So you think your command of the English language is pretty good, well test yourself and see how many of these common words you probably didn’t know you were pronouncing incorrectly.
Acai – This is a species of palm tree from the Amazon rain forest, best known for its health-giving reddish-purple berry, and I always seem to mispronounce this one. So, it’s not “ACK-ah-ee,” it’s not “ah-KAI,” and it’s not “ah-SIGH.” It’s “ah-sigh-EE” (with a soft c) and a stress on the last syllable.
Applicable – This one gets lots of folks confused, but this adjective starts like the apps on your iPhone, it’s “ap-li-kuh-buhl,” not, “a-PLICK-able.”
Arctic – Don’t forget about that first C. Some people skip the “arc” in favor of ART-ick, and the same goes for Antarctic, although “ärdik” is also acceptable.
Cache – No, this isn’t a sneaky French word. The tendency to say “cash-AY” stems from the similar-looking cachet (meaning prestige.) Cache, pronounced “kash” refers to a storage or hiding place, especially one in the ground, for ammunition, food, treasures, etc.
Comptroller is one of those words you probably heard in a TV show and then never bothered to look up. And just from looking at the word you’d think it’d be pronounced pretty much the way it’s written down: “comp-trole-ur.” But bizarrely, the word should sound exactly like the word controller, i.e., “kuh n-troh-ler.” Go figure!
Forte – Music buffs might pronounce this one as “for-TAY,” and if you’re talking about a composer’s note, that would be correct. However, if reading sheet music is your strong point, that’s also called a forte — and while a second syllable is sometimes used, it’s not required – when your refer to a person’s strong suit pronounce it “fohrt.”
Foyer – a vestibule,the lobby of a theater, hotel or apartment house. The tendency to add a fancy French sound but welcoming guests into your foy-AY, but that doesn’t make the best first impression. Stick with “foi-er” and you’ll sound less pretentious.
Gala – so you’re attending that annual bash and your friend asks if you’re attending the “Gal-uh.” So here’s where that “AY” sound comes in handy: You can tell you friend, yes, I am attending, but be sure to say “GAY-luh,” unless of course you’re British, in which case it’s a “gah-luh.”
Hyperbole – No exaggeration, this four-syllable word has nothing to do with bowls. A hyperbole an obvious and intentional exaggeration is pronounced “hahy-pur-buh-lee.”
Liable – Don’t get these legal terms mixed up. Liability (a matter of being obligated) is different from libel (a defamatory statement). It’s pronounced “lie-uh-buhl”
Long-lived – You probably just pronounced the word in your head with a short “i” (“ih”), and that’s how we hear pronounced by people who should know better, i.e., TV news reporters. But if you’re serious about your pronunciation, the word should really be pronounced with a long “i” (“eye”) — it should rhyme with “survived.”
Mischievous – This popular mistake pops up as a typo too. Don’t add an extra I at the end, as in mis-CHEE-VEE-us It’s a three-syllable word pronounced “MIS-chiv-us.”
Niche – The American Heritage Dictionary (4th Edition) lists two pronunciations: “nitch” and “neesh.” Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary lists three: “nitch,” “neesh,” and “nish.” “Nitch” is the older and more popular way to refer to a specialized place or role.
Prelude – While you may be in church when listening to a prelude, the first syllable doesn’t sound like “pray.” This noun and verb stems from the Latin word praeludere, meaning to play beforehand and the preferred pronunciation is “prel(y)ood.” Does anyone remember “Prell Shampoo?”
Triathlon – Triathletes are an impressive bunch, but even these imposing athletes aren’t allowed to add a second A to the word; it’s pronounce “trīˈaTHlən” or “trīˈaTHˌlän.”
Regardless – Actually, this is really about usage versus pronunciation and lots of folks have been getting this wrong for years. Don’t combine “irrespective” and “regardless” into the very nonstandard “irregardless” because “irregardless” is not an English word – ‘nuff said?
Quote of the day: “He hits from both sides of the plate, he’s amphibious!” – Yogi Berra
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes biweekly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.