Updated date:

What Did You Just Say?

Carolyn Fields is a lifelong learner, musician, author, world traveler, truth enthusiast, and all-around bon vivant.


The Act of Producing the Sounds of Speech

The correct word is pronunciation. Look closely, and you will see that the second syllable sounds like “nun,” as in the Catholic Church. But because people “pronounce” words, I sometimes hear people say “pronounciation” when they actually mean “pronunciation.” That’s just wrong. It’s also ironic that some people are not able to properly pronounce pronunciation. Don’t be those people.


Are You Carrying a Liquid or an Image?

When you serve lemonade to a group of people, it is customary to put the beverage in a pitcher, and pour the liquid into glasses once you reach the table. Then the host will leave this vessel on the table, so their guests can refill at their leisure. This container for holding and pouring liquids usually has a lip or spout, and a handle. There is also a player in baseball who throws the baseball from the pitcher’s mound toward the catcher to begin each play. These are both appropriate uses of the word pitcher.

A picture, on the other hand, is a visual representation of a person, object, or scene. It could be a painting, drawing, photograph, or any other image created to represent something else. People carry pictures of their children in their wallets. They carry pitchers to the table. Big difference.

I believe that the whole pitcher vs. picture mix-up is just the result of a lazy mouth and jaw. To properly pronounce picture, you must add a hard “k” sound in the back of your mouth, before pushing your tongue and lips forward to create a “ch” sound. Saying pitcher instead eliminates the “k” sound, saving yourself the energy involved in producing the correct sound. Don’t be lazy. Think of it as a kind of workout for your face.

Are You Feeling Agitated, or Merely Discouraged?

You might be a little frustrated right now. You know the feeling. It’s one of discouragement when you fall short of achieving your goal or perfect pronunciation. Or perhaps you are a bit flustered. That would be a state of agitated confusion, due to my criticism of your pronunciation habits.

But what you should never be is “flustrated” or “flusterated.” Well, actually you can be either or both of those things, since those words have made their way into the Urban Dictionary. So, if you are amongst friends, by all means get as “flustrated” as you wish. But if you are in a more formal setting, you’ll need to pick one or the other: flustered or frustrated.


Are You Chopping Wood or Getting Answers?

Before you get the wrong idea, let me begin this segment by sharing the fact that I’ve heard people of all races, genders, and ages misuse the words I’m about to discuss. Don’t stereotype, and neither will I. It’s just a problem that needs to be addressed, and here it is: There is a difference between “ask” and “aks” or “axe.”

Yes, I am aware that even Chaucer used the word “axe” rather than “ask” in The Canterbury Tales. And yes, I know that what becomes “standard” in the English language is completely arbitrary. That having been said, “ask” is still the current grammatically correct way to get an answer to a question. Just so you know.

Speaking of What You Know

When someone questions me (i.e., asks me a question), and I give them a full and complete description of everything I know on the subject, I may end with, “that’s all I know.” Under no circumstances would I utter the phrase, “that’s alls I know.”

I don’t believe that “alls” is even a word in the English dictionary. There are several idioms related to “all” however, such as:

  • Above all
  • After all
  • All at once
  • All but
  • All in all
  • All in hand

Admittedly, the phrase, “alls I know” does appear to be common in some “dialects,” but it isn’t standard usage. So knock it off.

Is it Purely Theoretical, or a Sober Silence?

So you’re having a debate or making up your mind when you learn new information that makes your ultimate opinion no longer of any practical significance. For example, you’re trying to decide whether or not to go along with someone to the store. You are debating the pros and cons, when you realize that your friend has already left without you. At this moment, you become silent. One could say that you became mute, because your decision is now moot.

A "moot" point is still open for discussion, but it may not come to any useful conclusion or the conclusion may be meaningless. Mute is just the absence of sound. I think that these words get confused because we heard it wrong when we were first introduced to the concept of “moot.” Not difficult to do.

On the Topic of Hearing it Wrong

Okay, perhaps this one is just about me. When I was in Grade School, I was asked to sit and answer the phones in the Administrative Office while the teachers were all at lunch. That was many years ago, before voicemail. Also, today such a request would probably result in a lawsuit.

Be that as it may, one day when I answered the phone the caller asked for Mrs. Spring, and Principal. They didn’t ask for “The Principal.” They asked for Mrs. Spring by name. Armed with this information, I put down the phone (I don’t think they even had a hold button), and went to find her.

I located Mrs. Spring, and all of the other teachers in the Teacher’s Lounge. They paused their conversation when I entered, and I relayed the information from the phone caller.

Here is where I learned the correct pronunciation of the word “specifically.” You see, I had heard adults use this word, and understood what they meant. But what I thought they were saying was “pacifically.” So when Mrs. Spring asked if the caller wanted to speak with the Principal, or if they had asked for her, I replied, “They asked for you pacifically.”

The entire room of teachers burst out in laughter. On the bright side, I have never misused that word since that day. I also seem to recall being excused from my “secretarial duties” from that point forward.

I Could Go On

There are many, many more words that are misused on a regular basis (e.g., farther vs. further, affect vs. effect, lie vs. lay). My choices are ones that bother me the most. I’m sure you have your own top picks. I’d love to hear (not here) about them in the comments below.

© 2018 Carolyn Fields


Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on June 09, 2018:


Thank you. If I do another hub on this topic, I will include "a lot." Good addition.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on June 09, 2018:

Great article! It bothers me too, Carolyn, when I hear people speak incorrectly. It feels the same as the pain from the sound we hear when someone scratches chalk on a blackboard.

The use of words that don’t exist show the lack of education. You mentioned how some people say “alls” in a sentence. I find things in printed content that also show ignorance, such as those who think that “alot” is a word. I see it among writers. Haven’t these people learned that “a lot” is two words?

As for the use of “aks” instead of the correct “ask” — that’s another one that bothers me like the sound of scratching chalk.

I think this difficulty with proper pronunciation comes from growing up in an uneducated environment. They hear others speaking that way and they learn the incorrect words.

Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on April 03, 2018:

I agree with you. I just scratched the surface of misused and abused words. Perhaps I should start a series? Thanks for reading and commenting (notice the "g's" - ha!).

Larry W Fish from Raleigh on April 03, 2018:

An interesting read, Carolyn. I enjoyed it very much and I know the words are misused by so many people. My biggest pet peeve is that people seem to have thrown the letter 'g' out the window. How many times do you hear people say, sittin, eatin, workin, walkin, talkin, speakin? OMG, it just drives me insane.

S Maree on March 09, 2018:

Sure! Sounds like a great subject: Words we read but don't know how to pronounce! It's like diving into uncertain waters. Will one hit a rock, get snarled in seaweed, bob like a duck, or sink to the bottom? The only certainty is one will get wet!

Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on March 09, 2018:

S Maree -

I like your point: "remembering many words from books I'd read, but having never heard them in conversation, was not sure about pronunciation." It reminds me of a situation with my parents. They had read the word "epitome" in print, but had never heard it pronounced out loud. So, naturally, they pronounced it as it looks: epi - tome - with a long "o" and not əˈpidəmē. I was reading something to them one day and used the word correctly, and they were both very surprised. I'm sure there are many of these words. Enough to make another hub - no?

S Maree on March 09, 2018:

I had a feeling, from your introspective article, that you were offering advice from your own experiences. That's why I added my two cents. I did not think you were inviting others to be correction police.

Sadly, there are people who do seem to believe an education gives them carte blanch to be correct people in public, and mock them in front of others. I deduced that your experience with the teachers taught you the lesson of discretion, and an understanding of how painful mocking can be.

That's why I reinforced your lesson with my experiences. While I think mastering one's language is immensely beneficial to a person, as well as to those with whom they share contact, crushing a person's spirit and creating resentments that can last a lifetime is a poor method of pedagogy. Shame on those teachers!

I would like to suggest another category in your quiz. I never had problems with the words you described, but I DID with plenty of others. Most of them stemmed from remembering many words from books I'd read, but having never heard them in conversation, was not sure about pronunciation. Therefore, I humbly suggest the additional:

No, but I misused others.

Keep up the good work!

Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on March 08, 2018:

S Maree,

I totally agree with you, and I'm sorry if I implied that I corrected people when they were speaking. I often have a slip of the tongue and don't get a word quite right, and hate it when some "well meaning" person corrects me (or laughs). It is annoying.

The general idea of my hub was for people to "self-identify" errors they may be making, and take steps towards better grammar. The only time I correct people is totally in private, and even then only if they ask me to do so.

I love your Bret Harte quote.

Thank you for reading and commenting.

S Maree on March 08, 2018:

While proper pronunciation improves communication, poking fun at, or publicly correcting malapropisms and other linguistic lapses, should be avoided. I had a mother who delighted in my verbal mistakes and made it a point to tell other people about my latest "cute" linguistic faux pas.

Upon receiving my BA in English, I discovered several words Mom mispronounced. Her friends must have either not known the differences, or politely ignored them. Mom did not take it well when I brought a couple of them to her attention, even though I did so in private. But at least she stopped making fun of my childhood errors in my presence.

Because of this I don't care how people (of any age) pronounce things. Kindness and respect are far more important. The only time I question is to clarify the subject. Even then, I apologize and say that I did not hear them clearly. This approach has netted me a great deal of friendship and support.

I like to quote Bret Harte: "When the Stranger is in your melon patch, observe him not too closely; inattention is often the highest form of civility."

Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on March 08, 2018:

Thank you, R. Talloni. Glad you got something out of my musings. As far as the Teacher incident is concerned, at the time I was pretty upset, but eventually came to regard it as a "teachable moment." I have many of those. Perhaps I'll write a hub about that! Thanks for your comments.

RTalloni on March 08, 2018:

Good stuff here. :) Proper pronunciation is impressive, but often taken for granted. Wrong pronunciation leaves a bad impression, often leaving a memorable notion of the person making the mistake.

The so-called urban dictionary is either a source of real irritation or a basket full of comedy, depending on my mood. There really aren't words for using axe in place of ask. Thankfully, feelings change quickly and I can muster up pity (sometimes).

That said, I'm pretty sure my speech isn't always correct. I will try to remember the "don't be those people" tip and continue to work at correct pronunciation. :)

How sad that a roomful of teachers laughed at a child, but how wonderful that you decided to look at the bright side. You win! :)

Related Articles