Insights September 13, 2021

On ‘expresso’, ‘artick’, ‘probly’ and other mispronunciations

Living Word
By Living Word

The number-one pet peeve of many linguists and language lovers must be people mispronouncing words. A recent poll, conducted by Perspectus Global, confirms that.

When 2,000 British adults were asked about speech errors, it revealed the top-ten most annoying mispronunciations:

  1. ‘Pacifically’ for specifically
  2. ‘Probly’ for probably
  3. ‘Expresso’ for espresso
  4. ‘Specially’ for Especially
  5. ‘Artick’ for Arctic
  6. ‘Nucular’ for Nuclear
  7. ‘Tenderhooks’ for Tenterhooks
  8. ‘Excetera’ for Et cetera
  9. ‘Assessory’ for Accessory
  10. ‘Triathalon’ for Triathlon

65% of the respondents were annoyed by mispronunciations, while the same amount of people admit that they wouldn’t feel comfortable pointing out errors in public – an interesting point, perhaps. After all, we all know that language changes all the time. It is fluid, and so is grammar as well as vocabulary and the pronunciation of words. So while these mispronunciations are annoying to some people, they are simply a reflection of natural language change processes.

Prejudice or favoritism?

Let’s take ‘probly’ as an example. Here, the mispronunciation drops the middle syllable, but certain dialects do this when saying ‘memory’ too, for instance, and this doesn’t seem to be an issue.

Moreover, did you know that ‘bird’ is a modern pronunciation? Historically, the word was pronounced as ‘brid’, but over time, the middle sounds were swapped around for ease of use. Another interesting example: the pronunciation ‘expresso’ was likely a result of referring to the word ‘express’, which shares the meaning of pressing water through coffee – the same meaning as the word ‘espresso’. So, is the use of ‘expresso’ actually all that wrong, considering the deeper meaning of the word? French speakers both say and write ‘expresso’ when referring to an ‘espresso’ anyway.

Mispronunciations come about through gradual, historical change, social interaction, the influence of other languages and cultures, as well as mishearings, among other things. Language change is simply inevitable and a natural process, which clearly isn’t a bad thing. So the next time you want to point out a mispronunciation, perhaps think about all the different nuances that very word’s meaning might have.