PERCOLATE, Not Perculate

What a difference a letter makes — in this case, in the pronunciation of the 9-letter word percolate. I grew up hearing (and speaking) it as it is spelled: per-coh-late. But of late, per-cue-late is bubbling up from vocal chords countrywide.

I dipped into Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary to see what’s up, thinking the newer voicing may have gained enough ground to earn Alternate Pronunciation status. But both the audible version and the written notation revealed that in the eyes of lexicographers, percolate is “properly” pronounced only as it has been for the past 400-plus years: per-coh-late.

Nevertheless, it is probably only a matter of time until the newer articulation turns up in dictionaries, and possibly supersedes the long-standing one. The world didn’t end when forte morphed from fort to fort-ay; dour from doo-ur to dow-ur; ration from ray-shun to rash-un; flaccid from flak-sid to flas-sid; and innumerable additional words changed not only their pronunciation but also their meaning. When it comes right down to it, how a word is pronounced is a trifle in the 1,600-year evolution of the English language, a tongue that will keep changing as long as humans are around to speak it.

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