Coinages Whose Pronunciations Took on a Life of Their Own
September 4, 2019 1:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of terms that were created by a specific, known person, who had a particular way of pronouncing them, but that are pronounced differently by the general public. This can either be because the original pronunciation never caught on, or because they just changed over time.

It's easy to find words whose pronunciation has changed. But the creators of most words aren't actually known anymore. The challenge here is to find words that seem like they have an official authority (only that authority ended up overruled by common usage). So probably words that started out as brand names or inventions.

The closest I can think of to a well-known example is "gif", but no pronunciation of that word is universal, so it's not a great example.
posted by ErWenn to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
The word scofflaw comes to mind for me. As the link explains, it was the winning word in a competition to come up with a term for people who drank during the Prohibition era in the US. I've never seen an original, official pronunciation, although there might be one in the newspaper articles about the competition. However, I've always assumed it was intended to be pronounced "scoff-law" with the emphasis on the first syllable. After all, the intent was to shame drinkers for breaking the law. These days people usually pronounce the word "scof-flaw" with either even emphasis on the two syllables or a a slightly heavier emphasis on the second syllable. This is an extremely subtle version of what you are looking for though, and is partially based on an assumption.
posted by OrangeDisk at 1:35 PM on September 4, 2019


Linux distributions long ago came with a sound file of Linus pronouncing "Linux". Although I've heard a lot of variety, I have never heard anyone else say it quite that way.
posted by fritley at 1:42 PM on September 4, 2019 [4 favorites]


I've heard several different pronunciations for LaTeX among its users, though I'm not sure whether that userbase counts as the sort of general public you have in mind. There appear to be two authoritative pronunciations.
posted by eirias at 1:46 PM on September 4, 2019 [4 favorites]


Larry Boucher, the father of SCSI, wanted us to pronounce it "sexy"; scuzzy is pretty much universal.
posted by Mitheral at 1:48 PM on September 4, 2019 [21 favorites]


My advisor, who knew Samuel Beckett, said Beckett pronounced Godot as GOD-oh. I’ve never known anyone outside of my grad school cohort to pronounce it that way, but I still do (though I don’t have much occasion to).

Checking online , there’s apparently some conflict in the theater world.
posted by FencingGal at 1:52 PM on September 4, 2019 [7 favorites]


How about "thermos"? It was originally a brand name - the Thermos bottle - derived from the Green word for heat, and although I doubt I'd be able to confirm this for sure, I strongly suspect that it originally had a long o at the end, as in boat. But these days, everyone pronounces it "thermus."
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:24 PM on September 4, 2019


Until the latest Hobbit films, everyone was pronouncing Smaug wrong, until they insisted on going off Tolkein's footnotes.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:28 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


The word gerrymander was coined by a Boston Gazette writer. It was named after Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, whose surname was pronounced like “Gary,” but today everyone pronounces it starting with “Jerry.”
posted by mbrubeck at 2:33 PM on September 4, 2019 [10 favorites]


I think it depends on what you mean by the 'general public'. Brand names like Adidas, Nike, Seat, Peugot are all pronounced differently by Americans and the British, etc., which often differ from the pronunciations of their places of origin. Which is to say that pronunciation shibboleths are much more prevalent if you allow geography to be a proxy for dialect variation rather than trying to find a distinction between creator and the largest possible 'everyone else'. Though that may go against what you're trying to do here or why.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:01 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Likert scale, used in tons of surveys, is usually pronounced LIKE-ert, but one of my thesis advisors said that the man himself pronounced his name LICK-urt, so I switched to that. Quick Googling suggests my advisor was correct.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:10 PM on September 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


Oh, I think this meets your criteria, too: robot.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:13 PM on September 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


Not really a word, but Voldemort.

JK Rowling (also row as in know, not row as in now) had conceived it as Voldemore, all French like.

She didn’t realize until at least one movie in that they were pronouncing the T.

She since has decided to roll with it.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 3:50 PM on September 4, 2019 [5 favorites]




The band Live is on record saying they intended it as being pronounced as in “live free or die”, but all the radio dj’s pronounced it as “Live from NY, it’s saturday night”.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:31 PM on September 4, 2019 [4 favorites]


aLUminum / aluMINium might qualify. Short version of it here:
[Sir Humphry] Davy "originally called it alumium (1808), then amended this to aluminum, which remains the U.S. word, but British editors in 1812 further amended it to aluminium, the modern preferred British form, to better harmonize with other metallic element names (sodium, potassium, etc.)."
So his spelling was overruled as well as his pronunciation.
posted by miles per flower at 5:40 PM on September 4, 2019 [4 favorites]


Magdalene College, Cambridge is a weird one. People pronounce it "maudlin", despite "Magdalene" being a well known biblical name with a standard pronunciation, and there being a Magdalen College, Oxford with a very similar spelling pronounced the standard way.

I heard that a clique of Cambridge students came up with the "maudlin" pronunciation a mere couple of hundred years ago as a prank, managed to convince everybody that was the right way, and it stuck. This is not what wikipedia says, I know. Now it's kind of a shibboleth for Cambridge insiders and outsiders.
posted by w0mbat at 5:52 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


Maybe quark. Murray Gell-Man intended it to be pronounced "kwork" with /ɔː/, but it's often pronounced "kwahrk" with /ɑ/.
posted by zompist at 6:31 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


I heard that a clique of Cambridge students came up with the "maudlin" pronunciation a mere couple of hundred years ago as a prank, managed to convince everybody that was the right way, and it stuck. This is not what wikipedia says, I know. Now it's kind of a shibboleth for Cambridge insiders and outsiders.

The other shibboleth is that when you're feel down, you say you're feeling "Magdalen".
posted by jb at 7:22 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


George of Hanover came from Germany to be King of England after Queen Anne died because the English desperately did not want to accept the rightful king who was Scottish. George spoke some English, but not very much. His accent was atrocious.

The capital of England, London is on the river Thames. George couldn't handle the TH. He pronounced it as if the TH was a T: Temes. You do not make the monarch look bad by correcting his pronunciation. It's still pronounced Temes.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:13 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


That’s a fun story, but not true. From Wikipedia:

The Thames, from Middle English Temese, is derived from the Brittonic Celtic name for the river, Tamesas (from *tamēssa), recorded in Latin as Tamesis and yielding modern Welsh Tafwys "Thames".

It’s always had the hard T.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:22 PM on September 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


So, the one in Providence, RI is an American bastardization (like Cairo, IL), rather than a preservation of the original? Huh
posted by DebetEsse at 9:35 PM on September 4, 2019


Chthlulu is properly pronounced 'thu-lu'. The leading CH is silent as in the Greek word chthonic. However, it is commonly pronounced 'kah-thu-lu'.

Sorry, Lovecraft. Education in the classics has dropped considerably in this lax post-war era.
posted by ananci at 10:07 AM on September 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


If we're allowing proper nouns, then the mathematician Stephen Kleene (inventor of regular expressions, amongst other things) pronounced his name KLAY-nee, but everyone else pronounces it as KLEE-nee or KLEEN.

"His son, Ken Kleene, wrote: 'As far as I am aware this pronunciation is incorrect in all known languages. I believe that this novel pronunciation was invented by my father.'"

posted by logopetria at 1:13 PM on September 5, 2019


Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss (Seuss being his middle name), pronounced it "Soyss" rather than "Sooss".
posted by briank at 2:07 PM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


Chthlulu is properly pronounced 'thu-lu'. The leading CH is silent as in the Greek word chthonic. However, it is commonly pronounced 'kah-thu-lu'.

Sorry, Lovecraft. Education in the classics has dropped considerably in this lax post-war era.


I think a few corrections are needed here. For starters, there’s an UK/US divide on the pronunciation of chthonic, with the UK usually pronouncing the initial ch and the US usually dropping it. As far as I know, there’s no indication that the chi wasn’t pronounced in Ancient Greek, but I only studied Greek for two years and perhaps I missed something. Even so, pronouncing the ch or not has little to do with what sort of education one has and much more to do with where that education was acquired.

At any rate, all that about pronouncing chthonic is ultimately moot, because (1) Cthulhu doesn’t begin with a ch, and (2) Lovecraft invented some bonkers way to pronounce Cthulhu that no one would ever arrive at independently, no matter which side of the Atlantic they call home:

Lovecraft transcribed the pronunciation of Cthulhu as Khlûl′-hloo and said that "the first syllable pronounced gutturally and very thickly. The u is about like that in full; and the first syllable is not unlike klul in sound, hence the h represents the guttural thickness."

So, yes, Cthulhu is almost universally mispronounced, but it’s because Lovecraft picked a bizarrely unintuitive way to pronounce it.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:15 PM on September 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


I can't believe nobody mentioned this one before, including myself in my previous post.

The Spanish spanish accent has a lispy sound to it, which does not occur in the spanish spoken in other countries. According to the story, this is due to the accumulated speech defects of the Spanish royal family. This is then attributed to the Hapsburg lip/jaw, or alternatively a predisposition in the royal family to have a hair lip.
Supposedly the trend to imitate the royal speech propagated throughout Spain but did not reach abroad.

However, some people say this story is not true and that spanish spanish has always had separate sounds for ç and s, with s giving a non-lispy s. The difference in south american pronunciation is said to be routine divergence of pronunciation, like between english english and australian english.

Personally I don't know which is true. I've always liked the lisping royals story.
posted by w0mbat at 1:56 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


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