I can still clearly remember watching an old episode of Friends when I was much younger, which featured a scene in which Chandler explained that he had dumped a girlfriend because she pronounced supposedly as supposably. I immediately had a moment of panic until I reassured myself that I had been pronouncing the word correctly. I had doubted myself for a second because supposably actually sounds quite natural, and I could easily imagine pronouncing it that way without really thinking about it.

And quickly googling it, it seems that there are a lot of people who do pronounce it that way, or at least unsure whether it should have a D or B. I suppose one reason is that there are a lot of words that end in -bly: presumably, reasonably, inevitably, appreciably, fashionably etc. There are of course also many that end in -dly, such as reportedly, doggedly, and admittedly, but I don’t think they’re as numerous or frequently-used as -bly words. And more importantly, many people just find supposably easier to pronounce.

Most of the words in our native tongue are pretty easy to pronounce, which is logical enough. The words we use have all developed over time by people whose palates have developed to pronounce those words, so it’s unlikely we’ll end up using words that most speakers have difficultly with. But there are some words which don’t really evolve naturally, but instead come about by taking a pre-existing word, and changing it into another form following the conventions of the language. This is where a lot of -dly words come from, by changing adjectives ending in -d into adverbs by adding -ly to the end. As we originally used the word ending in -d first, pronouncing the adverb form can be trickier.

Even taking that into account though, it seems like a lot of us have particular words we find it hard to pronounce. For me, it’s specific. There’s something about that sp that I find really difficult. I never mispronounce it, but I have to make a conscious effort to pronounce the s, and even then, it comes out in a weak, whistley sort of way. I’m not sure what it is about the word that makes it tricky. I have no problems with other words beginning with sp-. I think it’s a combination of the E and the C after that does for me.

A lot of people use pronouncing specific as pacific as an example of the most annoying mispronunciation. I wonder though, if it’s not so much a case of people thinking that the word should be pronounced pacific, as people finding specific hard to pronounce. This might be the case for lots of other common mispronunciations. I know many of them are simply based on mishearings, or seeing words written but not hearing them often. But I also wonder if some of these mispronunciations are simply due to words that don’t come naturally to some people. I think this might the case with words like library and February being pronounced as libary and Febuary, which seems to be a problem more common in American English. I can see how two R‘s in such close proximity, in the middle of a word, can be difficult to fit comfortably, with one being much simpler and smoother to pronounce.

It’s worth considering when you get annoyed by the way someone pronounces a word. And when it comes to mispronunciation anyway, I always think it’s important to consider whether it matters how someone pronounces a word or not, if you understand it.

How about you? Are there any words you find it hard to pronounce?

14 thoughts on “Supposably

  1. Fun post! My grandmother grew up in a Finnish-speaking household in Ohio and, despite having to leave school early to go to work, became proficient at speaking and writing English. The one and only word I remember her not quite getting was “problem” which she pronounced “probrem”. It’s actually one of my fondest memories of Grandma K – the wonderful way she’d dismiss any care with a cheery: “No probrem!”

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  2. I seem to be taking more and more shortcuts with words, as in specific vs pacific but I think that is more of an example of laziness and possibly brain fade, rather than just having a hard time pronouncing the words.

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    • I get like that when I’m typing on my phone. I’ll start with the first few letters and hope Autocorrect figures out the rest. Or I’ll just vaguely tap near the letters I want and let it do the rest.

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  3. Spaghetti/ piss-getti! Haha, I do not say it this way, but a lot of little kids in the U.S. do. It seems to be a common early childhood thing, one they grow out of. I have always said
    Feb-u-ary’ not ‘Feb-bru- ary’. Not sure which is correct, although I learned of a Latin word ‘februa’ which had been associated with the month. Interesting post!

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  4. I babysat a little girl who did the pisghetti thing, and also nockel-u-bars (binoculars). There are some words I’m lazy about, too, Feb’ery being one. And I think we all slur over Wednesday. Wotan can go fly a kite.
    That said, I wish people would articulate more carefully. I’m hard of hearing and have listened to songs where I only caught a few words in the whole song.

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  5. With the exception of the mispronunciation of February, all of the words mentioned, if mispronounced, makes me cringe. (Although February still gives me a little “ack” moment if mispronounced, just not as much) I think part of the mispronouncing issue here in the States is people trying to talk too fast! (Well, at least here in the Northeast) huge pet peeve of mine…hahha…I really need to just let it go…

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