But Officer, I’m Sure That’s Right!

I was out with writer friends recently and the discussion turned to language, as it does.

We were at Happy Hour after our Sisters in Crime meeting. During the meeting that morning, someone used the word “peripatetic.” Because I’m me, I loudly confessed my ignorance and demanded a definition. (Turns out I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know, so YOU’RE WELCOME, CLASS!)

The only time I’ve ever seen or used the word “peripatetic” is when I sing along to my Chorus Line album. In the song “One,” there’s a lyric:

She's uncommonly rare, very unique, 
Peripatetic, poetic and chic.

Doesn’t give me any context clues, but it’s fun to sing.

It actually means someone who travels around, working in various places for relatively short periods. The woman who used the word was describing her writing schedule lately, meaning she hadn’t been able to sit and write regularly.

This led to more confessions about words we’ve seen but never knew the actual definition of.

Within the last few years, I learned the actual definition of “bespoke.” It means “handmade or tailored” but from context I always thought it just meant a fancy suit, because it was always used as a descriptor of something a rich guy was wearing.

The other word I learned not too long ago was “penultimate.” From context, I always knew that it meant something toward the end of a list. Turns out, it very specifically referred to something that was second-to-last.

Who in the world cares about something second-to-last? Other than a middle child, that is. Or me, come to think of it, as the seventh of eight kids. (I’m quite certain nobody ever referred to me as the “penultimate Clark,” although now I really think I need new business cards.)

Our conversation then devolved into words we knew quite well, but had no idea how to pronounce. This is a much longer list among us readers! (Thank goodness for audio books, eh?)

  • Awry (pronounced incorrectly as AW-ree)
  • Ague (aaaawg)
  • Colonel (colo-nel)
  • Peignoir (peg-nor)
  • Penelope (PEN-uh-lope)
  • Hermione (HER-me-own)
  • Misled (MY-zuld)
  • Andromeda (and-dro-ME-duh)
  • Epitome (EP-i-tome)
  • Chagrin (CHA-grin)
  • Reprise (re-PRIZE)
  • Macadam (McAdam)
  • Cumin (COO-men)

So, what about you guys? Got any confessions of your own?

42 thoughts on “But Officer, I’m Sure That’s Right!

      1. I learned I was pronouncing it wrong about 20 years ago when Segway, the company that makes the two wheel, motorized scooters with a platform in between them and handlebars, came to Indianapolis. I was reading an article about them that mentioned the origin of the name coming from “segue.” Total lightbulb moment. lol

        Liked by 1 person

      1. You know, I wondered. I started thinking, “Have I really been mispronouncing those words all these years?” LOL

        In my head, Hermione was “Herm-ee-own.” Not even close. I’m as bad as Viktor Krum! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. LOL! I guess I could have been more clear, but I was lazy and didn’t want to type out “mispronouced as” that many times. Besides, I figured there’d be something on the list that would trigger a “Hey, that ain’t right” reaction, and a more careful read. Hoisted by my own petard, eh?


  1. Oh my gosh, Becky, I thought I was the only kid-reader who thought it was pronounced “MY-zuhld”! I knew from context that it meant bamboozled or hoodwinked, but I felt really stupid when I found out how it was really pronounced. 😃 Our teenaged foster daughter was doing her homework one day, and thinking she would stump me, said, “Did you know that you’re a BIPED?” (Pronounced to rhyme with “swiped”)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s funny, a lot of people think it’s MY-zuld, but the first time someone pointed that out as one of their problematic words, I had never even considered it. BIPED is hilarious! And good on you for not getting stumped!


  2. Loved this, Becky! I have to say, I pronounce “Colonel” as “kernel.” Oops. Not sure I can break myself of that. My new word for the day: anchoress. I was looking up the “All is well” quote, and…well, the definition is very dreary. A woman who was voluntarily walled into a cell connected to a church after going through, basically, a funeral ceremony pronouncing her dead to the world. So she could devote her life to spiritual service undisturbed. I wish I hadn’t looked it up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Some years ago a read this on someone’s Facebook post, and it really stuck with me: “Don’t ever think poorly of someone who mispronounces a word, as it means they learned it by READING.”

    Or perhaps it’s because they come from a different culture. I was mocked in my high school English class in Oxford, England (where we lived for a year because of my peripatetic law professor dad–see what I did there?) for pronouncing “lieutenant” the American/French way when reading aloud from King Lear, instead of as the Brits do: “LEF-tenant.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve seen that same meme, Leslie, and it’s absolutely true! I’ve always wondered why the Brits say “Lef-tenant.” I got mocked when I lived in England because I pronounced the city Leicester “LIE-cess-ter” (like it’s spelled), only to have them tell me it’s “Lester.” C’mon! Not fair when they leave out entire syllables!

      And nice use of our vocabulary word today, my friend!


  4. Becky! LOVE this. I’m very proud of myself. I knew all the words.

    Two words that tripped me up, pronunciation-wise were misled and epitome. I definitely thought you pronounced the first as missile-d. And it still remember the day I realized epitome and epi-tome (how I pronounced it) were the same word.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Gold star for you, my dear! “Missile-d” is a new one for me. I hope you didn’t get mocked mercilessly from a bevy of Brits like Leslie and I did! ha!


  5. Great post, Becky! I was always confused about “sanguine”…because I kept reading about sanguine cheeks versus sanguine personality. So confusing!

    As a kid, I loved saying “picturesque” but pronounced it picture-skew. And I remember doing a presentation in high school and using the word “mores” to sound more sophisticated (only I thought it rhymed with “s’mores”).

    Just the other day, we talked about this topic at the dinner table, and one of my kids said she was waiting for someone to slip up and say “touche” (but pronounced like “douche”).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, those are good ones, Jen! My husband knows someone who wrote “Walla!” instead of “Voila.” I assumed they were doing it ironically but he didn’t think so. The question arises … should he tell them?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. It actually does sometimes rhyme with “douche” if you’re saying “touch” (as in, “I got a touch” in a fencing bout (une touche)
      –which is where I know that from). But it’s touché if it’s the past tense–I touched you. Damn French. (And now that I look at what I just wrote, the word “touch” in English is pretty darn weird, too…)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Becky, you’ve given me ear worms. Here are my two stories. I know how to pronounce calliope only because it’s in Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s Blinded By The Light. That helped with pronouncing liriope, which I’ve bought for my garden.
    I had a lot more trouble pronouncing Brie, as in the cheese. Once I hosted a murder mystery party game and pronounced it ‘br-eye’ the entire time, instead of ‘bree.’ No one corrected me, and there were two college teachers there. I was so embarrassed when I realized my mistake later. It still haunts me. Correct me, people, I won’t get mad!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Manfred Mann. I wonder if anyone knew how educational he was? And now I’m trying—and failing—to pronounce liriope. I’ve never seen that before (the word or the flower!)

      Mary, it’s funny you mention that about correcting you because in the comment just above, my husband and I wondered if he should correct his “walla!” friend. I don’t know. It’s a fine line. I hate know-it-alls with the white-hot intensity of ten-thousand suns, but … is it nice to let someone go through life calling it BRYE cheese? i guess i’d say something like, “Hm. I always thought it was BREEE!” and then let the chips (no pun intended) fall where they may.


  7. Years ago hubs and I had a lengthy convo on whether it’s sherbert or sherbet. Turns out there’s just the one “r” when it comes to pastel ice creams!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good one, Vickie! I think a lot of mispronunciations are a case of “lazy mouth.” It’s just easier to say sherbert. A friend recently told me she always thought it was “Swiss shard” instead of “chard.” But say them… one is definitely easier to say than the other!


      1. Regional difference? It always bugged me when my dad said “drouth” instead of “drought” but that was a regional, perhaps old-timey thing.


  8. Penultimate Clark!! You absolutely need business cards.

    This list is beyond awesome. I have various and sundry mispronunciations and malapropisms, but my favorite is from a former coworker who insisted on using the word “hyperbole” but pronouncing it “hyper-bowl” in almost every client meeting. I would try to interject synonyms to head him off. The bright spot: a very specific expanding vocabulary!

    Liked by 1 person

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