Say What? Edition 9: A Motley Collection

I’ve been keeping lists of weird things about English for a while. And by keeping lists, I mean that I write down one thing I think of and tell myself I should look for similar irregularities and fill the list so I can blog about the topic, but I never do. So, I’m cleaning out my blog drafts and putting all these oddball pronunciations and meanings and other bits of language that caught my interest into a single post. If you think of any examples that fit into these categories, I’d love to hear what they are!

Is Wordnesia Even a Word?

Even if you aren’t a writer like me, you’ve probably had the experience of looking at a word so long that it starts to seem alien. I had this experience recently looking at the model logo of a car in front of me as I sat at a long red light. The logo read:


And I had absolutely no idea what kind of dance party the driver was trying to promote that he would stick the words DISCO and VERY on the back of his car. But I guessed he was probably a fun guy.

Another time, it was not the fault of my crazy brain. I read the word turbodiet in a book last month. In my mind, it was turBOdiet. And, obviously, I had no idea what that meant. In that case, I really think the editor should have used a hyphen for clarity since turbo-diet is a made up word.

And another time still, it was the font. I bought a six-pack of 14er Key Lime Cream Ale and the font on the can made “14er” look like “Her.” Even after I had thought about and knew what it said, I couldn’t shake the idea that it was “Her” beer…and that’s what I started calling it.

Image result for 14er cream ale

Probly Is Definitely Not A Word

I have sometimes been the cause of English confusion for other people. A Kenyan man I once knew pointed out to me how weird it was that I say probly for probably. But when I started paying attention, I noticed that a lot of Americans do that. I was living in Australia at the time, which is probably (or should I say probly) why my pronunciation stood out to him, but its not that unusual. And plenty of other languages skip sounds, like in the French elision, but I wonder if pronunciations like probly could ever become proper spellings in their own right.

These Words May Not Mean What You Think They Should

Why aren’t manually and by hand always synonyms? They could be in many contexts, like making handmade soaps or washing a car or writing with pen and paper instead of on a computer. We would certainly say these activities can be done by hand, but manually doesn’t sound right.

In software, if something isn’t done manually, it’s done automatically. But if it’s not done automatically, we don’t say it’s done by hand.

I’m probably way overthinking this, but it bothers me that these aren’t neat synonyms.

You Think You Know What These Mean, But Do You?

  • If a room is too cold, do you turn the air conditioning up or down?
  • If you have a biweekly meeting, does it take place every two weeks or twice every week?
  • If some asks you, “Do you mind being a little quieter?” and you apologetically agree to comply, do you answer with a yes or a no?

Now They Are Just Messing With Us

How did the stressed syllable on related words get changed? For example, mar-RINE but MAR-in-er. This was ironically pointed out to me by a native Russian speaker. I say ironically because determining the stressed syllable in Russian is notoriously difficult. There are no clear cut rules like there are in Spanish, for example, and all beginner textbooks have accent marks on every word to show you which is the stressed syllable.

A second example is CON-tem-plate but con-TEM-pla-tive. Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit that I said CON-tem-pla-tive until about four years ago, but nah, I’m not. How was I supposed to know?

Sometimes we even change the entire pronunciation of a word depending on its part of speech. Take the word duplicate. As a noun, we say dup-li-kit but as a verb we say dup-li-kate. I’m not sure which is more difficult from a learner’s perspective, learning a different form of a word or dealing with this changed pronunciation. What do you think?

And Just to Mess With You, Here’s An Entirely Unrelated Topic

In this vast country of ours, sometimes we say things in different ways just to exercise our individuality. For example, when you’re on a multi-lane road in Colorado, you might see the following sign: Keep right except to pass. But in Texas, you’ll see: Left lane for passing only.

However you say it, it’s good advice. Get outta my way!

2 thoughts on “Say What? Edition 9: A Motley Collection

  1. My most recent gaffe was pronouncing biopic as bi-OP-ic. Like you pronounce myopic: my-OP-ic. I still think BI-O-pic sounds dumb. Oh, and detritus. I called it DET-rit-us for ages. Now I call it det-RI-tis, because I know that’s the correct pronunciation, but I always follow the sentence by grabbing my lower back and moaning, “Ugh, my det-RI-tis” is acting up. Because it sounds like a medical condition (arthritis).


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