Category Archives: Pronunciation

In the news … (June 10)


TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky. In usage and grammar news this month: Trump is unaware of the hottest portmanteau of the year; a very sinister punctuation trend; Roald Dahl’s weird words get their own dictionary; a grammar mistake on a London Transport ad (can you spot it?); Texan Republicans either believe that most Texans are gay, or they just can’t string a sentence together; the name of a famous bridge has been spelled wrong for more than five decades; a comedian lands herself in trouble with a mispronunciation; and some awesome Bachelorette malapropisms. (And if you’re not sure what a portmanteau or malapropism is, check out Glosso’s earlier post here.) Continue reading

In the news … (April 29)

TGIF … In language and usage news this month (and it’s been a good one), we have a Presidential hopeful having some trouble abroad —  in pronouncing the name of that place he’s never been to;  some landmark capitalization rules (or make that “DEcap” rules) at the AP; how personality is behind grammar nazis; does the name “Jim Wilson” mean anything to you (especially if you’re in the aviation world)?; find out which words were born in the same year as yours truly; the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism; some words made famous on an iconic TV show; and some dope on pugs … Continue reading

In the news … (Feb 5)

Sarah Palin gets in a 'squirmish' with coherence/HuffPostUK Politics

Sarah Palin gets in a ‘squirmish’ with coherence/HuffPostUK Politics

That Gerund Is Funky — Feb issue. Recently in grammar and language news: a Palin portmanteau that NPR’s Ari Shapiro can’t let go of; Oxford Dictionaries faces an accusation of sexism; a grammar quiz from The Independent; how to pronounce the name of a Dutch musician with a Swedish-sounding surname; the new legitimacy of the singular ‘they’; and the end of the road for a punctuation mark? Continue reading

The stressful life of noun-verb homonyms

By Alex E. Proimos, via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex E. Proimos, via Wikimedia Commons

It happens all the time, for better or for worse: nouns being hijacked for use as verbs, and vice versa. “To evidence something,”, “to critique his essay”, “to friend someone”, “to transition into a new role”, “to workshop the play”, “to pencil a date in”, “to text your mom”, “to seat someone in the theater” — even “to host a party”: these are all examples of verbing (which — yeah — is an example of its own definition), any of which might set your teeth on edge to varying degrees. Similarly, “his spend is excessive,” “let’s make the ask,” and “the magician’s reveal” are all forms of “nouning” — or nominalization, which can be just as grating on the ear, if not more so. Continue reading

How do you pronounce Purcell?


Henry Purcell, who died 320 years ago today, was one of England’s greatest composers; most people agree on that fact. But how do you pronounce his name? There’s less consensus about that, and it continues to be discussed and debated more than three centuries after the master musician took his last breath. Should it sound like Persil, the detergent, or rhyme with Purell, the hand sanitizer? Continue reading

Why do Brits pronounce lieutenant “leftenant”?


Back in 2013, on The Guardian‘s Notes and Queries page, a man called Jeff Rushton from London asked this very good question:

Why exactly do the British say lieutenant as ‘leftenant’? 

Armchair linguists on both sides of the Atlantic offered up various answers and suggestions: here’s a selection for your interest and entertainment … Continue reading

I say Derby, you say Darby …

iroquoisIroquois was the first American-bred thoroughbred racehorse to win the Epsom Derby

It’s Derby Day in the U.S. and all the hats were out in Kentucky. The Brits will dust off their own fascinators for their big day in June when the country’s fastest colts and fillies run the one-mile four-furlong ten-yard race on the Epsom Downs in the world’s original and most famous Derby. But what’s the biggest difference between the Derby Stakes and the Kentucky Derby — apart from the names of the speedy nags running for the roses on either side of the Atlantic? That will be in the way the names of the famous races themselves are pronounced: as in DERBY here in the States and DARBY over in Blighty. Why do the Brits do that? Continue reading

How do you pronounce Boleyn?


In a scene towards the end of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s riveting production of Wolf Hall (part II), which has recently been transplanted from London’s West End to Broadway, one of the king’s guards strides downstage and announces loudly and gravely the name of his newly arrested charge: “Boleyn!” (And just in case the history books haven’t spoiled it for you yet, I won’t specify which member of the Tudor family bearing this name is about to be escorted to their new lodging in the Tower of London.) Curiously, in pronouncing the identity of his Boleyn prisoner, the guard places careful emphasis on the first syllable, so that the name rings out over a hushed audience in the Winter Garden Theater in a way we’re not used to hearing it: “BULL-uhn!”. Continue reading