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Spell it, but don't say it

You surely noticed the attention that the primary race for state comptroller got, in The Sun and elsewhere in Maryland news media. What you may not have noticed is that nearly everyone mispronounces the title. Comptroller is pronounced "controller," n, not m, no p. (Some dictionaries list the pronunciation that matches the spelling as an alternative pronunciation.)

Reliance on the spelling as a guide to pronunciation is also probably why many people say the t in often — but the word is uttered as "offen." Some sound the l in almond, though the word is pronounced "ah-mond." These look like examples of hypercorrection, a misguided attempt to sound proper and refined. An extreme example is the finicky and affected overpronunciation of foreign words that you can hear on some classical music stations.

But some mispronunciations reflect class distinctions, as when people put an extra syllable in athlete, rendering it "athalete," or pronounce cement with the accent on the first rather than the second syllable (Think of the Beverly Hillbillies’ swimming pool, the SEE-ment pond), or call for the PO-lice when they are in difficulty.

So there you have the language trap for English speakers: Try too hard, and betray yourself as hopelessly middle class; or try not at all, and reveal your proletarian background. You may find this "IN-tre-sting," or you may find it "in-ter-ES-ting," depending on where the way you talk places you in American society.

Posted by John McIntyre at 2:38 PM | | Comments (3)


We English speakers don't have a random and chaotic spelling system, not us! :-)

Two of my favorite unusual pronunciations:

AM-bu-LANCE, with a stressed short "a" in the last syllable. More commonly, the last "a" is pronounced like the "u" in "suppose, " and the accent is only on the first syllable.

Marry-land, for Maryland. The state is named after Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. I doubt her name was pronounced Marry-a.

The credit loans are very useful for guys, which would like to start their own company. By the way, that is very easy to receive a car loan.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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