Tricky pronunciations and how to get them right

You say Dun Laoghaire, I say, er… From commonly mispronounced words to bonkers place names, here’s a list of tricky pronunciations that might just blow your mind

A photo of four friends chatting to illustrate a blog post about pronunciationPhotograph by Alexis Brown

If you read a lot, the chances are that you have a pretty decent vocabulary but have never heard some of those words spoken out loud. Sometimes you guess at their pronunciation before realising – maybe decades later – that you were somewhat off the mark. Which is so weird, like having to relearn a good friend’s name. And, if you tend to read the news rather than watch or listen to it, you may know that the president of Turkey is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – but would you fancy saying his name in public?

As someone who tends to subvocalise (ie, articulate the words in my head as I’m reading), especially with a relatively complex news story, I find it REALLY annoying if I don’t know how a word or name should be pronounced. I have a secret terror that one day I’ll need to bring Dun Laoghaire up in conversation and be shown up as the fool I must surely be.

Even worse are those words that you really do think you know how to say – and have been happily saying in public for years – only to find out that you were beyond wrong. I only found out a few months ago that Cadogan was pronounced “Caduggun”. I know. Apparently everyone in the whole world knew this apart from me. But here’s the thing – no one ever corrected me, so I blame British reticence and manners for that one (ahem).

So anyway, here are a few common culprits. Are there any that surprise you? And do you disagree with any of them?

General words
archipelago ark-i-pel-ago
boatswain boh-sun
bruschetta broo-sket-uh
chipotle chip-oat-lay
chorizo choh-ree-tho
cotoneaster coh-tone-ee-as-ter
epitome e-pit-o-mee
furore  few-roar-ee
hyperbole hi-per-bo-lee
irrevocable i-rev-o-cubbul
lamentable la-ment-abbul
lido lee-doh
nomenclature no-men-clat-yur
paean pee-un
paprika pap-rik-uh
pedagogy ped-a-gogg-ee
prosciutto proh-shoot-oh
quagmire kwog-myer
quinoa keen-wah
scallop skoll-up
subsidence sub-sy-dunce
synecdoche sin-eck-duh-kee
vice versa vi-suh ver-suh (although vice is commonly said and perfectly acceptable)

Surnames
Bagehot badj-it
Beauchamp beech-um
Beaulieu byoo-lee
Belvoir  bee-ver
Cadogan ca-dug-un (darn it)
Caius keez
Capote cuh-pote-ee
Cholmondeley chum-lee
Coetzee kurt-zear
Colquhoun ca-hoon
Donne dun
Elwes (as in Cary of “The Princess Bride” fame) el-wez
Farquharson far-kuh-sun
Featherstonehaugh fan-shore
Fiennes fines
Groening (as in Matt of “The Simpsons” fame) grayn-ing
Grosvenor grove-ner
Gruffudd griff-ith
Johansson If you’re talking about Scarlett, it’s joe-han-sen
Mainwaring man-uh-ring
Maugham morm
Menzies min-gus
Pepys peeps
Schiaparelli skee-ap-a-rell-ee
St John sin-jun
Weisz vice

Plus some national leaders for you:
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rej-ep tie-ip erd-o-wan
Aung San Suu Kyi ong san soo chee
Dilma Rousseff joo-ma roo-sev (the joo is kind of juh-yoo, but said as one syllable)
Xi Jinping shee jin ping
(Narendra) Modi mor-dee
(Shinzo) Abe a-bay

Place names
(I’m sticking to the UK/Ireland but broadly ignoring Wales on the basis that I can’t even begin to pronounce those names)
Alnwick an-ik
Anstruther ain-ster
Bicester bis-ter
Costessey cossy
Culzean kull-ane
Dun Laoghaire dun leery
Findochty fin-eck-tay
Frome froom
Fowey foy
Godmanchester gum-ster
Garioch gear-ree
Happisburgh haze-burruh
Holborn ho-bun
Hunstanton huns-tun
Kirkcaldy kur-codd-ee
Kirkcudbright kur-coo-bray
Laugharne larn
Leominster lem-ster
Lough Neagh lock nay
Magdalen (College, Oxford) mord-lin
Magdalene (College, Cambridge) mord-lin
Marylebone mar-luh-bun
Mousehole mowz-ul
Oswaldtwistle oz-ul-twiz-ul
Shrewsbury shroes-bury
Stiffkey stew-key
Pontypridd ponty-preeth
Woolfardisworthy wools-uh-ree
Wymondham wind-um

Brand names
Balmain bal-mah
Braun brown
Georg Jensen geeyor yen-sen (hard g)
Givenchy zji-von-shee
Hermes air-mez
Ikea ih-key-ah (but seriously, who says that?)
Loewe low-ev-ay
Marchesa mar-kay-suh
Miele mee-la
Miu Miu mew mew
Moschino moss-kee-no
Nike nih-key
Porsche porsh-uh
Ralph Lauren ralf loh-run
Tag Heuer tag hoy-yur
Volkswagen fokes-var-gun

Which pronunciations have surprised you in the past? Do you know any more crazy place names? I’d love to hear some more so please comment below or on The Wordy House Facebook page.

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