharp, one from the American Heritage Dictionary.

  19. The letter from Dr. Beard on LanguageLog is hilarious. Mark Liberman’s comments are not only right on, but he politely ignores a nice little piece of irony: Dr. Beard has misspelled ‘egregious’. Mmm, prescriptivist pie.
    Now, most of the worst examples from the list have been discussed here or elsewhere, but what about ‘ordnance’ and ‘ordinance’? Do pronunciations of these differ for anybody? Of course they’re phonologically different and could be confused in writing, but I can’t hear any phonetic differences.
    And a final problem: even if we accept the items on the list as ‘mispronunciations’, I still take issue with the pseudo-precise claim that they’re the 100 most common. Does that mean they’re the most widespread (i.e., affecting the most speakers), or that there are more ‘incorrect’ tokens of these words than of any others? Lists of common misspellings can at least claim some methodological credibility; this is merely a list of one person’s bizarre prejudices.

  20. Michael Farris,
    What do you expect, we have to set our standards! Russia had:
    1) so many oficial pronunciation/spelling reforms! My mom, who was teaching Russian language and literature, used to tell me every time new directive would come from above – “Oh, here we come again; we’ve had that exact change ridiculed on 3rd course in ped.institute 12 yrs ago!” Starting with “the greatest linguist of all times and peoples”…
    2) -and has so many dialects of Russian in different regions. There must be one standard to base differencies on: prominent “aa” of Moskovites is as far from correct (yes, correct) literary pronunciation as “oo” in Archangelsk. May be I’m wrong, I remember something along the lines of pronunciation of Oriol’ oblast’ being the closest to the ideal.
    But, of course, this is my opinion and I’m not a linguist; what do I know.

  21. W. Kiernan says

    People such as I, confident in our grasp of our language, laugh at all this prescriptive stuff. I mean, that stuff’s good for teaching little kids, but we’re grown-up. It’s my language and I’ll use it any old way I feel like using it. I do, however, make a good-will effort to pronounce proper names more or less as their owners do, provided I possess the phonemes with which to do it.
    After all, spoken language is far closer to music than symbolic logic, and when expressing one’s feelings about music “wrong” vs. “right” is too harsh by far and even “good” vs. “bad” seems so judgemental; I myself prefer “rulez!!!” vs. “sucks!!1!”, complete with Beavis-like hand-gestures.
    “Libary” brings back a science-fiction tale I read when I was a kid which had a tentative etymology of the ancient word “lie-bury” as a place where information lies buried. That was a pretty cool story! In its future, the human race has dicovered the best part of all the knowledge it can compass (scientists have concluded that the rate of new discovery is asymptotically dropping to zero) and thanks to advances in storage techniques (e.g. “chipped quanta”) they’ve stored the entirety of this information in a space about the size of a desk drawer. But imagine how hard finding any one thing in that ubiquitous desk drawer of data is! Naturally, there’s an index, and imagine how vast that is; there’s an index to that index, still unusably huge, an index cubed, fourth- fifth- and sixth- power indices, and so on out to scores of levels deep. Everything mankind knows fits in one desk-drawer, but the indices are a different matter; despite chipped quanta, the volume required by the indices is so vast that humankind is required to fabricate entire artificial solar systems to hold all the desk-drawers. Then disaster strikes; due to a technical error, corruption in one index or another somewhere up or down the line, the Master Drawer is lost, and no one can find it! Galactic civilization collapses, The End.
    I’m surprised that that guy missed “cache,” a stash, mispronounced “cash-ay” instead of just “cash.” He also missed “quote unquote” followed by the quoted excerpt, when what is meant is “quote” (excerpt) “unquote” (better “end quote”). That one drives me batty. I don’t appreciate his proscription of “bidness,” as that would put Molly Ivins right out of bidness, and we can’t have that. “Heineken remover” is sweet, and “take for granite” is a nice usage for “rock-like certitude” if you think about it. “A whole nother” is a fine example of tmesis. “Stob,” like “swale,” is a specialized term, found in the Oxford English Dictionary, quite commonly used in the surveying and construction biz.
    I’ll cheerfully accept “nucular” from a genuine Suthner. After four decades South of the Mason-Dixon line, I recognize “nucular” as part of, and consistent with, the charming regional dialect. But I happen to know that that New Haven Texan, graduate of Harvard and Yale, is deliberately mispronouncing it specifically in order to piss me off. As you can see, it’s working, too.

  22. Mitch Mills says

    And Beijing Mandarin, some say, is prettiest at all, with “nar” instead of “nali”, etc.
    I always thought Beijingers sounded like a bunch of pirates with all that “arrrrr” going on. Especially the (typically rapacious) cab drivers: “dao sherrrnme difaaaaarrrrrrrr???”
    Of course I learned my Chinese in and around Shanghai, where they keep their jaw and tongue muscles much looser when speaking. Trying to talk in a “proper” Northern accent always made my mouth hurt.
    Most Chinese I met, from all regions of the country, seemed to really like the sound of Nanjing natives speaking Mandarin.
    Another common comment was that the Suzhou dialect was the most beautiful in the country, with even heated quarrels sounding like love poetry.
    This was usually compared to another dialect, I can’t remember which one precisely (maybe Ningbo?), that supposedly was the ugliest, and sounded like quarreling even when describing beautiful things. I’m sure they had a proverb about it.
    This reminded me of the common U.S. percepetion of French vs. German (probably stemming in part from footage of Hitler’s speeches and all those war movies with the Nazi officers barking out commands). It was a real revelation when I first saw a movie in German that had people speaking in normal tones about ordinary things. I thought, “Is that really German? It sounds so nice!”

  23. Shane: I wasn’t implying that “cardsharp” was wrong, just making the point that “card shark” wasn’t.
    Mitch: My impression of Beijing dialect is similar to yours; of course, I picked up my Mandarin catch-as-catch-can in Taiwan rather than studying it with an official teacher, who would have filled my head (or ear) with received impressions.

  24. My impression was that the r-endings were difficult even for native Beijing residents and that they used them as a matter of local pride, like Spartans taking cold showers and sleeping on piles of rocks. However, it may be that my first Chinese teacher was not a Beijing native. (I mean Peiching of course, if not Peip’ing.)

  25. The Flann O’Brien collection I’m working on has a little aside about people who are disappointed to find that Irish Gaelic sounds sort of like German. I think that they were hoping for something airy-fairy like Finnish or Hawaiian. (An old Norwegian I met said that Finnish was like birds twittering).
    BTW, how do Scandinavians deal with this, with their five standard languages (two for Norwegian)?

  26. Gareth WIlson says

    Prescriptivist tirades against “mispronounciations” in normal speech may be silly, but there are situations were this kind of criticism is appropriate. The episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” where the title character worries about saying “aks” for “ask” during a TV interview is a perfect example. There’s nothing wrong with this pronounciation in everyday life, but in formal situations you should make an effort to use the generally accepted pronounciations. Actually the episode went beyond this and condemned “aks” as generally wrong, falling into the same trap as your example. One “mispronounciation” that especially annoys me in New Zealand is “pleece” for police. Fine for the vernacular, but when it’s the Minister of Pleece being interviewed on TV about the state of the pleece force – buy a schwa! I’d even prefer the Black English Vernacular “PO-leece”.

  27. Michael Farris says

    I actually sort of agree about the need for standards as long as there’s a reasonable base for the standard (often missing in Anglophone countries) and we’re honest that they’re at least as much social as linguistic (usually more so).
    What I think is strange is when features that are all but universal (by even the most educated speakers) are derided as ‘incorrect’ that’s a case of the tail wagging the dog as are directives from above).
    And I thought that Russian was mostly pretty uniform. That is I thought there may be some variation in accents but nothing that would impair intelligibility. Is another cherished myth of mine dead?
    I know something about Russian but have never learned much. What exactly is the prominant ‘aa’ of Moscow? I’ve seen references to it but no description, is this something beyond regular akanie? And what is ‘oo’ of Archangelsk? I have co-worker from there, maybe I should ask her?

  28. Gareth: I entirely agree that it’s helpful to tell people what forms will cause them to be taken less seriously and thus should be avoided in formal situations. But a person who stigmatizes saying “herb” with silent h (as all Americans do) and not pronouncing the -i- in Parliament is obviously not the person to listen to. If a guy in a white coat leaned over your hospital bed, pointed at your left arm, and said “The liver looks swollen, nurse,” you probably wouldn’t want him operating on you.

  29. Could you help me out with my discussion with John Quiggin, over here at Crooked Timber, Language Hat?

  30. I’m there!

  31. Thanks. Something that I notice from the discussion above (or was it one of the linked earlier posts?) was that although I think you did this in your DFW post, you don’t here respond to the implicit claim that there is any *other* standard by which to examine language than usage. Similar to my discussion with John, it seems to me that if people wave away descriptivism as merely descriptive, then they are implicitly assuming some other organizing principle. For example, in the ethics example, the whole point and history of moral philosophy has been the attempt to find something other than convention as the organizing principle (or to rigorously investigate convention as the organizing principle). Well, a funny thing is that there isn’t a universal agreement on what that principle is, or whether it exists. Maybe DFW hasn’t actually ever taken an ethics course.
    But, regardless, I’d like to know what in the context of language that organizing principle might be. This is why I accuse John of platonism.
    Yes, I recognize that you as a linguist might be hesitant to engage on this very specific point because, as I understand it, you linguists are quite enamored of Chomsky’s “universal grammar”. I can’t say I know squat about it. But, from a neurological (not philosophical) point of view, I’ll grant the likliehood that there is a universal *human* grammar and that it, whatever it is, is in some sense close to a platonic form that I suppose someone might use to justify a prescriptivism. Very, very weakly and probably invalidly, though, I suspect.
    Anyway, that aside, then assuming an absolutist philosophical basis for prescriptivism, what is the linguistic counterpart to the Categorical Imperative or Utility or whatever? From the prescriptivists, I’m not seeing anything. They’re sure it’s there, somewhere, just…because?

  32. I don’t really buy into prescriptive grammar or pronunciation. Descriptive is best.

  33. I’m not sure if this is OT or not, but since we brought up Chinese, I figure anything goes.
    My girlfriend and I were having dinner in this new Italian restaurant we’d just stumbled across. All the servers there had an accent that indicated they were from somewhere, but it wasn’t an accent we recognized. We got to talking about languages and accents, and somehow I was put in mind of a Simpsons episode where the old Mafia don, after explaining “My English, she’s-a not-a so good,” sees baby Maggie. “Ah, a bambino! or is it ‘bambina’? My Italian, she’s not so good either!” One of the waiters overheard me say this, and said, “Those southerners, they cannot speak the real Italian! I’m from Firenze, Florence. Are you maybe northern Italian, too?” and we wound up having a delightful conversation with some Northern League bigot.
    More on-topic, is there any pronunciation pedantry, anywhere, that is not veiled class/regional/ethnic bigotry?

  34. Rachael K LeValley says

    ha ha ha
    in new york, i called houston street – HEW-STUN street.
    i call iran, EYE-RAN, not i(t)-ron.
    i also say BIS-COE-TEE instead of bis-cah-tee.
    and ha ha ha.
    i do, however, say flamenCo, not flamengo, when referring to the spanish dance and i ask for an es-spres-so, not an ex-press-oh.
    and ha ha ha.
    warm hugs.

  35. Interestingly, the (over)emphasis on proper Russian pronunciation is a by-product not only of political centralization, but also of the existence of a self-conscious educated class (the intelligentsia or something like that). You can’t claim membership in certain circles if you stress the first syllable in zvonit.
    My wife keeps correcting me when I say “krepkoe kofe”, making me remind her that viski (whisk(e)y) should be then masculine as well; I even hint cautiously that — albeit on very rare occasions — she may confuse nadet’ and odet’.
    Other than that, Russians are orthoepically tolerant; I only cringe at the sound of a fricative g. 🙂

  36. Alexei,
    Why not say then ‘krepkii kofe’ and ‘staryi viski’? For me it makes perfect sense.
    How about other classic examples- ‘kokleta’and ‘colidor’?
    Out of curiosity, do you pronounce *dver’* or *dvenadtsat’* with that charming Moscow soft ‘d’?

  37. Well, I thought that, long ago, it used to be ‘Eekonomic’ and ‘Eestrogen’. Both were spelt with Oe, since people were copying the Greek Oikos and Oistros, which are pronounced Eekos and Eestros. (Economics changed over to E rather more quickly.) No-one would think of pronouncing oeconomic and oestrogen as ‘eckonomic’ and ‘esstrogen’.
    Then the spelling got changed because Oe was too hard and confusing, and only then people started pronouncing them ‘as they looked’ with a short e.
    So the pronunciations I pointed out would have to be fairly recent changes, and also directly caused by spelling change.

  38. I beg to differ. People do not, in general, base their pronunciations on spelling but on the way they hear the word pronounced (this applies only, of course, to words in actual circulation). People say ESStrogen not because it’s spelled e- rather than œ- (many say it that way even in Britain, where the latter spelling prevails) but because shortening of first-syllable vowels is a common development in English. Economics is a different case; there, the two pronunciations are in free variation, and I myself employ now the one, now the other, with no discernible contextual difference. I can’t imagine why it would be of any wider significance which vowel is used, anyway. (As for the influence of the spelling, both variants are in the original OED for “Œdipus,” so spelled, but only the “ee” pronunciation is given for “economical,” so spelled, which rather spoils your theory.)

  39. as a poet, i have no use for “prescripivism”.
    when i’m tutoring students (many of whom are non-native speakers) i point out to them the correct usag in the Formal English (circa mid-20c) they’ll be expected to write for their teachers.
    then i tell them how we say it in Modern American.
    if they’re really interested, i may tell them what was correct 150 years ago.

  40. “parlament” (this one leaves me speechless—the word comes from Anglo-French parlament, the -i- is purely graphic, and as far as I know nobody on either side of the Atlantic pronounces it;
    I can confirm that nobody in Australia pronounces the -i- (hell, we don’t even pronounce the -r-), but I have heard it pronounced (softly) by some English people on BBC Radio 4, usually Tories or lords. I imagine they’re harking back to the idea of parliament as a place of parleying between commoners and royalty.
    But you’re right, it’s nonsense to suggest that this is the norm.
    And as for ‘Ostraya’ bothering Australians themselves, I actually regard it with affection, because it’s becoming the dominant way of pronouncing the word back in Oz and reminds me of home whenever I hear it (although that -O- should be a schwa). Yes, we can pronounce the -l- if we want to, but we usually can’t be buggered. And the key to all Ostray’n pronounciation is can’t-be-buggeredness.

  41. (Pronunciation. Curse you, Dr. Language, I could spell that word before I read your list, I swear.)

  42. Thomas Dent says

    The main part of ‘my theory’ is that English words from Greek words that started with ‘Oi’ were originally pronounced with ‘ee’.
    Spelling change from Oe to E, and pronunciation change from a long to a short (and different) vowel are clearly not in lock-step, but that doesn’t prove that they’re not correlated by some sort of causal relation. I’d contend that people in Britain say ‘Esstrogen’ because they heard Americans saying it: but why did Americans start?
    Are there examples of initial ‘ee’ changing to a short ‘e’ outside technical Greek- and Latin-derived words? ‘Easy’ doesn’t seem to have got any closer to ‘Ezy’ over the centuries.

  43. “Easy” and “estrogen” are completely different phonological environments (for one thing, the former has e in an open syllable, so of course it wouldn’t get shortened). And it’s extremely unlikely that “people in Britain say ‘Esstrogen’ because they heard Americans saying it”; in that case, why aren’t they all speaking American?
    And in general, Greek and Latin are irrelevant to the pronunciation of words in English. If they weren’t, we’d say ciNEEma, DEEficit, docTRYnal, protaGOEnist, saLYEvary, SYEmian, SEEmaphore, SOEcrates, and verTYEgo.

  44. This reminds me of a list I read in W.R. Espey’s (sp?) An Almanac of Words at Play that was supposedly meant to test whether or not you were worthy of enunciating for (I think) the BBC. I failed miserably. It contained such gems as “doo-er” for “dour” and “flack-sid” for “flaccid.” You could argue that pronunciation’s big function as a class/geographical pointer was dealt a mighty blow by the first printing press, and people who fuss about it now are about on a par with the grammarians of yore who tried to make English fit into Latin form because “it’s supposed to be that way.”
    That said, “nukyular” drives me right around the bend. We all have our snapping points.

  45. Prescriptivist tirades against “mispronounciations” in normal speech may be silly, but there are situations where this kind of criticism is appropriate. (Quote from earlier)
    I agree. Where are the prescriptivists – have you all gone underground? Now I know it isn’t fashionable to say you’re one of Them, but there are situations (social and employment-related) where you will be stigmatized if you don’t follow The Rules. It pays.
    Education rules, OK?

  46. there are situations where you will be stigmatized if you don’t follow The Rules
    Absolutely, and students should be warned about them and taught the “correct” forms for that reason. My problems with prescriptivism are:
    1) The “correct” forms are treated not as pure social constructs subject to change (much like formal dress), but as eternal verities that determine your moral worth. This is silly and repugnant.
    2) Prescriptivists are never content to stigmatize only forms that actually cause real people (employers, for example) to look askance; they always add their own personal bugbears, things that are irrelevant or pedantic or just plain wrong (cf the above list’s recommendation to pronounce the -i- in Parliament). This shows that it’s not about helping people, it’s about their own ego. (Not talking about you, of course, but the listmakers and writers of books like 1001 Mistakes in English You Make Every Day, You Pathetic Uneducated Fool!)

  47. As a sort of eeconomist, I always say “eeconomics” but, for some reason, people keep replying, “Oh, ekkonomics? How lovely!” Which makes me feel like a foreign idiot trying to show off.
    Tatyana, I don’t softed my d’s in dver’ and dvenadtsat’, and I even used to say bulochnaya and skuchno, which is supposedly un-Muscovite.

  48. Alexei,
    How sad. Where the world is coming to?
    “Buloshnaya” associates in my mind with that typically Moscow ‘apartment with antresolyami’ and my old aunt smoker’s voice. Ah, zlatye dni…

  49. Thomas Dent says

    I do say docTRYnal…
    Your theory (people pronounce according to what they hear) doesn’t explain why pronunciations can change discontinuously: there is no gradation between ‘eeconomic’ and ‘eckonomic’.
    Either such words were always pronounced two different ways, or there was a first person who did it differently and whom others copied. Of course, one still has to explain why the different pronunciation took hold, and the idea that shorter initial syllables are preferred may be part of that.
    And, in general, I haven’t seen any theory that can explain why language undergoes discontinuous changes, short of positing a first person who did things differently and was copied: a localized discontinuous mutation, if you like. One needs to explain both why such mutations occur, and why they spread.

  50. Someone should have included the word “converse” vs. “conversate”. Converse is so often mispronounced!!! I could have sent this to my supervisor and the corrective word would have shown up. She is too prideful to accept the correction from her subordinates.

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