Eleven common words you're probably mispronouncing

Even the most fluent English speakers stumble on these words

By Amanda Green

Published October 17, 2021 9:00PM (EDT)

Man with a chalk speech bubble (Getty Images/mattjeacock)
Man with a chalk speech bubble (Getty Images/mattjeacock)

This story originally appeared on Mental Floss.

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Ever feel embarrassed when you don't know how to say a word? Don't be. Even the most fluent English speakers stumble. Besides, pronunciations change over time. See if you've been mispronouncing these common words.

1. Seuss

Pen names don't always make things easier. Theodore Geisel's college buddy Alexander Liang made a rhyme to teach you the right way to pronounce Dr. Seuss's name:

"You're wrong as the deuce/And you shouldn't rejoice/
If you're calling him Seuss/He pronounces it Soice" (or Zoice).

2. Kibosh

Let's put the kibosh, pronounced "KY-bosh," on saying this word like "kuh-BOSH."

3. Celtic

An initial hard K sound is the standard these days, according to Merriam-Webster, the S sound came first. Still, you'll sound ridiculous (but correct!) if you bring that hard K to a Boston Celtics basketball game.

4. Comptroller

This word sounds just like controller. If you're tempted to pronounce that silent pt, please comptroll yourself!

5. Cache

Maybe it's because it's one letter short of cachet. Maybe it's just more fun to mispronounce. This words sounds just like cash.

6. Chicanery 

This word, meaning "deception by trickery," is aptly tricky to pronounce. The beginning ch sound is "sh," as in Chicago. The French pronounce the word "shih-connery," which makes it easy to remember the definition. However, Americans love a long A and tend to pronounce it "shih-cane-a-ree." Choose your own adventure.

7. Banal

According to Merriam-Webster, there's more than one way to pronounce this word. The three most commonly used pronunciations are "BAY-nul," "buh-NAHL," and "buh-NAL."

8. Affluent

If pronouncing it "a-FLU-ent" is wrong, some people don't want to be right. The stress on this word is supposed to be on the first syllable—"AFF-lu-ent." But stressing the second syllable became so mainstream that dictionaries eventually validated the pronunciation.

9. Forbade

The past tense of forbid was originally supposed to be spelled and pronounced "for-bad," but then people started spelling it as forbade and rhyming it with made. These days, the word sounds archaic any way you say it: Most people use forbid as a past or present-tense verb.

10. Boatswain

OK, so maybe this word—which Merriam-Webster defines as "a petty officer on a merchant ship having charge of hull maintenance and related work"—is not that commonly used (unless you're a fan of Below Deck). But now that you know it's pronounced "bo-sun," you might find more reasons to work it into conversation.

11. Niche

When this word was borrowed from French in the 17th century, it was quickly Anglicized to rhyme with itch. But in the 20th century, more people embraced a true French pronunciation and decided to pronounce it "neesh." Both are correct.

A version of this piece ran in 2013; it has been updated for 2021


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