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Ever get embarrassed because you mispronounce a word you've only seen written? Don't.

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I was watching The Proposal the other day and noticed something interesting. In one scene, Sandra Bullock’s book editor character, Margaret Tate, is talking about how she desperately needs to save the Don DeLillo account, a surprisingly high-brow reference amidst the usual rom-com white noise. Of course, Ms. Bullock pronounces the author’s name “duh-LEE-low” instead of the correct “duh-LIL-low,” instantly deflating the credit I had just given the movie and making me feel like Smartypants McGee for catching the mistake. (Don’t believe me? The FAQ of the Don DeLillo Society points to a radio interview the author gave in 1997 to confirm the pronunciation.)

Which got me thinking, maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on the movie. Haven’t we all had a name or a word that we’ve seen many times in print, but never heard in conversation? We know what it means, how to use it, how it’s spelled; everything but how to pronounce it.

For the majority of my life, I was convinced that awry was pronounced similarly to the word orrery. To this day “uh-RYE” still rings false in my ear. I also admit to pronouncing posthumous as if it meant “following a savory Middle Eastern spread.” And I, like many others, have Googled the phrase “Goethe, how to pronounce.” (Don’t get me started on South African-born Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee.) I just wonder why there’s such a stigma attached to those of us (like poor Margaret Tate) who seem to know certain words only in writing. Surely, there is quite a large vocabulary that doesn’t appear that often in everyday conversation, so why should one feel ashamed to get it wrong now and again? In the end, it’s more important to know what it means than how it sounds. I say go forth and mispronounce because how will you ever get it right if you’re never corrected? Duh-LEE-low, Duh-LIL-low, let’s call the whole thing off.

What say you? Any particularly embarrassing mispronunciation stories you’d like to recount?

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