And one of those important things is to make a concerted effort to not sound ignorant. A lofty goal some might say. Perception is everything, some say, and one way in which we can try to sound intelligent if by making the effort to speak properly. I realize for some it’s a massive endeavor, a Herculean feat even, but let’s give it a try, shall we?
In our defense, we are the result of the metaphorical melting pot of accents and dialects. Perhaps the pot needs the lid removed, the heat reduced to a simmer and some sturdier stirring to get those stuck bits off the bottom. Perhaps too much seasoning’s been added – alluding to texting and tweeting and permitting a little device to ‘auto-correct’ us when some of us wouldn’t know if we’d been incorrect to begin with.
Look, we are all judged and judge and if we say we don’t, we’re liars or up for canonization. (As a side note: hearing much talk recently about a certain female who held a pretty impressive position in a political organization in which she was passing as black until being outed by her own parents for being white. Rather than calling her a liar or saying she was lying, I heard many people – both pundits on race relations as well as some of her family members – say she spoke in ‘untruths’ and was ‘less than honest’. Now, I like a nuance as much as the next person, but come on. Is it now unPC to say someone’s a liar or is or has been lying? We are judged for all the obvious reasons: bad hair day, no hair day, wearing high-water pants when not in Brooklyn’s hipster areas, excessive facial piercings or not enough facial piercings – depends upon which side of that coin you’re on, too tall, too short, too fat, too thin., wrong religion, wrong ethnicity, wrong political party, and on it goes.
So, let’s face it. The playing field will never be leveled in our lifetime. But rather than throw our hands in the air and surrender, we can try to lessen the judging by making the effort to speak better. Most of us have verbal quirks. Some are cute and kind of endearing. Others not so much.
I knew a man who said he ‘was raped over the coals’ in some business deal gone awry. My natural instinct was to correct him and say, ‘raked’ but he was a misogynist and I figured he said it to provoke outrage. I felt ignoring him was better.
With that in mind, here are just a few of the myriad words that are misused or mispronounced that tend to make the speaker sound less than scholarly:
Aks – instead of ask. This is what we in the word biz like to refer to as a dyslexic mispronunciation (caused by switching the order of the letters). Having spent most of my life in New York, I thought aks was a New York thing but since I haven’t had the opportunity to spend most of my life in the other 49 states, I’ll have to take my word for it.
Drug vs. dragged – as in “I drug that dead body into the woods.’ This tends to be a Southern thing but we all know how easy it is for slang to become pervasive and creep north, east and westward. A drug is something one gets at the pharmacy or from that shifty co-worker who always has the munchies or is always wiping their nose and blaming it on allergies. Whereas dragged is the verb you’re looking for to convey the fact that you lugged that dead body into the woods.
Duck tape – it is neither made from ducks, nor intended to be used on them. It is duct tape – to be used on air ducts and the like.
Expresso vs. Espresso - We all know it’s espresso so just stop saying expresso.
Heighth – this one’s been around for decades (if not longer). The correct pronunciation/spelling is height. It is probably being confused with width. It seems to be a favorite among TV color commentators (a sports commentator who assists the play-by-play announcer, often by filling in any time when play is not in progress. [Weren’t they simply called TV commentators before the advent of color television? Can’t the ‘color’ bit be dropped now after half a century of use?] You can hear heighth being used with not a little frequency at the Olympics and other sporting events referencing the impressive heighth the athlete has achieved in the high jump, etc. Even anchorpersons and TV hosts use the word. Don’t they all have those ear pieces where the producers tell them things? Why aren’t these producers telling them to STOP saying heighth?!
For all intensive purposes is another one that seems to trip some people up. Now, your purposes may be quite intense, but you mean to say: for all intents and purposes.
Irregardless - The less at the end says without, so no need to repeat the same sentiment with ir at the beginning. It’s just plain old regardless.
Snuck – no such word as snuck. Don’t say, ‘We snuck into the movie.” You ‘sneaked into the movie’ (and should be ashamed of yourself).
Yoke vs. Yolk – Yoke is the wooden frame connecting two animals – generally oxen – to work together. Yolk is the yellow gelatinous bit of over-easy egg built for dipping toast.
Some of these mispronunciations are due to regional dialects. Some to laziness. If you can’t differentiate between the correct pronunciation, chances are you’ll misspell the word as well giving you a bonus point in the dopey column. Memorization may be your last and best resort.
Now, it would be harsh to simply label those who mispronounce as stupid. They’re just less concerned with words and how they are perceived by others and probably feel no compunction to cease wearing white shoes even in December.
Watch this space where perhaps next time we’ll discuss redundant words such as: Luxury Yacht .