More Ear-itating Word Abuse

Although Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star has faded, the erstwhile weight lifter-actor-governor hasn’t quite left the building. Recently, a phonics teacher e-mailed her exasperation with broadcasters who mispronounce the first syllable in “Schwarzenegger,” saying “swartz” instead of “shwartz.” “There IS a difference!” she said. “It’s gotten to the point that it’s like nails on a chalkboard when I hear it.”

As for me, I’ve heard it “swartz,” “shwartz,” “shvartz,” and even “shvozz.” I’ve heard it three, four, and five syllables. The man’s name is a minefield—I wonder if anyone except him says it right. This may be the rare occasion when I have some compassion for announcers. . .

Or maybe not. Shouldn’t you broadcasters make it your business to know how to pronounce a name—I mean, isn’t that your job? What else do we ask you to do besides saying the words right? OK, “Schwarzenegger” is one thing, but how about a common American name of six letters: To most people, former Vice President Dick Cheney is “CHAY-nee.” But in the early days of the George W. Bush administration, Cheney’s wife announced that the proper pronunciation of the family name was “CHEE-nee.” No one paid attention. Now, all these years later, the only broadcaster who’s careful to say “CHEE-nee” is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.

No one butchers names like sportscasters: Back in the 1960s, the Chicago White Sox baseball team acquired a pitcher named Johnny Buzhardt. Then a strange thing happened: Up till then, his name had always been pronounced “BUZZ-hart,” but when the Sox got him, their great announcer Bob Elson started calling him “Buh-ZARD.” The pitcher’s wife only added to the confusion when in an on-air interview she quipped, “I’m Mrs. Buh-ZARD, wife of Johnny BUZZ-hart.”

Let’s go to some more misbegotten ear-torturers:

Short-lived This is not the lived of “She lived well.” The i is long, as it is in “live entertainment.”

Integral Why do so many people say “in-tra-gul” despite the spelling? It’s “in-ta-grul.”

February See that r after the b? You do? Apparently we’re in the minority. Every year in late winter, I wince to turn on the radio or TV and hear “Feb-yoo-ary” (or “Febber-ary”). Is “Feb-roo-ary” really so hard?

Controversial Four syllables, not five. Say “con-tra-VER-shul,” not “con-tra-ver-see-ul.”

Et cetera (etc.) Pronounced “ick-settera” by high-paid communicators who mysteriously think et is pronounced “ick.”

Dour The correct pronunciation is “doo-er.”

Schism Two things about this word: you rarely hear it, and when you do, it’s wrong: don’t say “skizzum,” say “sizzum.”

Heinous, grievous, mischievous First, please note there’s no i before the o in these words. Why, then, have I heard seasoned professionals say “hee-nee-us”? It’s “hay-nus.” Similarly, “grievous” is a two-syllable word: “GREE-vus.” The most tortured is the third one, which so many mindlessly pronounce “mis-CHEE-vee-us.” Make that “MIS-cha-vus.”

We thank everyone for the spirited response to last week’s readers’ challenge for an alternative to “The man went missing two days ago.” Our favorites: “The man has been missing for two days” and “The man was last seen two days ago.”

Still, we can’t escape the feeling that we’ll be revisiting the gone missing question…

This grammar tip was contributed by veteran copy editor and word nerd Tom Stern.

Posted on Sunday, August 4, 2013, at 11:07 pm

30 Comments on More Ear-itating Word Abuse

30 responses to “More Ear-itating Word Abuse”

  1. Barron Cole says:

    Speaking of pronunciation of names….

    Tony Dorsett played football for the University of Pittsburgh (winning the Heisman Trophy and other awards as a Senior). While he was a student, his name was pronounced “DOR-sit.”

    When he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, he announced that people had been saying his name wrong all those years. It should have been “dor-SETT.”

    Asked to comment on this, Roger Staubach (the Cowboys’ quarterback) said that he had been meaning to correct the sportscasters for some time. His name should not be pronounced “ROJ-er STA-bach.” Instead, it should be “ro-JHAY sto-BAH.”

    At least some people have a sense of humor.

    • Good one about Tony Dorsett. Another recent one would be Mike Mussina (“muss-eena,” not “myew-seena”).

      • Pat Sallade says:

        Can you encourage the NutriSystem Corporation (headquarters in Ft.Washington PA 19034) to change their TV commercial so that Marie Osmond
        will say Fa-miliar, and NOT FER-miliar? It sounds so uneducated!! and very irritating!

        I certainly enjoy all your tips on grammar and pronunciation. Thanks.

  2. Sarah Locke says:

    I really appreciated (ah pree see ay ted, or, ah pree shee ay ted, or…?) your latest column, More Ear-itating Word Abuse. I listen to a lot of audio books while commuting to and from work. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest, I am familiar with place names in various states, especially Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. It drives me CRAZY when the performer does not take time to look up the correct pronunciation of the places in the book, and mispronounces them throughout the entire story. I can forgive Paul Harvey (well, sort of) for mispronouncing Yaquina Bay in Newport, Oregon on his radio show when I was a child growing up there. He called it Yah KEE nah, rather than Yuh KWI nah) He was visiting the Oregon Coast and was doing his daily show live as he traveled. (Although it seems he would have heard it mentioned in his travels around town ……) Ah well, that’s water under the Yaquina Bay bridge.

    Most recently, in a book about Alaska, the reader pronounced the Kenai Peninsula as ka NIGH, not KEE nigh. OK, that’s all the griping for today.

    I really enjoy your writing, and use Jane’s Grammar Book often in my work. I look forward to the humor in the blog as well. Thanks to everyone who contributes to the book and the blog. Most of all, thanks for sharing all the helpful information so freely.


    I have another “dilly” here. To me it is a pronunciation that doesn’t make any sense. The name is spelled -dalziel-. The pronunciation is Dee-el.
    Is this local only? Location is PEI canada

  4. Barry Ulrich says:

    George Bush said nu-cu-lar, instead of nu-cle-ar

    Warshington, instead of Washington

    Off-ten, instead of off-en

  5. Barbara S. says:

    Love your column but must beg to differ on schism – Oxford Dictionary – skizz-um.

    • The word schism came into English in the 1300s. The pronunciation was invariably “SIZ-um.” The pronunciation “SKIZ-um” was specifically denounced by language and pronunciation scholar William Henry Pinkney Phyfe (1855-1915). When “SKIZ-um” made its pronunciation-option debut in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary in 1961, it was accompanied by a note from the editors: “unacceptable to many.”

  6. North L. says:

    My personal favorite is re-LAH-tor (realtor). Educated people say this all the time. It makes me mental.

  7. Jer F. says:

    Thanks as always for your newsletter! How about realtor. I get irritated when I hear real-a-tor.

  8. Sandra D. says:

    Great newsletter! I admit to being a schism mis-pronouncer though. LOL. Well, I read your newsletter to learn things, not just for the enjoyment.

    Here are a couple gems to collect for your next issue of pet peeves.

    You forgot “jewelry!” That’s one of my biggest pet peeves. It’s neither spelled nor pronounced “jew-ler-y.” It’s “jew-el-ry.”

    Oh, and then there’s “realtor.” Some seem to think it’s spelled re-lit-or. I guess that’s because they sell re-lit-y.

    And of course there’s the ever-popular “nuclear” mis-pronounced “nu-cu-lar.” Even after being told of his error, former President Bush stuck to his guns and continued to pronounce it wrong.

    Thanks for all your work, for our education and enjoyment!

  9. Robert M. says:

    Add, if you will, our former president Bush II: it’s NUCLEAR not NUCULAR! ACH!!

  10. Renae H. says:

    Interesting! I was taught in grade school that the first “r” in February is silent, making the correct pronunciation “Feb-yoo-ary.” I guess I was taught incorrectly and have been an offender for many years!

  11. Marian B. says:

    Speaking of ear-itating words, what about “fermiliar” – when did this word happen to gain a second r? It is so annoying to hear people say that instead of familiar. Or phertographer? I could go on for a while….

    • Dictionaries do allow for both pronunciations, but we’re taking more of a purist approach on this one. As the American Heritage Dictionary says in its Usage Note: The pronunciation [using the long i] is etymologically correct since the compound is derived from the noun life, rather than from the verb live.

  12. Katherine F. says:

    Granted, I’m in my sixties, but in defense of those of us who were taught to
    use the silent “h” in “an historic” (my Daddy was an English teacher and
    moonlit as a newspaper editor in Oklahoma City), I must say that your
    characterization of us as pompous strikes me as harsh. I shall endeavor to
    mend my ways, but try to be a little less judgmental of those of use still
    using the “an” in the places you mention. Your argument makes perfect sense,
    but I assure you my use of “an” was never motivated by pomposity.

    • Please accept our apology. The object of our wrath was meant to be public speakers and TV personalities who put bad habits in our ears. We find it frustrating that the media’s flawed spokespeople have the power to subconsciously affect what we say and how we say it.

  13. William Johns says:

    Schwarzenegger does NOT have a T in it, so “swartz,” “shwartz,” and “shvartz” are all incorrect.

  14. Cecilia says:

    This issue doesn’t fit into the category, but I have a problem with people that say “being that” instead of “since”. For example: “Being that we are getting this membership at a group discount you will not get the monthly coupons they send out.” Shouldn’t the sentence read “Since we are getting this membership at a group discount, you will not receive…” I’ve heard “being that” used quite frequently by people now. Is it correct?

    My other pet peeve is saying “myself”. “Myself” and several other people attended. If you have questions, contact Mary or “myself”. It doesn’t sound correct to me.

  15. Diane says:

    I am new to this site and could not find my most irritating grammar complaint. People seem to think that “We arrived to the store” is correct, but I was taught to say “We arrived at the store” In this instance, “to” implies movement as in “going to” the store and once we have arrived there, we are “at” the store. Is there a rule about this or is this now acceptable?

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