Patricia T. O’Conner

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Word maven Patricia T. O’Conner explores pronunciation errors (including her own), and she answers your questions about the use and misuse of the English language. Call 212-433-9692 or post a question or comment during the show. If your question isn’t answered on air, you can email Patricia directly by going to her website,, and clicking on "write us."

Woe Is I Jr. is available for purchase at


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [40]

arnie fleischer from new rochelle, ny

OK, in my hurry to get in my comment (# 30) while the program was running, I made a couple of mistakes. First, I said the subject of the phrase, ". . . one of the few people who pronounces," was "one" instead of "people." Even accepting my rushed shorthand -- the subject is "who," not "one" or "people," -- I had that backwards. And what I really meant to say is that the subject "who" relates back to "people," not to "one," and so the verb should be "pronounce," not "pronounces."

Aug. 17 2007 03:11 PM
Judy from Scarsdale

What about the pronunciations of the words research and presentation?
rihsearch vs. reeeesearch
prehsentation vs. preeesentation
Would love to know

Aug. 16 2007 11:56 AM
Ed Keer from Waldwick, NJ

In response to Jim's question above: the pronunciation of [or] as [ar] in NY (and other parts of the mid Atlantic] happens when the the [r] starts a new syllable in the word. You get it in 'sorry' but not 'for'. That said, all Americans pretty much have the [ar] in 'sorry' (unlike Canadians) but only some dialects extend it to other words like 'orange', 'Florida', or 'moral'. And many people have some idiosyncratic uses. For example, I (a native of SE Pennsylvania) have it in most of these words except 'moral'.
Some Brits may also have this pronunciation, although the only evidence I have for that claim is Roger Daltry's pronunciation of 'moral' in "Won't get fooled again". He clearly sings 'The m[ar]als that we worshipped were all gone.' I don't know if that is him affecting an American pronunciation or his native one.

On the show a caller asked about [shtreet] for [street]. This is also a common phonological variation in American speech. It appears to be anticipatory assimilation of the [s] to the place of articulation of the [r]. A similar rule is found in Swedish where an [s] following an [r] is pronounced as [sh], for example [morshan] meaning "Mother".

Aug. 16 2007 11:42 AM
Ed Keer from Waldwick, NJ

As a phonologist, I'm pretty disappointed by the lack of expertise of your expert, Ms. O'Conner. Especially when it comes to basic phonetics, phonology, and American dialect differences. Many of the questions listeners brought up have been studied extensively by American dialectologists and linguists. I suggest she look into that work before the next scheduled appearance. A good place to start is the American Dialect Society (on the web at

Aug. 16 2007 11:42 AM
Mike from Rockefeller Center

Re: Till, To: Gerry Lesk

They've actually discussed this on Leonard's show before. 'Til is a shortening of until, but till predates until (itself being a contraction of un- and till). Shortening until to 'til is just the word coming full circle.

Aug. 15 2007 02:11 PM
Gerry Lesk from Manhattan

My comment concerns spelling. The word 'til' is, as I understand it, a contraction of 'until'.

A common mistake I see made with this word is that it is misspelled 'till', which confuses the contraction of 'until' with the word for the plow that worked the prairie or the cashier's box in a store. I have seen this
mispelling most recently in a book of Somerset
Maugham's short stories, and it appalled me.

Tell me that I'm right to be appalled! I want
to continue in my indignation!

Gerry Lesk

Aug. 15 2007 01:59 PM
Jennifer Lemish from Jersey City, NJ

The use of preventative that I have heard is not to replace preventive the adjective rather as the noun. A preventive medicine practioner can recommend a good preventative for heart disease is ....

Aug. 15 2007 01:57 PM
mark from Brooklyn

I'm an architect. Often heard in the construction industry is "masonary" for "masonry." Similar to "realator" for "realtor." Some principle of linguistic change? Easier to say?

Aug. 15 2007 01:56 PM

The song of the summer is "Under my Umbrella"

she pronounces it:


adding an extra syllable.

It makes a catchy tune though!

Aug. 15 2007 01:56 PM
Mark from manhattan

speaking of mispronunciation,

comfortable pronounced "comfterble" drives me nuts!

Aug. 15 2007 01:55 PM
arnie fleischer from new rochelle, ny

Ms. O'Conner has made two grammatical errors (each a subject-verb disagreement) on the show.First, she told Leonard Lopate that "he is one of the few people who pronounces [Vincent Van Gogh's] name correctly." That should be"pronounce," not "pronounces," because the subject is "one," not "people": there are a few people who pronounce the name right, and he's one of them. The second mistake occurred when she was talking about the pronunciation of "harassment" and said, "Harassment or harassment, either one are correct." That's "is," not "are."

Sorry, my mother was an English teacher and I was an English major and just can't help myself!

Aug. 15 2007 01:55 PM
Jenn from New Brunswick, NJ

What about the word disoriented? I've heard it pronounced sometimes as if it were "disorienTAted"

Aug. 15 2007 01:53 PM
Maggie from New Brunswick, NJ

I'm from south jersey where there's the common pronunciation of the word towel as "tal." Drives me crazy.

Aug. 15 2007 01:53 PM
Fabio from Manhattan

One of my favorite topics!!!

When in question, I usually refer to the Miriam-Webster online dictionary. It has an audio portion that is free.

Although, it only provides you with one pronounciation, it serves as a guide and it's free.

Aug. 15 2007 01:50 PM
J Reilly from Bellmore, LI

It drives me crazy to hear the soft "T" that has become common as in impor(D)ant. Thanks

Aug. 15 2007 01:50 PM
Sarah from Brooklyn

You were talking about names and I have a pet peeve with my husband who prounces Albany, NY with an a like apple rather than like all. I believe this is the pronunciation of Albany, CA. He insists that it can be either, but I keep insisting that there is a correct pronunciation.

Aug. 15 2007 01:49 PM
Gabriel Hunter from NYC

For Almond is it Ah-mond or All-mond


For Palm is it Pom or Pallm

Aug. 15 2007 01:49 PM
Just Me from Midtown

How about pronouncing the bakery chain Au Bon Pain? People seem to pronounce it as "Ow Bonne Pan".

And how about the word genuine?

Aug. 15 2007 01:49 PM
Valerie from Jackson Hts., Queens

Some blue-collar Ralph-Kramden types pronounce
O-I as E-R and E-R as O-I ... Why?
EXAMPLE: "terlit" instead of "toilet"
and "goil" instead of "girl"

Also, reminds me of rex harrison in My Fair Lady,
" Norwegians learn Norwegian, the Greeks are
taught their Greek.
In France every Frenchman knows his language
from A to Zed.
The French don't care what they do, actually,
As long as they pronounce properly.
Arabians learn Arabian with the speed of
summer lightning,
And Hebrews learn it backward which is
absolutely frighening.
If you use proper English you're regarded as
a freak.
Oh why can't the English, why can't the
English learn to speak! "

Aug. 15 2007 01:47 PM
laura from manhattan

Isn't the use of like to mean say a matter of register? I wouldn't dream of using it when talking to my boss, but I wouldn't hesitate to use it in relating a story to my friends. I wouldn't want Leonard to use it in an interview either. It would lessen the gravitas of what was said.

Aug. 15 2007 01:47 PM
David Harrington from Morningside Heights

Saturday is named after Saturn, but all the other days of the week in English are named after Northern European gods: Thor is Thursday, Freja is Friday, Woden is Wednesday. Why Saturn?

Aug. 15 2007 01:46 PM
Leandra from staten island

The word "fun" seems to be used incorrectly even in the news and T.V. ie. "It's so fun."

Aug. 15 2007 01:46 PM
Jeffrey S. from East Elmhurst

Your guest seems to imply that language is learned in some kind of vaccuum. If a person misuses or mispronounces a word, it is because he or she was taught that way or they had to figure it out for themselves after seeing the word in a book and not having the energy to look it up in a dictionary.
It is society's responsibility to make sure everyone has a proper exposure to standard English. If the whole point of language is communication,. it won't be of much good if everyone is imposing an individual definition of pronouncement of a word.

Aug. 15 2007 01:43 PM
Mike from Rockefeller Center

How should we, the American laypeople, pronounce the word neanderthal? Like the German valley, with a -tal ending, or -thal? Am I a boor for not knowing?

Aug. 15 2007 01:40 PM
Jim from Manhattan

Re pronunciation of alleged.

I was taught that a-ledged was correct, and heard it pronounced that way by educated speakers and npr hosts, UNTIL RECENTLY. I even remember the day that I first started hearing Brian Lehrer pronounce it the other way, a-ledge-id. Your comments?

Aug. 15 2007 01:40 PM
Carlos from forest hills, ny

or how about "the tour de france" - i cant help but sound snooty when saying that one

Aug. 15 2007 01:37 PM
Cale from Paterson, NJ

In Northern N.J. native people drop the T's in the middle of a word. For example the name Chilton would be Chil-in or Mountain would be Mao-in, or Manhattan would be Man -ha-in. I also hear this in parts of the British Isles. Any connection?

Aug. 15 2007 01:36 PM
Katrina from South Orange, NJ

Regarding the word "aunt." My experience is that most white people pronounce it "ant" while most black people pronounce it (as I think it should be) as it is "awnt". Is this largely true? If so, how do people who are neither black nor white pronounce this word? Or, is this a regional thing?


Aug. 15 2007 01:35 PM
Carlos from forest hills, ny

consider the pronounciation of route in "router" (it not "rooter")

Aug. 15 2007 01:34 PM
chestine from NY

forte is italian! it's musical!

Aug. 15 2007 01:33 PM
David Harrington from Manhattan

Why are the British allowed to refer to groups, say the BBC, in the plural form (The BBC are reporting on Posh Spice.) while Americans must refer to groups of people in the singular form if the name of the group is singular?

Aug. 15 2007 01:33 PM
Angela from Brooklyn

A joke about Versaille, IN:

Two guys are at a gas station arguing about the pronounciation of the town name. Finally one guy says to the gas station attendant, "How do you pronounce the name of the place we're standing?"

The attendant looks at them and slowly says "SUNOCO."

Aug. 15 2007 01:33 PM
tanya from Manhattan

What about patina. Is it PATina or paTIna?

Aug. 15 2007 01:33 PM
chestine from NY

Cannes is somewhere between the two pronunciations offered.

Aug. 15 2007 01:32 PM
Cale, M.D. from Paterson, NJ

Are you aware that people in North NJ drop the T's in the middle of a word. For example the name Chilton is pronounced Chil-in or Manhattan is pronounced Man-ha-in. I also hear this in some parts of the British Isles. Maybe a connection?

Aug. 15 2007 01:32 PM
Andy from New York, NY

How do you pronounce drawer?

I've also pronounced it as rhyming with "door" while I've heard others pronounce it as rhyming with "draw"

Aug. 15 2007 01:30 PM
Thaddeus from Chatham, NJ

I continue to be irritated and annoyed by the morning WNYC announcer who pronounces it WNY-say instead of WNY-see. Why can't I just let it go?

Aug. 15 2007 01:28 PM
Lynne Familant from Tinton Falls, NJ

When and why did English speakers stop using "thee" and "thou?" I'm currently reading Thomas Hardy and noticed that in the dialog, the characters use both "thee" (or 'ee) and "you." It seems like a transition period (late 19th century?) during which both were used.

Thanks for an always fascinating segment!

Aug. 15 2007 01:04 PM
Jim from Brooklyn

There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to when a New Yorker pronounces "...or..." as "or" and when it is pronounced "ar". Being from Chicago, the only time I can think of when I pronounce "or" as "ar" is in "sorry". I pronounce "choral" as a homophone of "coral", whereas New York firends pronounce "choral" as I do, but "coral" as a (nearly) homophone with "Carl". Is there a pattern?

Aug. 15 2007 12:21 PM
hjs from 11211

when interviewed, 'scientific experts' often respond to a question starting with the word 'so.' is there any reason for this??

example would be something like this :

why is the sky blue? so, the sky is blue because…

I hear this all the time on npr and the like.

Aug. 15 2007 12:09 PM

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