Late-Night Thought: Words you Read but Never Say

We all have a store of words that we come across again and again as we read, but we never actually hear spoken. So we then either:

a)  have a moment of surprise when we hear it for the first time…

b) hear it spoken aloud, but never associate that sound with its spelling, thinking of them as two separate words (this was the case for me with the word epitome for a long time), or…

c) we go our whole lives never hearing them.

Here are some of the most common words people have this struggle with:

hyperbole

epitome

awry (I heard people talk about things going awry all the time, but would read this word awry, as in jAW and REAl)

anathema

victuals

posthumous

misled (like awry, I was quite familiar with this word from hearing it, but always read it as though it sounded like my-zelled. I assumed it to be an adjective meaning made miserable, which actually usually fit the context)

Penelope

I’m a strong believer in the value of reading, but sadly in terms of pronunciation it can’t help so much. At least now we can check YouTube for the pronunciation of words we have doubts about. But then if we don’t know we’re mispronouncing it, we’re probably not going to look it up, are we?

4 thoughts on “Late-Night Thought: Words you Read but Never Say

  1. Zeitgeist
    I used to think this was pronounced “zayt-gayst” but according to the German woman I asked, it’s more like “site-gyst”.

    Colonel
    When I was much younger, I used to think this was pronounced as it’s spelled: “Col-oh-nel”. I was vaguely aware there was a military rank called “Kernel” but that was a different thing. I found out I was pronouncing it wrong during a game of Cluedo!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had the exact same problem with “colonel!” I remember there was a character in a comic I liked as a kid who was a colonel. I also assumed it was an entirely different military rank.
      A handy way to know how to pronounce ei/ie in Germanic words is to remember that “ei” always sounds like “I,” as in “Einstein,” and “ie” sounds like “ee,” as in “Bieber.”

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  2. […] Spelling is hard. We’re usually gradually eased into it. We pick up words first by hearing them, and then at home (hopefully) and at school we’re exposed to written words, usually pretty simple ones that look as you might imagine from hearing them. Dog, cat, hat etc. Then the more we read, the more we get used to words with less phonetic spellings. That’s how you spell laugh? And though? Ok, if that’s the way it is. Sometimes, we’ll come across words we’ve heard, but whose spelling we don’t recognise. Usually at some point we’ll figure out through context that this strange-looking word is actually a common one we’re familiar with, but that can take a long time in some cases. […]

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