The Pronunciation Conundrum

31/10/2016 13:41

Working in radio news means you become fixated with pronunciation. Words that seem so simple become overly complicated as you realise we say them in different ways. Is harassment - her-rass-ment or haris-ment for example? Then there's controversy or CON-TROV-ERR-SEE. A can of worms has been opened and it's very hard to close it again.

I have had hundreds of discussions over the years in newsrooms about how to say this or that word or a certain name or place. Often there are two right answers (sometimes more) and when it comes to foreign names and places, there is really no right answer. My view is because I am English I should not pronounce Barcelona with a TH sound in the middle but some may argue I should.

My name is David - but how should I pronounce David Ginola or David Ferrer's christian name? Is it DAY-VID or DA-VEED? I am sure both of them would call me DA-VEED, so why shouldn't I call them DAY-VID? Because if I did it would sound odd I suppose, but you take my point I hope.

With foreign names and places the argument will never be settled - at least that's my experience of 20 years of newsroom debate - but there are some English words or names where there really shouldn't be any discussion. For example, JK Rowling is pronounced like 'row the boat' not 'having a row with my wife'. That's caused many an angry director or news editor to shout at presenters over the years. For a bit of fun I have listed some more of my favourites.

ANYTHING / EVERYTHING - I have to admit to being devastated when a radio colleague told me aged 24 that I had a habit of saying ANYTHINK or EVERYTHINK. I immediately stopped. It makes me smile now when people from abroad also say it with a K at the end (they are normally footballers).

UNTIL - How can this be said incorrectly you may ask. Well listen out for how often people on radio and TV actually say ANTIL. No - that's a place where ants live!

MEMORABILIA - This frequently gets pronounced MEM-RO-BEE-LEAR, which sounds like some obscure female Shakespeare character.

NAOMI - It's always baffled me why this name often gets pronounced NYE-OH-ME. It's NAY-OH-ME. Although the original Hebrew name might arguably be pronounced NAY-OH-MY. But that's just confused the issue unnecessarily.

Talking of ISSUE - This is a word that opens that can of worms again. Correctly pronounced it is ISS-U but most of us will say ISH-U. Quite frankly if you say it correctly I think you sound, how should I say this, like a bit of a tit. Likewise for TISSUE and to some degree CONSUMER.

ESPRESSO - This one is easy you'd think but it still gets a few of you in a tangle. It is ESS-PRESS-O of course not EX-PRESSO. That's a fast train in Italy.

Similar to the above is ET CETERA. This is quite phonetic but you will hear many say EX-CETERA. If you're struggling just say E-T-C.

ATHLETE - A very respected journalist spent all his time on Talksport recently referring to ATHER-LEETS. I have obviously blocked him on Twitter as a consequence.

AITCH - the letter H has no H so leave it HOFF the start!

And most annoying of all:

SAYS - This word is SEZ not SAY-z. Take note Tony Livesey and Gordon Brown. So bad is this problem, one radio group once took to spelling SAYS as SEZ in all its scripts to ensure their newsreaders got it right.

I must add at this point that I probably say lots of words incorrectly. I have great trouble with RAILWAY (which comes out RALL-WAY strangely) and have never liked RURAL or NUCLEAR in radio scripts. I also confess that I was 28 before I realised that chutney is spelt with a T. I'd always said CHUK-NEE for some reason. Although to be fair I never had to say it on the radio, thankfully.