Is There A Word For Words Not Pronounced Like They're Spelled?

Lost in translation then. English is not my first language. I say wednesday the way it is written.

Ah. The usual American English pronunciation is more like “Wenz-day.” I think I’ve heard English English speakers say “Wed-denz-day.” I’ve never heard anyone pronounce it as “Wed-nes-day.”

Strictly speaking, it is incoherent to say that a word is non-phonetic. Every word has a phonetic realization. It would be more accurate to say “word whose spelling is not phonetic”, but even this is problematic because it presupposes that there is some “correct” mapping between a word’s phonetic realization and its written form.

Take the word “take”, for example. Is it spelled phonetically? That depends on whether we are willing to say that in English orthography, the sequence a-e represents the diphthong /ej/. There are tons of words for which this is the case: case, base, rate, fate, date, made, bade, etc.

What about “dogs”? Should we say that its spelling is non-phonetic since the plural suffix gets realized as /z/ rather than /s/?

“colonel” is an extreme case where the mapping between the spelling and the phonetic realization of the word breaks down almost entirely. There are (to my knowledge) no other English words in which /schwa-r/ is represented orthographically as “olo”. It is this statistical rarity, rather than whether the word is truly spelled “phonetically” (whatever that means), that makes us perceive it as irregular.

Nope, though the thought did cross my mind. I debated putting Welsh or Irish instead.

While I agree that ironically those languages are more consitent, just not using English orthography, I think we should abandon traditional orthography entirely for the IPA standard. It’s pretty easy to read after a month or so of study.

The problem is that we don’t pronounce everything the same way. We’d be back to the middle ages, in which there was no standardized spelling. The only way this would work would be to come up with a “super-phoneme” alphabet, in which each symbol represents all the possible realizations of a sound.

We don’t pronounce everything the same way, but it’s rare to run into someone whose accent is so hard to understand that you can’t even tell what they’re saying.

So you’re satisfied with doing away with standardized spelling then?

Whenever anyone tells me that English is phonic language (when trying to push Hook on Phonics or the like) I always ask them to read the following sentence
Polish my Polish boots, please.


Sure, if everyone spells it the actual way they pronounce it. Perhaps it would lead to better spelling because there’s no reason to spell things “properly” as it is because it has little or no relation to the way they’re pronounced.

How it would work out of course is that English speakers are so used to not caring about how things are spelled (because there’s so many exceptions to how things are spelled vs pronounced, who’s to say the word I’m typing right now shouldn’t also be an exception?) that it would do little to help Internet spelling in the short term.

Another problem with adopting the IPA as our orthography is that it would obscure some highly regular, predictable allomorphic alternations. The plural suffix, for example, is variably realized as /s/ or /z/ (or /schwa-z/) depending on the phonology of the base noun. Do we really want to have to write the plural for cub, rod and dog with a “z” but the plural for cup, rut and dock with an “s”?

Fo shizzle.


My girlfriend introduced me to this two days ago. “We should use this instead of rice. It’s organic and healthy”.

“What the hell is kwin-oh-ah?”

“No, it’s keen-wah.”

It even has the pronunciation on the package. Turns out, it’s pretty damn good. Cooked it with fried vegetables. Simply, healthy, tasty.


Being a Spanish word I would say your girlfriend and the package are wrong and the Spanish pronunciation would be kee-NOH-ah.

Well, I’m not a Spanish word ;), and I would say that the English pronunciation is keen-wah or kē-ˈnō-ə.

in Spanish, yes. In English, anything goes. Think about it over a plate of raviol-EYE.

Not true. There’s “debt”, “island”, doubt", “scissors” and many more words which contain silent letters that were *never *pronounced. These letters were deliberately introduced by grammarians to reflect their Latin roots (“debitus”, “insula”, etc.)

How about “krzyzewski” and “favre”, then?


Wiki agrees with both of us. :slight_smile:

Island IIRC is a complicated case of mixing Latin and anglo roots.

in Spanish you have “Guadalupe” whose etymology I have never understood. The first half is Arab for “river” and the last part is latin for “wolf” so it would be river of the wolf but how on Earth did that come to happen? It makes no sense. It would be like naming a river the Rio Big or the River Grande.

Well, if Miss Kempson said so then that’s it. No question about it.