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Essayons Pronunciation Of Words

9 pronunciation arguments you can stop having

A pronunciation that sounds off to you is one of those things that can stop a conversation cold. Sorry, what did you say? you ask, when you already know. And while there are plenty of pronunciations out there that are flat-out wrong, we thought that we might pick out some words that have multiple accepted pronunciations. In other words, you can let the following arguments go: you’re both right!

1. Route

In US English, there are two distinct pronunciations of the word route, referring to a ‘way or course taken in getting from a starting point to a destination’. (In British English, the standard pronunciation rhymes with shoot and hoot.) For Americans, it is acceptable to pronounce the word as either rOOt or rOWt. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the latter pronunciation with a diphthong – a long vowel sound involving a transition from one vowel to another, as in words like ‘coin’ (OY) and ‘loud’ (OW) – dates back to the 18th century, but disappeared from British English during the 19th century, though it remained popular in North America.

2. Tomato

As George and Ira Gershwin’s famous ditty put it: ‘You say to-MAY-to, I say to-MAH-to’. The diverging pronunciation of tomato (though not so much potato) is primarily one of regional dialect. The pronunciation ‘tuh-MAH-toh’ is the standard pronunciation in the UK and is accepted in the US regions of New England along with parts of the lower East Coast, while ‘tuh-MAY-toh’ is found almost everywhere else.

3. Aunt

‘Do you mean your relative or the insect?’ Outside of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids! territory, that’s probably not a question anyone has ever had to answer, but the possibility seems real enough to those who defend their pronunciation of the word as ‘AHNT’ rather than ‘ANT’. Like the pronunciation of tomato ‘tuh-MAH-toh’, ‘AHNT’ is standard in southern British accents, and is accepted in New England and other parts of the East Coast, while ‘ANT’ is common through the rest of North America.

4. Surprise

Are you surprised? While the spelling of this word still requires that pesky first ‘r’, the standard North American pronunciation is without the first ‘r’. The reason behind the ‘r’ omission is a linguistic process called ‘r dissimilation’, which has occurred in several English words that have two ‘r’s in them, including governor and particular. So while you may enunciate that ‘r’ if you would like, it’s not a requirement in either British or North American English.

5. February

For those who always getting in February-pronunciation arguments, there is no doubt some relief in the fact that it’s our shortest month. The battle over FEB-roo-ary and FEB-yuh-ri is an old one; the difference between the two goes back to the linguistic process of ‘r dissimilation’ mentioned above with ‘surprise’. However, both pronunciations are accepted in North American and British English.

6. Often

To say the ‘t’ or not say the ‘t’? Even though often ranks among the most frequently used words in English, there isn’t necessarily a clear consensus on how we should be pronouncing the word. When pronouncing often, some sound the ‘t’, saying OFT-uhn; for others, it is silent, as in soften or listen . Either pronunciation is acceptable, although OFF-uhn is more common.

7. Human

Do you drop the ‘h’? Thanks to the major influence of French on the English language, there is a group of words, including hour, honest, and honor, which are pronounced without the ‘h’ at the beginning. However, there is another group of words, including human, huge, and humiliation, that are subject to some debate in terms of dropping the pronunciation of that initial ‘h: YOO-muhn instead of HYOO-muhnAlthough this pronunciation is fairly common (and accepted!) in North America, this pronunciation is not often heard in the UK.

8. Envelope

Ever had a minor skirmish about envelope while waiting in line to buy stamps? The pronunciation argument at hand has to do with the first syllable: should you say ON-vuh-lohp or EN-vuh-lohp? The former (and less common) pronunciation dates back to when the word first entered English from the French word enveloppe. The OED notes that this pseudo-French pronunciation is still frequently heard, although ‘there is no good reason for giving a foreign sound to a word which no one regards as alien, and which has been anglicized in spelling for nearly 200 years’. That said, both pronunciations are still acceptable.

9. Caramel

The word caramel can acceptably be pronounced in several accepted ways, including KARR-uh-mel, KARR-uh-muhl, and, in North American English, KAR-muhl. The disappearance of that second syllable -uh- in the final pronunciation seems to have been in the works for a long time. The word has been in English since the 18th century, which it came via French from the Spanish caramel. Order that caramel ice cream sundae however you like!

  • The opinions and other information contained in OxfordWords blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.
  • Author
    Oxford Dictionaries
  • Published

    June 22 / 2015

  • Categories
  • Tags

    aunt, caramel, envelope, February, human, often, popular, pronunciation, route, surprise, tomato

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English words of French origin and how to pronounce them

On 14 July 1789, the storming of the Bastille prison in the centre of Paris marked the beginning of the French Revolution. It was a major watershed in the history of Europe and is today still celebrated as a public holiday in France.

The event gave the country a national motto as well: liberté, égalité, fraternité (‘liberty, equality, fraternity’). But the context of the Revolution also led to the emergence of the much darker terrorisme, a system of the ‘Terror’, that was borrowed into English in 1795.

The majority of the words we want to look at here are (hopefully) quite a bit more pleasant than this: below is a selection of English words of French origins, and how to pronounce them correctly.

Oeuvre

ˈəːvr(ə)

The body of work of a painter, composer, or author. Also: a work of art, music, or literature. Literally ‘work’.

Tableau

ˈtabləʊ

A group of models or motionless figures representing a scene from a story or from history; a tableau vivant. Literally ‘picture’.

Chagrin

ˈʃaɡrɪn / ʃəˈɡrɪn

Annoyance or distress at having failed or been humiliated. From chagrin (noun), literally ‘rough skin, shagreen’.

Denouement

deɪˈnuːmɒ̃

The final part of a play, film, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved. Also: the outcome of a situation, when something is decided or made clear. From dénouer, ‘unknot’.

Entrepreneur

ˌɒntrəprəˈnəː

A person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit. Also: a promoter in the entertainment industry. From entreprendre, ‘undertake’.

Raison d’être

ˌreɪzɒ̃ ˈdɛtrə / ʀɛzɔ̃ dɛtʀ

The most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence. Literally ‘reason for being’.

Faux pas

fəʊ ˈpɑː / fo pa

An embarrassing or tactless act or remark in a social situation. Literally ‘false step’.

Détente

deɪˈtɑːnt

The easing of hostility or strained relations, especially between countries. From French détente, ‘loosening, relaxation’.

Melee

ˈmɛleɪ

A confused fight or scuffle. Also: a confused crowd of people. From an Old French variant of meslee, based on medieval Latin misculare ‘to mix’.

Sabotage

ˈsabətɑːʒ

Deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct (something), especially for political or military advantage. Also as a noun: the action of sabotaging something. From saboteur, ‘kick with sabots, wilfully destroy’. Sabots are a kind of simple shoe, shaped and hollowed out from a single block of wood, traditionally worn by French and Breton peasants.

Abattoir

ˈabətwɑː

A slaughterhouse. From abattre, ‘to fell; to strike down’.

Debris

ˈdɛbriː / ˈdeɪbriː

Scattered pieces of rubbish or remains. Also: loose natural material consisting especially of broken pieces of rock. From obsolete débriser, ‘break down’.
Photo credit: vvoe / Shutterstock.com.

  • The opinions and other information contained in OxfordWords blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.
  • Author
    Oxford Dictionaries
  • Published

    July 14 / 2016

  • Categories
  • Tags

    abattoir, Bastille Day, debris, faux pas, French, oeuvre, other languages, popular, pronunciation, sabotage, word origins

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