9 Mar


It's ironical how you use to be a ath-uh-lete!
It’s ironical how you use to be a ath-uh-lete!

I usually do not correct an individual’s egregious grammatical gaffe unless the offender is a receptive friend or family member, or my advice is requested, and I am ninety-nine percent certain that I’m right. I could be wrong and that would ruin my cred. It might also embarrass the speaker. Since most of your friends and colleagues won’t correct you, or they are also unaware,  I can give you the 411 here and it stays between us.

Just remember, the English language and what sometimes passes for English, changes daily. New words are introduced and cannot be ignored. After enough people say or use it enough times, it becomes accepted usage, and BAM! It’s now in Merriam-Webster.®

BTW, I’m not talking about text abbreviations, speech impediments, homonyms, slang, jargon, dyslexia or misspelled words. I’m not referring to people who transpose letters (Professor Spooner, George W. Bush) nor am I asking you to sound elitist by using inflated words. As author and satirist, William Safire once reminded us “Never use a big word when a diminutive one will do.”

ANYWAYS– Some mispronounced words derive from environment and/or learned behavior and it’s difficult to stop a bad habit. You’ve been saying “anyways” for thirty years and it’s going to be hard for you to drop that “s” but do it! It’s “anyway.” You should avoid using it anyway. It’s a “crutch word” that people use to buy time or start a sentence and it shows that you’re unsure of what you want to say.

ASK vs AXE– I call “ask”  a “lazy tongue word.”  It’s a one-syllable word that requires three different positions of the mouth.  It takes a lot more effort to say “Please ask your mother” than “Please axe your mother.”Clearly, there is a difference. The second command, if executed, may result in your mom being executed. The past tense “asked” is even more difficult to pronounce. Historians argue that Chaucer used “axe” extensively. But he’s dead and this is the 21st century.  To say this word properly, you have to open your mouth wide and practice, practice, practice.

Lizzie Borden took an axe And gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one. (She did not "ask" he mother first.) Photo by
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one. (She did not “ask” her mother first.)
Photo by

ATHLETE– There is only one “a” in athlete. Stop putting that extra “uh” sound (sounds like an “ah” or a “u”) after “ath.” It’s [ATH-leet], not [ATH-AH-leet]. For non-sports enthusiasts, there is only one Stephen Curry in basketball, and he goes by the first name Steph which is pronounced “STEFF.”

Steph Curry - Warriors wikimedia/
Steph Curry – Warriors wikimedia/

CACHE– Most Net-savvy people know the correct way to say this one.  It’s a French loanword for a hidden or secret space, and computer-wise, you’re supposed to clear it once in a while. In standard English, it’s pronounced just like cold, hard “cash.” Some languages other than English may use an accent aigu (so it looks like this: caché ) and sounds like [kash- SHEY].

What goes up, goes even higher when you can't buy it.
What goes up, goes even higher when you can’t buy it.

CHUTZPAH– You heard Michele Bachmann mis-pronounce it as [CHOOT-spa] in 2011. For someone who is allegedly pro-Israel, she might want to brush up on her Yiddish. The word is pronounced [HOOT-spuh] and roughly translates to “audacity” or “gall.” I like to think of it as a kind of arrogant courage. Make that “HOOT” rhyme with “FOOT” and you can’t go wrong.

ESPECIALLY– There is no “x” in this word just as there is no “x” in [ESPRESSO]. The word is pronounced “eh-SPESH-uh-lee” or “ih-SPESH-uh-lee, not “EX-pesh-ly.”

FORTE– Okay, here’s the latest on this one. Say it as [FORT] or [FOR-tey]. Either version has now become accepted usage. But just FYI, the word “fort” means “strong” as in a person’s strong suit, and that IS usually what people mean when they say “It’s not my “fort-tay.” The word pronounced [for-TEY] s a musical term that means “loud.” If you really mean “I don’t do loud very well,” I suppose you could say “For-tey is not my fort.”

IRREGARDLESS– Ouch. This one stings. The prefix “ir” and the “less” are both negative components, making it a double negative word. Despite my personal disdain, it is becoming popular among the increasingly uneducated. Just use “regardless” regardless of what you hear others say.

IRONICAL– A comment in the Urban Dictionary sarcastically defines this word as “A hick and retarded usage of the word “‘ironic.'” He said it. I didn’t. But I agree. And this definition is badly punctuated, I presume for ironic purposes:

“Just like ironic, only with an "al" because A) it sounds better and B) it's used in catcher in the rye so it must be a good enough word for me to use every day because i do anyways cause it sounds like a friggin' word.” (sic)

In, the authors point out the word ironic “has no definition of its own” even though a spell check will give it an OK. How ironic that it went out of use in the 1930s but seems to be making a comeback—like fingernails on a blackboard.

MISCHIEVOUS– At first glance, it looks as if it would be pronounced “mis-chee-vee-uhs” but you’re adding a syllable that isn’t there if you say it that way. The correct pronunciation is [MIS-chuh-vuhs].

Next week (I promise) we’ll get to extant, height, further vs. farther, heinous, niche, and sherbet. Oh, and the French idiom—Esprit d’escalier that I’m hearing people pronounce wrong in French and English. If you can’t wait until next week, you can look it up. I should have thought about it earlier.

The comment door is wide open! As always. Thanks for reading and sharing.

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