Let's face it: the English language is a mess of contradictory pronunciations and questionable spellings, and it's all due to a phenomenon called the Great Vowel Shift. I've had my fair share of embarrassing mispronunciations, and each traumatic memory has stayed with me over the years. In fact, I still cringe at the burning humiliation I felt when I butchered a key word in a speech I delivered to my entire elementary school class. While I could've selected hundreds of words to include in this article, I've chosen the handful of words that keep coming back to haunt me. Without further ado, here are the top eight words I've mispronounced, laid bare in hopes that you don't mispronounce them, too.
Correct pronunciation: luh-PELL. What I said: LAP-uhl. This word ranks as number one on my list because of the embarrassing circumstances in which I mispronounced it. It was my senior year prom and I was pinning a boutonniere to my date's lapel. My friends stood in a ring around us, snapping photos of the classic prom moment. "Which lapel does it go on?" I asked innocently. Everyone who'd heard my mispronunciation burst out laughing. I still have photos of my red cheeks and forced grimace in the aftermath of my faux pas.
Correct pronunciation: sk-OWL. What I said: SCOLD, without the d. This word goes to show how long I hold onto embarrassing memories because I last mispronounced this word in the first grade. It was read aloud time, something I was looking forward to because of my relatively advanced reading skills. Each person in my class had to read a sentence of our class book, and when it was my turn, I confidently plowed forward with fluency and grace (or so I thought). Words cannot describe how humiliated I felt when my teacher corrected my pronunciation and my classmates giggled around me.
Correct pronunciation: RET-or-ik. What I said: ret-OR-ik. I was in tenth-grade Global History and my class was discussing Queen Elizabeth I's 1588 Tilbury speech. The quarter was drawing to a close and I desperately needed participation points, so I raised my hand to comment on what made Queen Elizabeth's rhetoric so effective. After my comment, I sat back in my seat, feeling accomplished -- until my teacher paraphrased my comment and pronounced rhetoric the right way.
Correct pronunciation: mish-AY-pin. What I said: mis-HAP-pen. This word doesn't have a publicly embarrassing moment associated with it, thankfully. It's only embarrassing because of how long I mispronounced this word before realizing how it was supposed to sound. Growing up, I saw this word used frequently in the books that I read. My brain automatically saw "miss" and pronounced it like a compound. I only discovered the correct pronunciation after my friend and I argued about whether her bottle was "mish-AY-pin" or "mis-HAP-pen" (I had to give her $5 that day).
Correct pronunciation: ah-sigh-EE. What I said: assay. There's a reason I don't like ordering food, and mispronouncing the items name is part of it. I was at Starbucks for the fifth time in my life and I wanted a refreshing drink to accompany the fries I'd just bought. Over text, my sister recommended the Strawberry Acai Refresher two seconds before it was my turn to order. I didn't have time to confirm the drink's pronunciation and, predictably, I messed up the name. The Starbucks employee stared at me in confusion after I ordered, and so I quickly changed my order to the Matcha Green Tea Latte. I still haven't tried the Acai Refresher.
Correct pronunciation: SHER-bit. What I said: sher-BAY, sor-BAY, SHER-bert. I blame my dad for my confusion over how to pronounce this word because every mispronunciation listed came from him. I constantly get confused over whether "sherbet" and "sorbet" are the same thing, so I often jumble both pronunciations. I remember ordering a lemon sherbet on a family cruise — I must've mispronounced sherbet pretty badly because the waiter turned to my sister and asked whether I spoke English.
Correct pronunciation: ASS-ter-isk. What I said: ASS-ter-ix. I don't always mispronounce this word, but it annoys me to no end when I do. Given that it's spelled exactly as it should be pronounced, there's really no excuse for my mispronunciation. In fact, that makes it 10x more embarrassing when I talk about "asterixes" with my friends and they over-enunciate the "k" to correct me.
Correct pronunciation: KAZ-um. What I said: CHAZ-um. The fact that "ch" is sometimes pronounced as "k" is one of the most baffling rules (or exceptions?) that I've had to wrap my head around. I remember having a discussion about Milton's poetry in an eighth grade English class and being extremely confused when everyone kept pronouncing "chasm" with a "k." I steadfastly avoided saying the word for the entire class and instead used the word "gap" to describe the same thing everyone else was talking about.