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Fancy Words People Mispronounce

Along the lines of my Favorite Pretentious Terms of the Slate Podcast Literati, a related list: words most people don’t know; that a few learn, but only learn it through reading books, so they don’t know how to pronounce it. List to be updated from time to time on this page: Frequently Mispronounced Fancy Words.

  • Ayn (they say “Ann”)
  • detritus (often mispronounced as DEH-tri-tuss)
  • imprimatur
  • Mises (all over the map–MY-zeez, MEE-zeez)
  • premises (one philosopher I know called it “preh-MY-sess”)
  • short-lived (rhymes with dived, not lived)
  • stare decisis (all over the map)
  • Stephan (they say “Steven”)
  • voir dire (all over the map)
  • welsch (“welch”)

More to come…

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Zach Bibeault September 27, 2009, 11:02 pm

    I’ve now had two people I know pronounce Mises “MICE-EEZ”. It’s like nails on a chalkboard.

  • BD September 27, 2009, 11:26 pm

    In my graduate program, three of my professors, all of them Asian, pronounced hypothesis like hypo-thesis.

  • Daniel September 28, 2009, 12:20 am

    My accounting professor would pronounce “foreign” as “fo-reh-gin”

  • t w v September 28, 2009, 12:12 pm

    I wonder how often some of this is deliberate mispronunciation. I have heard RON PAUL say “Ann Rand.” He knows better. But maybe he thinks that if he pronounces the name incorrectly his constituents won’t think him a devotee. (Pronounce that last one, please.)

    I have never said “stare decisis” once in my whole life.

    But since you used to capitalize the “a” in your name on your envelopes submitted to Liberty (that is, as “StephAn Kinsella”), I tend to mispronounce your name as “Stef ANN.” Sorry about that.

  • Stephan Kinsella September 28, 2009, 12:43 pm

    Wirkman, I suspect Paul maybe doesn’t know, or thinks he will confuse people.

    As for my name–I spelled it StephAn for a while to keep morons from changing it to Stephen. But I gave up on this, after one moron put it this way on a diploma.

    • Brian Mitchell March 1, 2014, 1:24 pm

      Hello, Stephan. I’m writing this because my great-great-grandmother was a Kinsella. She lived in Co. Wexford, Ireland, in the early 1800s. Her son, my great-grandfather Nicholas Kent, immigrated to America in 1881. I’m curious about the pronunciation of the name. My family always pronounced it KIN-sella, but I often hear it pronounced Kin-SELL-a. On Kinsella.org someone named Norman Stephan Kinsella reports that it’s often pronounced the former way in Ireland, and the latter way in England and America.

  • iawai September 28, 2009, 1:21 pm

    To be fair with voir dire and stare decisis: Latin was spread to the winds, to be pronounced by whatever Frankish king or Anglo warlord however they wanted it pronounced: introducing lisps, soft consonants, f/s transliteration, vowel elongations, and a myriad of other changes as the usage became more dispersed and isolated.

    Then we go and re-merge all these divergent cultures and try to retrofit a ‘standard’ pronunciation for terms that the Monks who copied them from the original Latin likely never spoke themselves.

    All in all – I’m a libertarian linguist: you can pronounce whatever words however you want, subject to just two conditions: (1) your intended audience can decipher what you mean, and (2) anyone can choose how to pronounce their own name (but that doesn’t mean that others will adopt that moniker for the actor).

    Selecting a single “correct” language or dialect for the entirety of society is as audacious as selecting a single religion or sect for the same group.

  • Tom Woods September 28, 2009, 1:51 pm

    Stephan, “short-lived” with a short “i” is given as acceptable at dictionary.com. I think the long “i” just sounds stupid. It makes sense that something that doesn’t last very long, and thus has a short life, would be short lived, not LIE-ved. Blech.

    • Stephan Kinsella September 28, 2009, 1:55 pm

      @Tom: The usage note says: “Usage Note: The pronunciation (-lvd) is etymologically correct since the compound is derived from the noun life, rather than from the verb live. ”

      Anyway, you guys from Harvard can get away with siding with the commoners. We from public universities in the South have to mind our p’s and q’s to avoid ejection from polite society.

  • Tom Woods September 30, 2009, 1:05 pm

    Damn usage notes.

  • Bren November 3, 2009, 7:27 am

    “Short-lived” with a long “i” has always made sense to me. A person’s “live” in not short, his or her LIIIIIFE is short. I understand that the short “i” pronunciation is acceptable, and the most common, but it makes me itch.

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