Friday October 14, 2016

Think you know how to pronounce bruschetta and GIF? Chances are you're saying it wrong

Brother-sister duo Ross and Kathy Petras are the pronunciation aficionados behind the new book "You're Saying it Wrong."

Brother-sister duo Ross and Kathy Petras are the pronunciation aficionados behind the new book "You're Saying it Wrong." (Penguin Random House)

Listen 11:25

The pronunciation of words is a point of contention and can often be a cause for embarrassment in social situations.

Enter Kathy and Ross Petras, a brother-sister duo, and the authors of "You're Saying it Wrong: A Pronunciation Guide to the 150 Most Commonly Mispronounced Words and Their Tangled Histories of Misuse."

The book, released on September 13th, aims to bring clarity to a world of confusion.

"We did this book as a public service," Kathy tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

According to a 2015 study conducted for Dictionary.com, 47 per cent of Americans are irritated by mispronunciations.

Ross says that's partly due to an aversion to hearing one's own name mispronounced by others.

"People are going to look at you like you're a nut."

The other reason, he says, is intellectual. "If you're talking and you mispronounce something [while] you're trying to get a point across, you sound like a fool."

"Language is designed for communication. You want to get your point across quickly and effectively. If I said, I'm an expert in the provincial politics of 'Minitiba,' you'd look at me like: 'One, I think he means Manitoba. Two, I don't think he's much of an expert if he can't pronounce the thing correctly'," says Ross.

      

So is that "GIF" or "JIF"? 

When it comes to the highly contested pronunciation of the term 'gif,' Ross says you're perhaps better off saying it with a hard 'G.' Otherwise, he says, "people are going to look at you like you're a nut."

As a rule of thumb, Ross says that if the majority of people pronounce the word a certain way, you're best off saying it like the majority, even if it is wrong.

But that's not the case with all words. Some pronunciation is not as lenient.

"There are certain words in here that we've included that you really do sound wrong if you say [them] incorrectly."

Like chaise longue.

The book is also written out of empathy for people who have mispronounced names and words, and faced ridicule as a result.

      

No one wants to be ridiculed

"[I] still remember once years ago, when I was in class I said 'magnimonious' instead of magnanimous, and everyone looked at me oddly and I was just so humiliated," says Kathy.

There are many reasons why people mispronounce words."Languages change, spellings change," says Ross.

Kathy says metathesis - a term referring to the transposition of letters in a word - plays a part. People often pronounce words the way their brains think it ought to be said.

This explains why someone would utter "renumeration," rather than "remuneration." Naturally, one might make the association with the word 'number.'

"What you're doing is mispronouncing because it sounds more right in your head. You're like 'of course it's this.' But it's actually not the one that's not in your head that is correct," says Kathy.

The book also includes a section on British place names—among them: Magdalen College, pronounced 'Maudlen.'

Despite having written the book, there are words in it that still give both authors trouble.

For Ross, it's 'desultory.'

Kathy says she's still making sense of the correct pronunciation of 'detritus.'