Pronunciations that drive you insane (Updated)

NB: The following post is not intended to be taken seriously. I do not want to change the way anyone speaks. Please stop sending me ranty emails and comments lecturing me on my presumptiousness and lack of understanding of the diversities of the English language. Thank you. Note to self: never write about language differences again.

So I just listened to John Waters going off about people who pronounce “picture” “pitcher”. That one does not bother me. But I cannot stand the way USians say “shone”. Seriously, it makes my ears bleed.

I should confess that for years I thought it was just Scott. He’d pronounce it all wrong when he was giving a reading and I’d be deeply embarrassed for him. I figured it was one of those words he’d never heard said out loud so he just didn’t know better. When I was little I had the same issue with “epitome”. But he’s a wee bit older than twelve now—time to pronounce “shone” correctly. So finally, a couple of weeks ago, I pointed it out to Scott, and taught him how to say the word properly.

He looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “Justine, that’s how us Americans pronounce the word.”

“No way,” I said.

Scott is sometimes wrong about these things. He’s lived in Australia too long to be an authority about his own people. So I did some research. I asked everyone I know of the USian persuasion how they pronounce it. Tragically, Scott was right. Everyone in the entire country says “shone” incorrectly. I’m still stunned.

I’ve also been asking friends what hideous pronunications drive them spare. Top of the pops is “nuclear”. What pronunciations drive you insane?

Update: I’m dead pleased so many of you have entered into this in the spirit intended. However, some seem to be taking this WAY too seriously and to avoid flamewars—yes, there’s already been one ridiculously angry exchange—I’ve taken the liberty of deleting the cranky comments.

One of the many joys of English is that there is such a variety of accents and dialects and grammars. Everyone on this thread knows and loves that, including me. So please to hold your lectures. And, if someone does get cranky, please don’t respond in similar vein, okay? This is meant to be fun not a noo-kly-yar war.


  1. abbagirl on #

    how do YOU say “shone”? as a US-ian, “shone” is pronounced, well, just like “shone.” rhymes with “own.” i’m totally curious as to how we’re “supposed” to say it!

    another peeve: “strick” instead of “strict.” i hear this one ALL the time. it’s sheer laziness to not even pronounce the “t” at the end of that word!

  2. Kelly on #

    I love the U.K. pronunciation of “shone” (which rhymes with “on”). Is it the same in Australia?

    What gets me right now is the blending of short e and short i in the Midwest. Milk pronounced as melk, get as git…it’s like a regional dyslexia and it’s driving me nuts.

    My mom has that weird [r] in wash, squash, Washington. My husband can’t help but imitate it in his own Russian accent for fun.

  3. lili on #

    aussies say “shon”. Rhymes with Ron.

    i NEVER noticed that before! silly americans. like aluminium and oregano and basil and all the others.

    but there is one USian pronunciation that I really like, and that’s “squirrel”. Americans seem to say it in one syllable: Squirl (to rhyme with girl), instead of squi-rell.

  4. cherie priest on #

    Supposably. See also: hyperbole. There’s an obnoxiously popular song by someone or another, and buried in one verse she calls it “hyperbowl.”

    And while I’m on the subject, curses also to those who say, “All of the sudden.”

  5. janet on #

    Mis-chee’-vee-ous drives me nuts. It’s mis’-che-vous! (I put the apostrophes in to show which syllable is accented, so don’t get on my case, okay?)

    It also bugs me the way east-coasters pronounce western U.S. place-names incorrectly, especially Or-a-gawn (ugh!) and Nevahdah (well la de dah). (Quick pronunciation guide: for “Oregon,” think “Finnegan.” For “Nevada,” think “I coulda had a.”)

  6. lili on #


    i hate it when people say “if you think X, you’ve got another THING coming”, when it should be “you’ve got another THINK coming.”

  7. Christopher Miles on #

    This might just be an Australian thing, but ‘arkse’ instead of ‘ask’ seems pretty common. Well, my Mum does it.

    This probably falls more into the realm of mondegreens than mispronunciations, but I always find myself bubbling with irk-juice when someone says ‘for all intensive purposes’ instead of ‘for all intents and purposes’.

    [rant] And don’t get me started on the misuse of the words ‘literally’ and ‘obviously’ in Australian broadcasting. [/rant]

    Finally, you can always count on someone mispronouncing ‘mispronunciation’.

  8. Meg on #

    Er, shone is a long o because it has a silent e at the end…

    That’s not wrong.

    How about I don’t say the way you say it is wrong (even though it is [d,r]), if you don’t say the way I say it is wrong.


  9. scarlett on #

    Snow patrol (and indeed Grey’s anatomy -eek) should have barbed wire wound around their gonads for: ‘ if i just lay here would you lie with me..’ o god. the hives

  10. sir tessa on #

    Herb. The h is there for a reason. Same with human.

    And PUMA.

  11. genevieve on #

    Vunnerable – for you know what.
    And this is not mispronunciation as such – but I hate news that is not delivered in complete sentences. With a passion.
    ‘The driver leaving the scene of the crime before police arrived.'(Probably an Oz news transgression.)

  12. Graham on #

    What saddens me no end is that people no longer seem to understand plurals. I don’t just mean they don’t know that ‘media’ is plural, or that ‘phenomena’ is plural, but that collective nouns are singular (e.g. ‘Telstra is charging too much for NextG’ NOT ‘Telstra are charging too much for NextG’.) Everyone seems to have developed this problem lately.

    Every writer in the world should be made to read ‘Eats Shoots And Leaves’ by Lynne Truss.

  13. claire on #

    Snow patrol (and indeed Grey’s anatomy -eek) should have barbed wire wound around their gonads for: ‘ if i just lay here would you lie with me..’ o god. the hives

    omg, i thought they were doing it both ways to hedge their bets! i was going to play this for my students to demonstrate that we’re in a moment of linguistic change, where the verb “to lie” (as in “I lie down” rather than “I lie about my age”) is dying, and the snow patrol song is its last gasp.

    but i’m pedantic like that.

    nuke-yoo-ler is near the top of my list, too. the one that really bugs me right now, though, is “divisive,” pronounced di-VISS-iv. dude, it’s di-VICE-iv, like “divide.”

  14. Michael Bush on #

    genevieve: I hate news that is not delivered in complete sentences

    But people don’t talk in sentences, and most news is delivered live.

    I’m fairly liberal when it comes to language, because I think it’s there to be played with, but it kills my boyfriend when I pronounce ‘feud’ as, erm, ‘fwayed’. I’m more than aware that this is completely wrong, but can’t seem to stop myself from saying it that way. I think it’s the way his eyes bulge and his mouth tightens; adorable.

  15. Cheryl on #

    Differences between long and short vowels I can forgive. If we English speakers hadn’t decided to do away with accents to show how vowels should be pronounced, how are we to expect people to get them right?

    On the other hand, USians appear to have got so lax on their vowels as to make them totally interchangeable. If the people of Los Angeles want to call their city “Los Angilis” I suppose that’s down to them, but I draw the line at pronouncing Sirius as “serious”, probably because every time I hear an ad for “Serious satellite radio” I feel an urgent need to bite something.

  16. Chris on #

    @11: Nope, New Zealand reporters do it too, and even the BBC. Stabs me to the heart, it does. Finite verbs are not the enemy, people!

  17. Nicholas Waller on #

    Christopher Miles @ 7 – I associate the original “arkse” or “aks” in place of “ask” with Brits of Caribbean* origin, though I might be wrong.

    Also, rather than mondegreen (which is a mishearing on the part of a listener) your “intensive” problem might be a Language Log-invented eggcorn , which is a mistake on the part of the speaker (in fact your “intensive” is one of the examples here). BTW Language Log, a linguists’ blog, does not appreciate Truss-like prescriptivism.

    As for “shone” having to be pronounced “shoan” like bone and tone because of the silent e – well, it doesn’t work for “done” and “gone”. English, like Whitman, is large and contains multitudes, and you can’t necessarily appeal to some other word for guidance!

    I had a gf once who pronounced “awry” as “oary” even though she knew it was “a-rye” – she just couldn’t help it.

    *I prefer “carry bee-an” to “kuhRib-yun”.

  18. Patrick on #

    My wife always laughs when I say ‘especially’. When I was taught that word, I was told it meant ‘Extra Special’ so I have always pronounced it ‘EX-specially’.

    Maybe Scott could use that as a book title.

  19. R.J. Anderson on #

    “Shone” pronounced the same as “shown” drives me INSANE as well — and I’m Canadian. Up here we say “shawn”, like all right-thinking people. 🙂

    And “nuke-yoo-lar” brings me closer to a meltdown every time I hear it.

  20. jenifer on #

    I’m in the US, and have always pronounced shone like shawn, but maybe a little softer on the vowel sound. But rhyming it with tone never bothered me.

    And if the h in herb is there for a reason, how do you explain the w (and double e) in Greenwich? Or the w in Southwark? 🙂

  21. fran on #

    Jewelry pronounced as jew-ler-ee drives me up a tree.

  22. sara z. on #

    Here in Utah there are all kinds of delights for the ears. Depending where in the state you grew up and whether or not your parents beat it out of you, people commonly say “hill” when they mean “heel,” and “sell” when they mean “sale.” But that’s just regional accents, I guess. What truly bugs is that here, “arctic” is pronounced without the middle hard “c.” I ranted about this self-righteously on my blog only to have it pointed out to me that “artic” is an accepted pronunciation (yes, even in the OED) and in fact closer to the word origin (which I believe is native american). Still.

    I have never ever ever ever heard “shone” pronounced any way but to rhyme with “own.”

  23. Camille on #

    RE: “shone”: Yes, but YOU guys make it sound like “shun,” which isn’t a nice thing to do and makes me sad. Shun the unbeliever! (And silent E makes the vowel long!)

    For “Nevada,” think “I coulda had a.”

    ACK THIS IRKS ME NO END. There are two A’s in there, why shouldn’t they sound the same? Buuuuuut, I defer to people who actually live there, of course.

    And the English (well, West Londoners) tend to do something cute but baffling with the “Y” in “anything” — they turn it into the sound of a gut punch. Enn-uh-thing. Where’d that come from?

    To be honest, there are too many Anglophone accents for me to get all worked up over much, unless there’s an actual transposing of consonants, as in “nookewlar” or “ax” instead of “ask.”

    Americans seem to say it in one syllable: Squirl (to rhyme with girl), instead of squi-rell.

    I have never said “squirl” in my life. Must be a regional thing — there are lots! 😀

  24. Karen on #

    As a librarian, few things irk me more than “liberry.”

  25. sherwood on #

    I didn’t know about the shone/shun thing.

    I loathe and hate NOOK-you-lurrr all the more because it reminds me of George Stupid Bush.

  26. Nicholas Waller on #

    Of course, Homer Simpson is the authority on physics terms:
    OFFICER: Now Simpson, because of your many years as a nuclear technician, we’re putting you on a nuclear sub.
    HOMER: “Nuc-u-lar”. It’s pronounced “nuc-u-lar”.

    As for jewelry @ 21, in the UK we often spell it jewellery – ie it’s stuff made by jewellers as opposed to simply another way of saying jewels – and some people pronounce it like that (but not me); based on the French joaillierie, apparently.

    What strikes me as odd is the way some Americans, who often enunciate each syllable more distinctly than Brits do (as in vee-hickle for vehicle), pronounce words like missile and futile. “Launch the mistles!” and “Resistance is fewtle!” sound strangely febile.

  27. Brent on #

    A friend from England once said we were divided by a common language. By hey, who would believe someone who pronounced “Pontefract” as “Pumfruit” anyway?

  28. Camille on #

    “Launch the mistles!” and “Resistance is fewtle!” sound strangely febile.

    I like saying fu-tile, like floor tiles. Makes me feel powerful. 😀

    Ooooh, speaking of this, I found myself recently VERY impressed (seriously) at the way some Britons actually pronounce the “TH” in “months” and “clothes.” In the interests of keeping some of my Japanese ESL students from bursting into tears trying not to say “mon-thezz,” I found myself often telling them that it was legit to say “muntz” and “close.” (And not to bother with the glottal stop in Manhattan/”Manha‘N”)

  29. Matt on #

    i hate it when people say “if you think X, you’ve got another THING coming”, when it should be “you’ve got another THINK coming.”

    See, I know it’s “another think,” but I think that sounds just so ridiculous, I use “another thing.” Nobody’s called me on it yet, probably because my friends aren’t sensitive to such matters.

    but I draw the line at pronouncing Sirius as “serious”

    What’s the alternative?

    Also, I don’t know if there was an announcement and I missed it, but you gave us back our capital letters. Yay!

  30. lunamoth on #

    “Note to self: never write about language differences again.”

    I coulda told ya that! 😉 Oh, the fights I’ve gotten into!

  31. Ruby Diamond on #

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned pumpkin yet. I know people who say pun-kin, and that drives me nuts.

    Also, what about foliage? I hear a lot of people call it “foil-aj” instead of “foh-lee-aj.”

    And finally, I always say carmel or caramel “car-mel” rather than “kara-mel”

  32. Cheryl on #

    Matt: So do you pronounce sin “sen” and simple “semple”? If you do then at least it is consistent to pronounce Sirius “serious”.

    Of course the way to stop USians doing this is to point out that it is actually an Hispanic pronunciation, as in “feelthy greengo”.

  33. Camille on #

    So wait, Cheryl — are you objecting to the broad “ee” or the short “ih” sound? (Are you wanting me, I’m asking, to rhyme the first syllable of “serious” with “Herr?”) And how are you with things like “blood,” “brooch,” “good,” and “food”? 😉

    Also, what about foliage? I hear a lot of people call it “foil-aj” instead of “foh-lee-aj.”

    LOLOLOLOL at me — I pronounce it “correctly,” but constantly spell it wrong. Go fig.

    At the end of the day, if I try to pronounce things the way my dear British friends would like me to, I sound pretentious, so I’ll just have to be satisfied with my Yankitude. (I love these conversations, though. We have to all learn those common orthographic symbols so we can be sure of what we mean!)

  34. Camille on #

    P.S. I know Australians are not “British” per se. But I haven’t met any who wanted me to talk differently, yet. 😀 I will point out, though, that they seem to be particularly BRILLIANT at imitating Yank accents.)

  35. Mahek on #

    How is “shone” meant to be pronounced?

    I’ve always pronounced “shone” as “shon”.

    I hate it when chavs here say words wrong. For example, they will be meaning to say “hate” and they will say “ate” so when they say “I hate you” I hear it as “I ate you”. It’s really annoying but funny sometimes!

    Erm, this is very random but is there a smiley face at the bottom of every one else’s screen?

    Ooh, one annoying thing I find it when people are saying “naughty” yet pronounce it “nough-ee”. What is so hard with prnouncing your t’s??

    Data. I get irritated when people say “dah-tuh”. I prefer “dayta”. How do you all pronounce data??

  36. Cheryl on #

    Camille: I’m not objecting to anyone’s pronunciation of “serious”. As far as I can see there’s no disagreement on that. I’m just noting that USians pronounce the word “Sirius” as if it were spelled “serious”. And as Matt rightly pointed out, most of them have no idea there’s any other way of doing so.

  37. Merrie Haskell on #

    I’m seriously laughing too hard to really think of the ones that really cheese me off… Oh, wait.

    “For all intensive purposes.”

    It’s “for all intents and purposes,” not for just the REALLY STRENUOUS purposes!! I got into a huge fight with my boyfriend about this when I was 19. I don’t think it’s why we broke up, but it didn’t help.

    Also, my college roommate got mad at me once for saying “more zippity!” Not that I was saying that–I was saying “more’s the pity” but she heard it the other way.

  38. Matt on #

    So “sirius” should be SIR-(As in, “Hello, sir, how may I help you?”) ee-us? Hmm. Never thought of it like that.

  39. Cheryl on #

    Matt: you got it (although actually the British pronunciation is more si-RIUS than SIR-ius).

    Now, given that I’m used to hearing “Sirius” pronounced differently, can you see why it totally boggles me to hear satellite radio described as “serious” (Howard Stern and all).

  40. Mahek on #

    hehe! I’m British and I say “Serious” rather than “Sir-ius”

  41. Amber on #


    Champ-een (for champion).

    When someone “arx” instead of “asks” a question.

    People in Saskatchewan have a teeth-clenched “R” – must be the cold – so they buy veggies from the “ferrmrrs merrket”. Which makes me giggle and mimic unkindly.

  42. Erica on #

    LOL to # 18- I also am guilty of saying it incorrectly!

    Probably the latest annoyance when it comes to language is those who add the unnecessary “s” at the end of words, i.e. “Yous live around here?”

    Another thing that drives me crazy is when people say “blush you” instead of “bless you.” It may possibly be the Northern Michigan custom, but it does get annoying.

  43. Camille on #

    So “sirius” should be SIR-(As in, “Hello, sir, how may I help you?”) ee-us? Hmm. Never thought of it like that.

    Oh my. Neither have I. Actually, to be honest, I don’t know that I’ve ever had the occasion to say it aloud myself, but while reading it I always hear it in my head with both I’s making the same sound, because of Latin.

    BUT, you will all be pleased to know, the dictionary I’m obliged to use for work agrees with Cheryl: “‘sir- e -es”. That first E is long and the second is one of those all-purpose sounds, that upside-down-e “schwa” thing.

    (Because apparently it is from Greek, “Seirios,” not Latin. Neither of which I ever learned, even a little bit, so that’s my excuse :-D)

    I promise I’m not really this obsessive. This is kinda my job, or close enough — I’d be doing similar anyway.

    “For all intensive purposes.”
    I’m still kinda shocked that this even exists. I’d never heard this version before I got on the Internet.

    It still irks me less than “could care less,” though.

    Other peeves:
    “And plus.”
    “Added bonus.”
    “Discuss about.”
    “The reason is because.”


  44. Amber on #

    …you mean, a redundant tautology? 😉

    “free gift”!

    ‘ Other peeves:
    “And plus.”
    “Added bonus.”
    “Discuss about.”
    “The reason is because.” ‘

  45. abbagirl on #

    ha ha! and i thought I was super nerdy and took things too seriously.

    nice to see that i’m actually somewhat . . . normal as compared to some of these other peeps who get all het up. LOL

  46. serafina zane on #

    i have several friends who say things that are really funny are Hill-ARE-e-us. instead of, say, Hill-Air-e-us.
    this drives me insane.

    they accuse me of having a Jersey accent.

    i accuse them of being crazy.

  47. Christopher Miles on #

    @Nicholas Waller

    I hadn’t heard of ‘eggcorns’ before; cheers for that.

    FWIW, I don’t think people should be lambasted for mispronunciations, misunderstandings or misuses based on ignorance, but when broadcasters, presenters and writers misuse the language (like reporting news in sentence fragments as mention by @genevieve above, something that’s been happening for at least 15 years in Australia, or using the word ‘literally’ when they mean precisely the opposite), it’s a problem.

    Some changes in written and spoken English are, to borrow from George Michael, natural and good; others actually diminish our ability to communicate.

  48. Justine on #

    Thanks so much, everyone, for behaving in my absence. I really appreciate it!

  49. genevieve on #

    Hey, Michael (back at comment 14). In Australia the news used to be read in sentences. Truly. And they have fallen on evil ways, using present participles instead of verbs. Actually that’s what I really object to, I think.

  50. Corey J Feldman on #

    I definitely agree with the whole beauty and diversity of language thing. That being said, I have stopped listening to audio books if a particular and repeated pronunciation has annoyed the hell out of me. Although in each case, I went ahead and bought the paper addition, so maybe publishers could make it a marketing strategy.

  51. Rachael on #

    Figger (instead of fig-ure)

  52. Electric Landlady on #

    1. This seems like an excellent time to link to The Joys of English Pronunciation.

    Although not all of it works if you aren’t actually English.

    2. Sometimes I say “liberry” ON PURPOSE. But only within the family.

    3. I don’t get irked so much by mispronunciations as by misplaced accents.

  53. Michelle on #

    I had this teacher last year who would always pronounce “bathroom” as “baffroom”.

    Drove me nuts!

  54. Camille on #

    I knew a teacher who let a little boy wet himself in class because he was Jamaican and said “ba – troom.” =/

  55. Christopher Miles on #

    I just remembered a couple of really weird examples of mispronunciations.

    One was the teacher of a short course on Access databases who said ‘astrid’ instead of ‘asterisk’. Bizzare.
    Another was a teacher of a desktop publishing and Photoshop subject who said ‘cirtle’ instead of ‘circle’. Again with the bizarre.

  56. capt. cockatiel on #

    My brother and sister and I make fun of my mom all the time because she’s from New York and still sort of has an accent.
    She says “caw-fee” and “waw-ter” and “awww-sum” (which I guess is really how it should be said…) and “dawg” and it just sounds so wrong to me.
    Then again, last summer I found out what constitutes a “Washington State Accent.” Apparently the words “caught” and “cot” sound different. You could have fooled me, haha. XP

  57. Kim on #

    I can’t believe nobody said this one: EX-scape.
    Or how about ax (for ask)?
    Nu-cu-lar bothers me too, but it’s hard to distinguish anymore whether it’s just the pronunciation or the major offender (Bush).

    Justine, don’t swear off of these – this has been such a fun and enlightening dialog!

    FWIW, I say “shone”, rhymes with “bone”. I am a NJ USian.

  58. capt. cockatiel on #

    Ah! EX-scape! In class we were coming up with a title for a project the class had done (sort of a writing compilation thing) and this girl was suggesting hers — apparently called the “Ink Exscape.” Our teacher corrected her about ten times on the pronunciation, and she just couldn’t say it correctly…

  59. Gabrielle on #

    Huh. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone pronounce “shone” like “own,” not even in the States. But apparently us Canadians aren’t included in the US bandwagon for once on that front. Ha! This has been fun! I love accents.

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