I think everyone has a word or two that reads differently silently from aloud. Sometimes it’s done out of ignorance, or habit, or even for fun. Mine is Eleanor. In my head, it has four syllables and the last two rhyme with “manor.” I know that it isn’t correct, and I wouldn’t dream of purposefully mispronouncing someone’s name, but somehow that diphthong in the middle has never set well with me.
The following words are all ones that I believe would not only challenge the average reader in pronunciation, but would also be familiar in meaning or appearance. In short, these words are common. Enjoy.
Atelier: n. a workspace or studio, especially one belonging to a creative individual.
How you think it’s pronounced: /ˈætl.iɹ/ or /ə.ˈtɛl.i.əɹ/
How it’s actually pronounced: /æ.tɨl ˈjeɪ/
This one will be particularly troublesome for video game enthusiasts who enjoy the Atelier series. In Japanese, developer Gust Corporation translates this word as /a.to.ɽi.e/.
Banal: adj. boring; lacking in originality; trite.
How you think it’s pronounced: /bænl/
How it’s actually pronounced: /bəˈnɑl/
Although there are a few accepted pronunciations for this word, /beɪnl/ is best avoided.
Chthonic: adj. pertaining to the underworld or any other underground area.
How you think it’s pronounced: ?
How it’s actually pronounced: /ˈθɑ.nɪk/
The preceding k sound is optional, but preferred, in the UK.
Denouement: n. the climax of a story or situation.
How you think it’s pronounced: /dɪnˈoɪ̯.mənt/
How it’s actually pronounced: /ˌdeɪ.nu̟ˈmɑ̃/
Unless you’re a French speaker, this is a sight word.
Ennui: n. an aching listlessness brought on by boredom or depression.
How you think it’s pronounced: /ɪnˈu̟.i/
How it’s actually pronounced: /ɑnˈwi/
Another French loanword, this one is less straightforward—and therefore meatier—than denouement above.
Hyperbole: n. gross exaggerations not intended to be taken literally.
How you think it’s pronounced: /ˈhaɪpɚːboʊl/
How it’s actually pronounced: /haɪˈpɝːbəli/
I don’t know anyone who pronounces this word correctly on the first go. It has the unfortunate luck of being a word you’ll most likely read before hearing it spoken aloud.
Mores: n. the customs and conventions of a particular culture.
How you think it’s pronounced: /mɔɹz/
How it’s actually pronounced: /ˈmɔː.reɪz/
Take care: this word only exists in plural form.
Query: n. a question or request for information submitted to an official or organization
How you think it’s pronounced: /ˈkwɛri/
How it’s actually pronounced: /ˈkwɪəri/
Although both these pronunciations are technically accepted, the latter is preferred. I personally believe that /ˈkwɛri/ sounds better, however.
Segue: v. to transition smoothly between themes or subjects.
How you think it’s pronounced: /sɛɡˈju̟ /
How it’s actually pronounced: /ˈsɛɡweɪ/
If Segway had spelled their product name in the traditional way, we wouldn’t have a problem here.
Synecdoche: n. a figure of speech in which one refers to the part to represent the whole.
How you think it’s pronounced: /sɪnɛkˈdoʊʃ/
How it’s actually pronounced: /sɪˈnɛkdəki/
This word can also be used to refer to the use of: the whole to represent a part, the general to represent the specific, the specific to represent the general, the material to represent the object, or the container to represent its contents. Some excellent examples may be found here.
What words do you find are the most problematic to pronounce? Leave me a comment to let me know!