Charles Harrington Elster‘s The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations is billed on the cover as “the complete opinionated guide for the careful speaker.” And, boy, can I relate. Sure, I’m far more forgiving for non-native English speakers, but after partly growing up in the South where enunciating vowels and consonants are at best lax (although I must hastily add, there’s nothing wrong with speaking with a Southern accent–it’s only those who use it as an excuse to speak in an alien tongue), it’s a wonder I don’t go absolutely batty when words get horribly mangled in someone else’s mouth.
Before you get the wrong impression, I must say that I am no language paragon. I know I’m not one, so it was with great interest that I picked up Beastly Mispronunciations. Even a cursory look-see garnered some intriguing history on pronunciations. For instance, the French-sounding pronunciations for “ambiance”, “amateur”, and the like are in fact wrong or strongly discouraged. Personally, I can see why. Mimicking a French pronunciation doesn’t make you sound educated. It makes you sound like an intelligentsia wannabe.
Some other interesting tidbits: I did not know that the emphasis of the syllables in “zodiacal” was on the second instead of the first. I’ve always heard “sanguine” pronounced (incorrectly) as SANG-gwyn (rhyming with wine) instead of the accepted SANG-gwin (rhyming with win). “Harass” can be both pronounced as HAR-is (like Harris) or hur-RAS (rhymes with alas) although I’ve only heard the latter said. And “Ayn” (as in Ayn Rand) rhymes with wine, dine, and fine, and not pronounced like “Anne”.
The last time I was scolded for mispronouncing a word was the time I said “lingerie”. I pronounced it as LIN-ger-ree (just as it looks like) because I had no idea it had any French origins (which is a bit embarrassing since I had four years of French in high school–but then again, I’m not one to have salacious thoughts while trying to master a language) and when someone did pronounce it correctly, I mistook it for another word altogether. But then I was told that it was pronounced lahn-zhe-RAY. Which as it turns out, is also wrong. The last syllable is REE, not RAY.