Words You’ve Never Heard Pronounced

I was watching Jeopardy! not long ago. They were discussing Norse mythology as part of some question. Things like Trees of Life and Thor’s hammer.

They probably pronounced these things properly. But very different from what I would have guessed knowing only how to more or less spell them. I wondered if they would give me credit or not.

Anyway, what are words you know but have never heard used… and were surprised your guess at pronounciation differed? Place names also welcome.

I didn’t know how to pronounce soupçon until I heard Diane use it on Cheers. I usually saw it spelled without the c-cedilla.

When I was a kid I read beyond my age level, so I was always running into words I hadn’t heard yet. Also, my mom was always telling me not to be facetious.

In my mind’s pronunciation of the written word the accent was on the first syllable. I can still remember the little brain joy I felt when I realized that FAcetious was faCEtious.

I thought “misled” was pronounced “MY-zuhld” until I first heard it, maybe around age 12.

Pronunciation can be tricky, and the internet has made it more so. (Spelling too - I typed “moreso”, and Spellcheck flagged it, so I looked it up, and both the two-word and single word versions are used, though some usage mavens frown on the single word, but you wait - my day will come!)

“Gesture” with a hard G got me a reprimand once, and I used to think “paradigm” was par-a-dij-um, and nowadays I say it the wrong way on purpose because it’s funnier.

But there are lots of words with more than one pronunciation, “Carribean” has two common ways of saying it and I think neither is incorrect. And how a word is pronounced can vary regionally. I heard a BBC radio presenter mention a military junta, with J like in judge, and in the US that would be a hard sell with Spanish influence being more pronounced.

A fun place to visit is YouGlish, where you can hear words taken from public speeches and how they’re articulated in different regions.

A popular Korean-American comic tells of his Korean father and growing up in the American South. (“I hated playing Cowboys and Indians. I was always the chef”). He says his father once ordered a French egg tart for breakfast — and told the waitress he wanted a quickie, instead of quiche. “Of course, now he knows how to pronounce it. But he still says it that way.”

A thread can’t go this far without a good tangent or side road; here’s mine: I have the opposite problem.

I grew up listening to radio shows and BBC newscasts, then got hooked on audiobooks. There are SO many words that I know by sound but I’ve never seen them.

I’ve been known to run into a bookstore, open a book and say (very softly) “Ahhh, that’s how it’s spelled!”
Words that I thought were classy French idioms were just ordinary English portmanteaus.

Took me a minute to figure out that misled was the past tense form of mislead, and not pronounced “mizzled.”

And I was reading a textbook to my friend the American Studies professor (he’s blind, and hiring a reader was more efficient than waiting for a Braille copy to become available), when I learned that debacle is NOT pronounced DEB-a-cul.

I need to consciously not pronounce hyperbole as “hyper-bowl” because I’d seen the word for years before hearing pronounced and my brain still thinks of it that way.

There is a Dungeons & Dragons spell called Dissonant Whispers and I went back and forth for ages between Diss-on-ant and Diss-uh-nent before finally looking the damn word up on Google to hear someone else saying it.

bouillabaisse . my bete noire in spelling and pronunciation. If I have to write it or say it, it is from here on after spelled and pronounced BOOLY-base.

My favorite is “awry”. My brain still thinks aw-ree until I consciously correct it.

Yep, I spent a good portion of my life internally pronouncing ‘awry’ like that. ‘Albeit’ was another one for me. I assumed for years it was some sort of French word, pronounced ‘al-bay’.

I wouldn’t count on it. One of the things that always irked me about Jeopardy! is how Trebek would put on an authoritative-sounding foreign accent for non-English terms but then completely butcher the pronunciation. I haven’t seen much post-Trebek Jeopardy! but I doubt the situation has improved much.

Anyway, to keep the post on-topic, I’ll nominate Chișinău, the capital of Moldova. Before I heard it pronounced by native speakers, I had no idea how to say it, and so just used the Russian Kishinev, which is much easier to say and to remember, and is anyway probably how most English speakers referred to the city when I was growing up. I’ve since visited the city myself, and also have several Romanian-speaking friends who occasionally refer to the city in conversation, but I still can’t seem to remember how to pronounce it. So I keep saying Kishinev and nobody seems to mind. (I have yet to meet a Moldovan who isn’t a fluent, practically accent-less Russian speaker.)

My word is “banal”. I had only read the word and made up BAY-nul. I still read it the wrong way and then correct myself.

When my son was little was into geography and once mentioned the name of a city. It took a while to figure out what he meant. It was Des Moines. He pronounced it the way it looked to him.

Moved to MPSIMS

That is one of the listed pronunciations in the dictionaries I’ve checked (m-w.com, dictionary.com, wiktionary). I checked because I’ve commonly enough heard it that way and it doesn’t sound “wrong” to my ears (though I usually say it the other way–it’s one of those words I seem to vacillate between pronunciations.)

Years ago we were driving home after a day at an amusement park. A teenaged family member was looking at a map of the park and stated “I really liked riding chouse.”

The rest of us reacted, “Huh? Chouse?”

Eventually it was determined that she was reading the word chaos, which was the name of one of the rides.

So now chouse has become a part of the Mustard family lexicon.

“It’s total chouse in here!”


For years I thought turmeric was pronounced ‘ter-MARE-ic’, not having heard how it was pronounced. Now I know it’s ‘TER-mer-ic’.

I would see the word ‘segue’ in print and used to think it was pronounced something like ‘seug’. Funny thing is, I’d hear it pronounced as ‘segway’, as in “let’s segway now to a different subject…” and I didn’t put two and two together for a long time. I thought they were two entirely different words. It didn’t help when the Segway scooter came out, spelled as it sounded-- they should have spelled it Segue, dammit, and I would have picked up on it sooner!

Yeah, I spent years calling it a “Sedge-way” because I only knew it from print.

I only get my news from reading, not from video, so there’s a ton of stuff I can’t pronounce. Kefir. Avril Lavigne. Pete Buttigeig. Likely many more that I’m not aware of.

I…think I didn’t know that until now.

Here’s a few from my list:
Potomac (PAH-tah-mack)
colonel (KAH-lahn-el, like colony)
debacle (deh-BAH-kul)