Delores E. Topliff
If the above words aren’t already a famous quotation, they should be, since correct word pronunciation often trips us up. I remember being a dreamy sixth grader who loved practicing new words. One morning as I looked at the sunrise through our classroom window, I described, “winter’s roseate dawn!”
My longsuffering teacher patted my curly head and said, “You’re been eating Coleridge’s poppies and honey-dew.” I didn’t know what she meant, but continued repeating and reusing any word I loved until I wore it (and my hearers) out. I ran into trouble though by learning words through sounding them out if I didn’t know how they were said. I once waved a hand and described something as “gigantic” using hard “g” sounds. When no one responded, I assumed they hadn’t heard me so repeated “gigantic” even louder with stronger hard “g” sounds.
“Oh, you mean ‘gigantic’ like the word ‘giant’!” someone hooted. My face burned with shame as I noted that word, but I still have to stop and think each time I say it in public.
That experience made me sympathize when a bright college freshman I taught years later had also learned words based on how they look instead of how they sound. Kathy had written her essay on “Origins of the English Language” and confidently shared it out loud. Describing England’s transition from speaking English to French after 1066 she had written, “King Edward the Confessor died without an heir” but we heard her say, “died without a hair.” We swallowed our smiles as she continued. “And that’s why William of Normandy came to ‘press his suit.” That’s when we lost it and roared as we pictured a bald-headed man standing at an ironing board pressing his royal robe. She became a gifted writer and speaker, but that day we all learned a lesson in taking greater care to pronounce words by how they truly sound, not by how they appear
For me, others words easy to stumble over include yacht, colonel, isthmus, aluminum, and Worcestershire.
I’m sorry for non-English speakers who have to learn our language and figure out our words and phrases that do sound quite different from how they appear.
What words challenge you or turn your face red as you mispronounce them? What tips can you share to make learning new words more manageable?