Pronounced Limp

by Karen Jeynes

When Michael Hutchence died, I learned two things. I learned what autoerotic asphyxiation was, and, far more shockingly, I learned that this band I’d been reading about called “INXS” and this band I’d heard of called “In Excess” were in fact THE SAME BAND. I sat there, wondering with horror how many times I’d embarrassingly revealed my ignorance in public. And also how many times I’d pronounced INXS as “inks”.

Still, I thought, at least my faux pas hadn’t become a worldwide joke, like George W Bush’s way of saying “nuclear” or George W Bush’s way of saying “American”. Or George W Bush in general. It wasn’t as bad as the time I witnessed someone give a lengthy speech in which they pronounced “scintillating” as “skinterlating” throughout. I wasn’t Elton John singing about how hard “sorry” is to say but merrily mauling “absurd” into “abzurd”. Nor was it as painful as the time I spent half an hour deciphering that when the man in front of me said “do you have a buzzer?” what he meant was “do you have a bursary?”. And my error hadn’t cost me actual hard cash.

Brand names are a veritable pronunciation minefield. I simply avoid discussing Porsche, Nike and Hyundai because my brain goes numb even contemplating how to say them. A lady proudly displaying her new handbag in the shopping queue the other day may have dropped a few rungs on the social ladder when she proudly told the woman next to her “It’s Voo-WEE-tun!”

We’ve all been known to drop a few “r”s in “library” and “February”. Hyperbole is NOT a size up from a superbowl, and moot is not silent, I don’t think. Struggling with pronunciation is indeed so much of a curse that fellow wordnerd Chris Hancock gave it a name: Foot in Mouth Disease. But of course, there are times when the pronunciation of a word varies depending on your accent and how you were brought up. There is often not one right way to say something, but several right ways.  Is yoghurt YO-gurt or YOG-ert? Do we a-pre-she-ate or a-pre-see-ate? And will we ever move forward on pro-gress versus prog-ress? Why, these amusing nuances in speech might make for a catchy song…hmm…nah, let’s call the whole thing off.


These differences are caused by the shifting nature of how we speak, so whilst I enjoy a mighty chuckle every time Jeff Probst says the word “buoy” on Survivor, my spirits are kept high knowing that the joyous diversity of our language is alive and kicking. The fact is that although we might feel self conscious when we make a blunder, particularly if people laugh and point, that is the nature of language. Shakespeare doesn’t rhyme anymore, and we’re using less “e”s than a few centuries ago – it’s survival of the fittest. Or survival of the simplest to slide off the tongue.

Which is why I continue to pronounce “misled” as “my-zilled” and “awry” as “aw-ree”. One day, if we are resolute, they will catch on.


Karen Jeynes

About Karen Jeynes

Karen Jeynes (@karenjeynes) is a playwright, dramaturg, wordsmith, proponent of the Oxford comma, and collector of words. She has been known to rub her hands with girlish glee on discovering a new one. She experiences high levels of angst over misplaced apostrophes, sometimes having to have a bit of a lie down. She is perilously partial to puns. And also alliteration.


12 Comments to “Pronounced Limp”

  1. Bwahahahaha! Day made!

  2. I simply love your mind. Can’t imagine you ever blundering!

  3. Haha! Of course I’ve never made any of those errors… *acts natural*

  4. Oh…Oh dear. I may have to go to my room and think about what I’ve said. Thanks!

  5. You are my guru. I will pronounce misled and awry correctly from now on 😉

  6. Love the story of a snotty couple in a restaurant asked for pi-NOTT-idge. Its become a family joke and is occasionally used inadvertently to the horror of those not in the joke.

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