Pronounce This!

“You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to,” goes the classic George and Ira Gershwin song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”  And the statement rings true here in the USA, even though to-MAY-to is Standard American English by and large. That doesn’t mean it will remain so, however: The pronunciation of countless words has been tuned and retuned from our native tongue’s earliest days, whether we’ve flattened an a, softened a hard g, or put stress on a second syllable instead of the third.

Furthermore, how a word is spelled may cause its pronunciation to change over time. Take schismwhich means “split,” “discord,” or “conflict.” Its articulation recently went from  SIZ-um to SKIZ-um because the word’s first three letters suggest the k phoneme (speech sound). That’s how spoken English works – always has, always will. “Right” or “wrong” may not matter in certain situations, but it pays to have “preferred” pronunciations up your sleeve.

This category includes musings on which way to go with either (EE-thur or EYE-thur?); the almost inevitable mispronunciation of a borrowed French idiom; and the last word on the way to pronounce banal.

*See also An Open Letter to Chris Matthews