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Tuesday, September 13, 2016


5 stars out of 5

When I first heard about this book, I knew right away it was perfect for me. As a long-time writer, news reporter and copy editor (and now that I've pretty much settled into retirement, an avid reader), I figured getting a mere 150 words correct would be a no-brainer.

Was I right? Well, not exactly. 

These words range from "acai" to "zydeco" and are, the brother-and-sister authors say, words that will, if you pronounce them incorrectly, make you sound like an ignoramus. That's something, of course, we all want to avoid at all costs. By the end of the book, I learned that my vocabulary words fall into three major categories, beginning with those I absolutely nailed (like "gnocci" and "Louisville"). Those two I attribute to spending nearly 50 years of my life in the middle of what I fondly call the Little Italy of northeast Ohio and the fact that when I was growing up, the great state of Kentucky was but a little over an hour's drive away (even at 1950s speeds). 

On the other hand, I was humbled by words I've apparently been screwing up for most of my life, among them "detritus," "kibosh," "liqueur" and (gasp!) the name of a favorite author of children's books - Dr. Seuss. And third, I learned how to pronounce words I never even knew even existed and am quite certain I'll never use in a sentence for the rest of my natural life: "Antipodes?" "Chiaroscuro?" The ever-popular "foevvre?"

Joking aside, the book makes for quite an interesting and informative experience. Not only do we learn proper pronunciation (shown phonetically), we learn their definitions, etymology and, in many instances, related tidbits that often are amusing. The authors also make distinctions among words that are correctly uttered only one way, those that have two or more acceptable pronunciations and those that are territorial (meaning they're okay said one way in Seattle but not when you're in Tallahassee).

Scattered in between are "sidebars" of pronunciations of terms on a related subject, like travel, fashion and wine (I'll have you know I aced that latter category), adding even more enlightenment. Reading it for me provided not only positive mental exercise but a bit of the physical; by the time I'd passed "C," I started to really get into it - nodding my head enthusiastically when I got a word right and slapping myself upside the head when I didn't.

The extensive amount of research it took to compile all this makes it well worth 5 stars in my book, and the fact that it's done in an entertaining fashion makes it a shoe-in. If you're a bit of a wordsmith like me or just want to expand your knowledge base, this one is well worth consideration. Many thanks to the authors and publisher (via NetGalley) for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

You're Saying It Wrong: A Pronunciation Guide to the 150 Most Commonly Mispronounced Words - and Their Tangled Histories of Misuse by Ross Petras and Kathryn Petras (Ten Speed Press, September 2016); 192 pp.

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