Here's a really good way to embarrass yourself.
When you walk into a meeting, announce that you delivered the final Coup de Grâce at the last sales conference. Make sure you say the final word as GRAH, which rhymes with RAW. The competition is going to be totally embarrassed! But, then again, you might be, too, because that's not how you pronounce it.
The truth? We tend to pronounce words and phrases the way we think they should be pronounced or the way everyone else pronounces them. Yet a wrong pronunciation may reveal a lack of education, street smarts, or even culture.
The brother and sister writing team of Kathryn and Ross Petras have even written a book on this topic called You're Saying It Wrong. The book is fantastic and has some great entries. I recently asked the authors to list some of their favorite mispronounced words and phrases, along with a description of why they're misused (which are included in quotes below). Do you have any new entries? Add them to comments.
"Comp-troll-er. It's easy. How can you get it wrong? This word fascinated us since there is a total disconnect between the apparently simple spelling and the completely different pronunciation. It's con-troll-er. The 'mp' is replaced by an 'n'. This is because the word actually comes from the Middle English counteroller (a person who checks a scroll copy), so it is really controller, (which is often used interchangeably with comptroller)."
2. Coup de grâce
"This is one of those French phrases that you say wrong when you try a little too hard to sound, well, French. The temptation is to say "coo-de-GRAH," since we know that final consonants are often pronounced in French. But that's wrong here. The ending 'ce,' as an 's' sound, should be pronounced: Coo-de-GRAHS."
3. Dr. Seuss
"When we learned that we had (technically) been mispronouncing the good doctor's name since we were kids, we were shocked. How could it not be Dr. Soos? Well, now we know that Theodor Geisel's (that's another thing--no 'e' at the end of his first name) pen name--which was his mother's maiden name--was actually pronounced to rhyme with 'voice' rather than 'moose.'"
4. For all intents and purposes
"This phrase interests us because so many people say, wrongly, 'for all intensive purposes.' This is a great example of what's called an eggcorn, a sound-alike stand-in for the correct word or phrase. 'Intensive purposes' sounds right. But when you compare its meaning to 'intents and purposes,' you can see that sounding right doesn't mean it is right. 'Intensive' is an adjective meaning vigorous or exhaustive. 'Intents' is a noun meaning purpose. So they are obviously not interchangeable. Putting aside its misuse, this phrase is often frowned upon as an overused cliche."
"Here the temptation is to flip the 'm' and the 'n' and say 're-NOOM-err-ay-shuhn' instead of the correct 're-MYOO-nuh-ray-shun'. It just seems right that way, maybe because the word is about payments and numbers and 'noom' sounds like the 'num' in number, while 'myoo' seems strange to put in the middle of a word. It's an extremely common problem."
"This is one of our favorites because it was a shock when we learned how it is pronounced. An editor of ours made some comment about liking to work with us because we were the kind of people who knew, of course, that it was 'restaurateur'
rather than 'restauranteur.' 'Of course,' we said, 'ha-ha, we know that.' But that was the first we'd heard of it. We'd been saying 'restauranteur' all along."