Words you've seen but rarely (or never) heard

I often come across words in print which I see regularly, but have never noticed in actual speech, so if pressed, I would be unsure how to pronounce them without referring to a phonetic guide of some sort. A few that spring to mind…



I’d seen “naughty” many times but had no idea how to say it, until a friend I was having lunch with made a “bad little boy” face and said “I’m a very notti booooy”. Ooooh! So that’s how you say naughty!

I got a lot of words wrong. If I read about someone being truculent, I heard it to myself as “truce-a-lent” until I heard somebody say, “truck-ulent.” Oh, okay. Pretty much the same with lugubrious, and it was the same person who said it.*

I would have pronounced “renege” as “ree-nezh” and not related it to the word we used when playing cards, except I ran into it in a bridge book. Oh…

There are tons of words like that. I have a huge vocabulary when writing, but frankly I’m afraid of mispronouncing a lot of those words so I never use them in conversation. They don’t even have to be big words. I’m quite capable of screwing up a very small and easy word when talking. Like “spa,” no it’s not what you do to your cat.**

*I think I looked them up to make sure he was pronouncing them right. At any rate he was very confident in his pronunciation.
**A coworker and I once developed the concept of a cat spa. You get a cat, and spend a day doing just what the cat does. 8-10 nap. 10-11 groom yourself–do your nails or something. 11-11:15 have a little snack. 11:15-3 nap. And so on. At some point go find somebody and force them to give you a massage. But I digress. The point is I had to really concentrate to call it “catspaw” instead of, well, you know. The other thing. And this was at work, where I was an editor, so I really didn’t want to appear ignorant.

It means late risers who missed breakfast and eat before lunch. Usually in an English manor house. I see it often in English novels. Never have had an occasion to use it.

Ne’er-do-well. Love that phrase.

The word that always gets me is falafel. And it doesn’t matter how many time I check or get corrected, I can still never get the pronunciation right. Now you can argue that’s because it’s a different-language word but…

…I get the reverse too. For example, being raised in the north of England by - ah - aspirant parents, I would hear words in a strong local accent and simply not know what they were. It’s not really possible to lay the same traps in writing, but for years years I was confused by the expression “a lowwering sky” (rhymes with glowering). Of course, it’s simply lowering - getting lower - used to indicate weather closing in (which happens a lot where I come from). Similarly, the expression “She’s nobbut a hooo-ah” (the ah being a short a as in cat) - and I should just say I only ever heard this used by women of other women - mystified me for years. “Nothing but” I could get, but “whore” passed me by for decades. In fairness the word was not being used literally (which maybe added to the confusion).


I was in a class where we had to write the phonetic version of a list of words. To my mind, it would be cheating to look them up, so I didn’t. Which is why I came up with “VICK-tu-als” ( rhyming with rituals) for victuals.

Yes, I’d see the Beverly Hillbillies and yes, I’d hear the term “vittles” which (I assumed) was spelled like I just spelled it.

Listen to this and you’ll get more mentions of the word ‘dais’ than any one person could ever need in a lifetime. :smiley:

For me, the word that springs immediately to mind is ‘victuals’. I’m told it’s actually pronounced “vittles”. But I wouldn’t really have a clue, since I don’t think I’ve ever heard an actual human say the word. Come across it in fiction constantly, however.

I have no clue what ‘Pareidolia’ might be, or what you’re reading where you see it used frequently…

If it’s any help re “falafel” here you go: First syllable, i.e. “fa” pronounce like the “a” in “father”, the “la” also like the “a” in father, and “fel” like the “fell” in “fell down.”
Is that of any help? I hope so as it’s about the best I’ve got here… not being a professional linguist… I only play one on TV… Not! actually.

Mine has to be “segue” which I even mispronounced as “seeg-ee” on the air back in my younger days when I had a jazz show on the FM radio station where I worked not long after college days.

It came up later in a context that let me realize the correct pronunciation. That was years later so you can imagine my ex-post-facto embarrassment when I remembered how I had never heard it pronounced by somebody else – just saw it in print!

I mean I just gave it my best shot which wasn’t good enough after reading the title on the album cover:

Duke Ellington meet Count Basie- Segue in C.wmv

There must be many other words I’ve botched by “giving it my best shot” when reading aloud something I’d never heard before. But “segue” is/was my Achilles Heel when it comes to things that don’t look like they ought to sound.

FWIW, this feels like deja vu since I remember (I think) posting something very similar to these same words – years ago – when the same topic came up before!

Like, how do YOU pronounce “segue”?

Zeldar, I think it’s something like "Seg way "

Accent on the second syllable, yes? I and my brother, both keen foodies, pronounce the first syllable more like “fuh” – but that might be because we’re British / not clued up.

I first got an idea of the pronunciation, from reading (don’t know whether it’s true) that it’s a favourite jest in Israel, using a little bit of English, to call not-very-good falafel from a not-very-good street stall, “feel awful”.

Yes! Thanks for playing along with my attempt at humor by not posting the correct version myself! :smiley:

Type “pronounce: [word]” into the Google search bar and you can hear how the word is pronounced. You can also type “define: [word]” to get a definition.

My trouble words: antimacassar macadam canape

I just learned that apparently the correct spelling is canapé, but I’ve never seen it written that way. The accent makes the pronunciation clear.

I was able to locate at least one of my postings of this same word, etc.:

It’s reassuring to find that I don’t just forget everything that’s more than a few minutes old! (Thank Zeus for a search function that really works!)

Pareidolia is the phenomena where your brain looks for patterns. Like seeing a person’s face on the moon. It can be auditory as well as visual. It is cool. Listen to The Skeptic’s Guide To The Universe podcast and you’ll hear the word often.

The Bad Astronomer also uses it in his column. It’s hardly a rare word.

OTOH, I do crosswords and there are an unbelievable number of words that are only used there. Obscure-ish words like “ort” are “common” compared to some of the out-of-the-blue ones that get used.

As a former college prof, “dais” doesn’t seem at all obscure.

The Skeptic’s Guide To The Universe have had The Bad Astronomer on as a guest a few times. Those episodes, along with the ones where George Hrab is a guest are among their finest podcasts.

Macabre. I read that wrong for years, and, of course, nobody ever uses it in conversation. (Except me, now.)

Reprise. I suppose you can pronounce it two ways, but I now prefer “Repreeze”.

I know there are more that hang me up, just can’t think of them right now…

Paradigm was always my bug-a-boo when I was reading it. Funny thing was, I heard it pronounced more than once but never connected the spelling and pronunciation to the same word until I was in my 30’s.

Poke bowl.

I’ve read it but never heard it pronounced. Then I had to order it. The waitress understood my predicament.