Thursday, May 10, 2012

Words across the Pacific

Australians are quite used to American pronunciations of words. Some of us, grrr, even use them. Mostly they flow over me and I don't notice them, bar one in particular.

It grabs me every time I hear it, rather like when I hear a news report about the World Health Organisation. Who?, I say silently to myself. (I've tried saying it out loud but R is inclined to glare at me)

The word that bothers me with its American pronunciation is missile. You know, those things that squabbling countries threaten to shoot at each other. Kaboom. North Korea hasn't had much success with them of late.

While there are rules for English, they are so many exceptions, there hardly seems any point to them. To hear grammatically perfect English without modification towards naturalness of any sort can sound very odd to the ears. But at times there is a consistency such as ile at the end of a word. It sounds like aisle, as in a supermarket, or isle as in island. Maybe I should at this point check how Americans say aisle. Press on regardless.

So how can missile possibly be pronounced like a book old Ratzinger in the Vatican might peruse, a missal? How can missile possibly be pronounced missal? Does any native speaker in the US say missile?

I suppose the answer can only be, it just is in the US.

Words, always an opportunity to mention my most disliked. If I hear any of youse say or write orientated or disorientated instead of oriented or disoriented, I will bop you on the noggin. For you foreigners, see what Google translate makes of that phrase.


  1. Orientated and Disorientated is the correct spelling of these words according to my Collins English Dictionary. As for the spelling of other words they refer to a province in East Cuba?? :-).

  2. I am not too keen on flammable, when they clearly mean inflammable. Or "through" when they mean "from X to Y inclusive".

    I haven't a clue what people are saying. But who cares what I understand. Consider what airline pilots do with strange English. Go around in circles until they discover what air control's instructions mean?

  3. My people say missel for missile. So be it!

  4. 'Aluminium' is the worst one:

    'A - loooooo - min - uhm' - Nooooooo!

  5. I'm always a little surprised to learn we're still engaged in the War on TERRRRRRRRR. What the heck???

    Other than that I'm with Kath!

  6. But Windsmoke, they are unnecessary words. The shorter form is fine.

    Hels, you remind me of another pet one of mine, back to back when they mean consecutive. Plane crashes have been blamed on misunderstanding instructions because of accents.

    Rubye, as I expected, that is just how it is.

    Kath, it is an odd one, but many words with u can have a different sound, so it is not quite the same as ile.

    Red, I can only guess in which way you are surprised, perhaps both.

  7. Hi Andrew,

    I didn't even see this article when I posted mine. It must be the season!

    I agree that there are some irritating pronunciations and "missile" is one that I'd agree with. Have you heard an Australian say it as in "missal"?

    The one I always notice is primarily, which I believe should be said prime-ri-ly and not pri-merrily.

    I agree 100% with orientated versus oriented.

    Working in science, I also find the US "aluminum" instead of "aluminium" irritating.

    A great read :)

  8. Adam, yes, we were both troubled about words and I admit to being a little suspicious of your timing. However, I am sure it is a coincidence. I've not heard an Australian say missal but I expect I will in time. Yes, primarily. You are correct, and it is among the many words like secretary and momentarily. Ugly to the ears.

    The problem with oriented is that people hear orientated all the time from those who should know better, and it has fallen into common usage.

    I've heard the US aluminium for so long, it no longer bothers me. It is just their way of pronouncing a word, even if it is wrong wrong wrong.

  9. I think the issue with aluminium is that Americans spell the word without the second 'i' hence their pronunciation which sounds strange to us. (Rubye might confirm this?)

    I've been caught out by 'boo-ee'; their pronunciation of buoy which we pronounce 'boy'.

  10. And "I could care less" apparently means "I could NOT care less".

  11. It seems orientated is the past tense form of a verb people find when they are working backwards from “orientation”. However, I agree with you Andrew, the shorter form is far more rational [and far less irritating].

    I also agree with Hels - “I could care less” is an utterly illogical way of showing a lack of interest in something.

    The TERRRRR we really face is that many people who should know better are adopting ridiculous words because they believe it will make them sound more knowledgeable, as in the widespread use of signage.

    My personal pet hate is that “should’ has been replaced by “needs to”. Something needs to be done about it. The door needs to be shut. The world’s population needs to be reduced.
    [There needs to be an enquiry into this.]

  12. Victor, do they really pronounce buoy like that? Actually, it is perhaps a better pronunciation, although boo-oy might be better. Ah, I missed what Adam said about the different spelling of aluminium. I wasn't aware of that.

    Hels, I've not noticed that one. It too is odd.

    FC, so there is a legitimate use for the word. I am not great on tenses, as my writing no doubt shows at times.

    We will fight a losing battle against people using words to make themselves sound clever.

    As for should against needs to, someone should do something about it.

  13. "youse" ! Ha I got the cane for saying that in Primary school - actually not for saying it but when the nun told me there was no such word - a word I had heard all my life - I challenged her on it at 7 - silly girl

  14. MC, it is a pity the word has become tainted, as it is quite a useful word.