Skip to main content

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

Related Articles