Illogical Pronunciations

Husband and I were leaving the grocery store in a snow storm last week when we decided to carry the bags instead of push the cart through the slush.  It was then I asked “why is the u in those words pronounced so differently?  Why are push, cushion, and bush pronounced that way, and why are slush, brush, and rush pronounced the way they are?”

Husband seems to think that push and cushion are of French origin , and that accounts for the pronunciations. I am not sure. Languages are so interconnected.  I know that “Good butter and good cheese is good English and good Fries (West Frisian, as spoken in the  northern Netherlands)”.    English is just so illogical.  I wonder if all languages are mongrel like English, or is English unique?

What words flummox you? What are your favorite and least favorite words. 

54 thoughts on “Illogical Pronunciations”

  1. I took an elective in high school called “GHOTI Spells Fish” that was all about how language forms and in particular all the weird ways that English pronunciation developed. Fascinating. (I’m sure that “45” wouldn’t understand the irony of how many words in our language were immigrants from other lands.

    Even though I understand that English is a growing, evolving language, I still grimace when I hear the word “impact” used as a verb. And I can never seem to type the word “accommodate” without having to stop and spell it out. Grrrrr.

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      1. I have a mental block with “unfortunately”. I always start to put in an e after the second n. I know I’m on the verge of making the same mistake I always make, but can’t quite avoid it.

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  2. This has been a sore topic with me ever since an epic confrontation with my second grade school teacher who had a bizarre set of rules about pronunciation that she had built up based on arbitrary associations. Miss Steel dressed me down in front of the class, telling everyone that I should be ashamed because I spoke badly.

    Example? She said that “good” should be pronounced “gude” since double Os produced the long “U” sound in such words as “fool” and “tool.” She was full of that kind of wisdom.

    Ashamed, I walked home in the street because (as I explained to my horrified mother) I deserved to have an accident because I talked badly.

    By the end of second grade I understood Miss Steele had become a teacher because she enjoyed mocking kids whose minds weren’t as orderly as hers. She taught me the meaning of the word “martinet.”

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      1. Alas, she had a long, long career. I had several memorable clashes with Miss Steele, and my father tangled with her once. A very brave girl who went to school with me defied Miss Steele once (when Tessie was eight), telling her to her face, “You should never have been a teacher. It is wrong that you have the power to mistreat children..”

        I am incapable of hating people who have wronged me. If I ever learn how to hate folks, she’d be near the front of the list! And then there was sadistic Miss Bentley with her wicked ruler. Such people were once more common than people might believe.

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        1. YA’s very first teacher out of the shoot (in kindergarten) for some reason didn’t like her. I knew it the very first night we met … some kind of intuition. I told myself I was imagining things but time did tell.
          It meant that every little infraction of YAs was chalked up to “bad child” as opposed to “5 year old. I couldn’t wait for the year to be over. For example, I got called to school once and was confronted by this teacher, the principal AND the social worker because YA had poked another child with the cap of a ballpoint pen. Teacher said because she had used the cap, it was considered the same as using a weapon! The only thing that keep me from freaking out that year was that despite asking, I could never uncover any other kind of questionable behavior in any other arena: sports, church, daycare or her Chinese playgroup.

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      1. It used to be fairly common. Both of my parents were treated roughly by teachers at different times. One amazingly muscular women slapped my father so hard her flew across the room and was unconscious for a while. My mom had a teacher whose cruelty was more psychological. Teachers routinely did things that today would get them professionally disgraced and fired. Obviously, things are better now.

        We worried about my grandson’s teacher this year, for she has a reputation. But that has gone better than expected. At parents’ night recently that teacher said, “He cracks me up every day. When he opens his mouth you don’t have ANY idea of what is gonna come out!”

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    1. This term strikes my hot button! 20 years ago, a client filed a complaint about me over a misunderstanding of how I worded something in a therapy session. When I learned of this, I called her to resolve the matter. I thought it’d been straightened out because, at the end of our conversation she said, “NO PROBLEM”. She moved ahead with the complaint anyway. To this day, if someone says, “no problem”, my gut tenses up.

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    1. Owly was in common use when I was a kid but I haven’t heard it for years. Apparently it’s use is mostly confined to Canada and the upper midwest.

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        1. Here is an exampme of broody. Husband said last night as we were driving to Bismarck “It takes me about 60 miles before I can stop thinking about work”.

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  3. I like the old-fashioned words that aren’t often used and seem to conjure up unique visions– curmudgeon, rapscallion, scoundrel, whippersnapper.

    One of my all-time favorite curse words, which is incredibly satisfying to utter, is clusterf**k. 🙂

    Chris in Owatonna
    (who could spend the rest of the day coming up with fun, interesting, unique words. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Thanks, Ben. The reporter, Colleen Timimi, emailed me and asked the questions, so I knew the article was being written. Still pretty cool to get one’s name in the paper (Other than for an obituary or an arrest. 😉 )

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  4. penelope and epitome are words i read as penny lope and eppa tome for years and years
    when i finally realized what they were i cracked up

    inside the actors studio had/has a question answe segment intended to tell some takeaway and insight into the guest
    favorite word, least favorite word (or was it sound) , favorite swear word were included
    based on a test by some guy known to others

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  5. It will probably not come as a surprise that there are many words that I puzzle over. Slough is one of them. Two words that I always have to stop and think about before either saying or writing them are dairy and diary. I love words, and I love to listen to someone who is an eloquent speaker without a bunch of distracting verbal pause signals or tics. One word that I’m particularly fond of is murmuration (which, for some reason, WP chooses to underline in red!). I also like the word swoop.

    The list of words I don’t like is long as well. The present occupant of the White House has contributed bigly to that list. I used to very rarely use the F-bomb, but lately it seems it’s the only word that adequately expresses my disgust with what’s going on.

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    1. Ha ha… slough is one of the words that my high school teacher used when she was explain “GHOTI”. The “gh” in slough is the “f” sound of fish!!

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    1. Where was callipygous when I had a need for it? As far as pulchritude is concerned, to me it sounds like the exact opposite of what it means.

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      1. And it’s another s-z word! Saturday I replied thusly to one of Steve’s comments: “Scuzzy is a very descriptive word that just fits what it represents – and another s-z word, sleazeball, also does the job… ”
        I seem to enjoy words with an s and a z.

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  6. What I keep hearing is that linguists insist language is a living, evolving thing without any connection to what is “right” or “wrong.” It is what it is. But people insist on looking for rules and patterns that are not enforceable. Clearly, many people perceive rules in language to confirm their conviction that the way they speak is proper but the way some others speak is reason to disregard them.

    And then you have that madness by which some cultures try to make it illegal to speak words sneaking in from other cultures. The French are famous for that (both the European and Canadian French), although I’ve read that many cultures attempt to build walls to keep “foreign” words out.

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  7. I often listen carefully when I hear people being interviewed on public radio who are speaking English as a second language. You have to sympathize with them when you think how intimidating it would be to be interviewed on the radio in your own language, but to then have to translate your thoughts into English would be especially hard. Many times people have the work right, but put the accent on the wrong syllable, especially if it’s a word that has a suffix tacked onto it that changes the accented syllable. And once I remember hearing someone use the word “laughter”, pronounced to rhyme with “daughter”. Well, yeah, I can see how that would happen. Took me a moment to catch the meaning, though.

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    1. I’ve always thought that English would be a really hard second language. Especially when there are words spelling the same, but pronounced differently. “Do you want to read a book?” but “You read the book yesterday”. Ouch.

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      1. Yes, and lots of words pronounced the same but spelled differently, and you have to evaluate the word’s context to figure out which it is – pour, poor, and pore, for example.

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  8. My late father-in-law and his wife, Birthe, were visiting from Denmark a few years after Hans and I married. She had spent a year or so in New York when she was a young woman and thought herself fluent in English. She wasn’t, but that’s another story.

    On this particular trip they had visited relatives in California, and they arrived here after also visiting certain sights in Nevada and Arizona. Birthe kept referring to something she pronounced NaVAjos, with the stress on the second syllable, and the “j” pronounced the way Scandihoovians pronounce it. It took me a while to figure out she meant NAvahos. I tried to gently correct her, but she wouldn’t have it; she had lived a year in NYC, and she knew damn well that they were NaVAjos.

    Then my friends Tia and Bob arrived from Chicago for a visit, and Birthe told the same story. There’s nothing gentle or subtle about Tia, and when she hear Birthe’s pronunciation of Navajo, she roared with laughter and made a big production of telling Birthe the correct way to pronounce it. Birthe left here convinced that we were all nuts, and she alone knew how to pronounce Navajo. After all, she had lived in NYC one whole year. Hans and I still occasionally refer to Navajos as NaVAjos.

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  9. Listening to As It Happens tonight, I heard a Polish professor pronounce the word “academic” with the accent on the second syllable. If you say a-CA-demy, doesn’t it make sense to say a-CA-demic as well?

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  10. My favorite root vegetable is, by far, celeriac. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago I learned how to pronounce it because none of my American friends had a clue what I was talking about. They had no idea what it was, and I, in turn, had no idea that the emphasis was on the second syllable.

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