The Pronunciation nightmare – best and worst examples

Working in radio news means you become fixated with pronunciation. Words that seem so simple become overly complicated as you realise we say them in different ways. Is harassment – her-rass-ment or haris-ment for example? Then there’s controversy or CON-TROV-ERR-SEE. A can of worms has been opened and it’s very hard to close it again.

I have had hundreds of discussions over the years in newsrooms about how to say this or that word or a certain name or place. Often there are two right answers (sometimes more) and when it comes to foreign names and places, there is really no right answer. My view is because I am English I should not pronounce Barcelona with a TH sound in the middle but some may argue I should.

My name is David – but how should I pronounce David Ginola or David Ferrer’s christian name? Is it DAY-VID or DA-VEED? I am sure both of them would call me DA-VEED, so why shouldn’t I call them DAY-VID? Because if I did it would sound odd I suppose, but you take my point I hope.

With foreign names and places the argument will never be settled – at least that’s my experience of 20 years of arguments – but there are some English words or names where there really shouldn’t be any discussion. So for a bit of fun I have listed some of my favourites below.

ANYTHING / EVERYTHING – I have to admit to being devastated when a radio colleague told me aged 24 that I had a habit of saying ANYTHINK or EVERYTHINK.  I immediately stopped. It makes me smile now when people from abroad also say it with a K at the end (they are normally footballers).

UNTIL – How can this be said incorrectly you may ask. Well listen out for how often people on radio and TV actually say ANTIL. No – that’s a place where ants live!

NAOMI – It’s always baffled me why this name often gets pronounced NYE-OH-ME. It’s NAY-OH-ME. Although the original Hebrew name might arguably be pronounced NAY-OH-MY. But that’s just confused the issue unnecessarily.

Talking of ISSUE – This is a word that opens that can of worms again. Correctly pronounced it is ISS-U but most of us will say ISH-U. Quite frankly if you say it correctly I think you sound, how should I say this, like a bit of a tit. TISSUE likewise.

ESPRESSO – This one is easy you’d think but it still gets a few of you in a tangle. It is ESS-PRESS-O of course not EX-PRESSO. That’s a fast train in Italy.

Similar to the above is ET CETERA. This is quite phonetic but you will hear many say EX-CETERA. If you’re struggling just say E-T-C.

ATHLETE – A very respected journalist spent all his time on Talksport recently referring to ATHER-LEETS. I have obviously blocked him on Twitter as a consequence.

And most annoying of all:

SAYS – This word is SEZ not SAY-z. Take note Tony Livesey and Gordon Brown. So bad is this problem, one radio group once took to spelling SAYS as SEZ in all its scripts to ensure their newsreaders got it right.

I must add at this point that I probably say lots of words incorrectly. To highlight this, I confess that I was 28 before I realised that chutney is spelt with a T. I’d always said CHUK-NEE for some reason. Although to be fair I never had to say it on the radio, thankfully.

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