Pronouncing a Word Incorrectly

October 17th, 2012

Dear Dan,

I was wondering if it is socially acceptable and how I would go about telling somebody that they are pronouncing a word incorrectly.

Grammar Girl
Greenwood Village

Dear Grammar Girl,

Of course it’s socially acceptable! People love being told that they are wrong. In fact, they especially appreciate correction from someone who they didn’t ask to help them.

Think back to when you would get a corrected test back in school. Were you excited to see a big fat 100% on the top of the front page? Of course not! You were expectantly waiting to find out about all of your mistakes. You were thinking something like, “In what ways am I stupid? Which concepts could I not get through my thick skull, despite all my studying? Please, teacher, help me feel bad about myself!”

Right. Actually, people have something called an ego. (Not to be confused with an Eggo, which is a frozen waffle-like substance that many people do not have. (Not to be confused with a Lego, which is a stiff waffle-like substance design to injure bare feet.)) An ego is a protection mechanism that tells people they are awesome when in fact they are total screwups. When you point out someone’s error, they briefly realize their ego has been lying to them all along, and the only way to fix this situation is to get really mad until they forget about the truth. It’s much easier for them to believe you are a jerk than to face the possibility that maybe, just maybe they might not be a god.

And you would be a jerk. But just because something is not socially acceptable doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Adults have been telling you since you were three years old to stop picking your nose, and you haven’t quit that yet. Besides, being a jerk is fun.

Which brings me to your second question, which is how to tell someone they are pronouncing a word incorrectly (or, more appropriately, how to be a jerk). Let’s consider the word Nevada, for example. Residents of Nevada will freely tell you the state name is pronounced nuh-VAD-uh. But outsiders who want to sound smart will say nuh-vah-duh, or usually something more like nuh-vaaaaaaah-duh. These people are gits. Here are a few ways to tell them so:

  1. “You are a git.” Play it straight. Tell them that only stuck-up self-important caviar-heads say nuh-vaaaaaaaaaaaah-da. They will start to argue, but you will have your Nevadan friend on speed dial to confirm you are correct. Then pull up a web search with copious evidence supporting your claim. Point out articles in Time and NPR transcripts that show you are right and they are wrong. Finish it up with a, “Nanner nanner nanner!” and you’re good to go.
  2. The subtle hint. The next time you’re around this person, strike up a conversation about Nevada and emphasize the pronunciation every time you say the word. “So I was talking to my friend in Nuh-vad-uh the other day. Did you know the capitol of Nuh-vad-uh is the Mirage Casino in Las Vegas? And instead of elections, the governor of Nuh-vad-uh is selected by mob bosses? And did you know Nuh-vad-uh‘s state flower is the neon sign? Nuh-vad-uh is such an interesting place.
  3. Be annoying. Take a really catchy song and replace the lyrics with Nevada Nevada Nevada Nevada Nevada Nevada Nevada Nevada. Take the person’s phone and make it their new ringtone (and delete all their other ringtones). Hum the song when you’re around the person so it gets stuck in their head. Make a Youtube video with the song and get everyone you know to rickroll your pronunciation-challenged friend. Place their phone number in numerous places online with a note asking strangers to call and say Nevada! and then hang up quickly.

If none of those tactics work, just get a new friend. You will probably need one anyway based on the way you’ve treated your old one. I’m sure you could find other like-minded individuals simply by commenting on news stories using horrible grammar. Or you could start working on an English degree.

Or you could, you know, let people be wrong. Realize that it’s not your job to correct the rest of the world. Mind your own freaking business. Stuff like that.

Besides, what kind of egotistical, self-important know-it-all tells other people what to do all the time? Hey! You could start your own advice column!

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