Tuesday, February 12, 2008


It is perhaps a now little known fact that a dictionary will both tell you what a word means and tell you how to pronounce it. Using a dictionary to check words that you don't really know will prevent you from looking foolish. For example, the foolish misuse of a word is called a malapropism. Note the pronunciation from the dictionary [mal-uh-prop-iz-uhm].

This afternoon I was privileged to hear a student presentation on Christianity in Africa that was rather overloaded with malapropisms. Most were of the humorous mispronunciation type. It began innocently enough with the use of "animalistic" where "animistic" was more appropriate. Understandable that a word you don't know gets recast in your mind into a more familiar term. But then they started to come in fast succession. "Anglican"
[ang-gli-kuhn] was pronounced "Angel-i-can." Later we would hear the derivatives "Angel-i-cal-ism" and "Angel-i-cal-ization." This was followed shortly by "Episcopal" [i-pis-kuh-puhl] as "Epi-scAH-pickle." Then there was "macro-kisms" (probably for "macrocosms"). The sacrament of holy communion, Eucharist [yoo-kuh-rist], became "Ew-curious." "Theologians" [thee-uh-loh-juhns] were "thee-uh-lah-jins." (God-lozenges anyone?) My personal favorite was not a malapropism per se, just a humorous use of an adjective where an adverb was more appropriate -- Desmond Tutu was a "huge influential man." The best (i.e., most embarrassing part) was that at the end of the seminar hour when the professor was thanking the presenters, this person was naive enough to boast of being a "good communicator." No matter that her presentation was often uncited verbatim recitations of passages from the assigned reading. I, for one, was bored out of my mind. The only redeeming value of her presentation was the high quantity of humorous malapropisms to catalog.

The moral of the story is that dictionaries will tell you how to pronounce a word, even proper names like "Anglican." If you're unsure about how to say a word, you now know where to look. Look it up before you use it, especially in a presentation. The quickest way to damage your credibility is to start mispronouncing words.


  1. At least those are (moderately) complex words, the other day I heard a McD's cashier call out for order # "Fo-siddy-fo" which I could only take to be my Big Mac, order # 464.

  2. I think she did pretty good. At least she didn't get into Medieval economics and how pointless the Futile System was.

  3. Since Magma is in Jo-Jah (Georgia), I think what he experienced falls more accurately under dialect than under pronunciation. Or perhaps enunciation is the problem. In the case of my class experience, here in WI we mostly all speak a variety of neutral standard American English. This presenter had no problems with dialect/accent or enunciating. After all, she's a "good communicator."