2819: Pronunciation

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 10:59, 26 December 2023 by (talk) (Undo revision 331441 by (talk) REfix formatt8ng)
Jump to: navigation, search
I pronounce the 'u' in 'pronunciation' like in 'putting' but the 'ou' in 'pronounce' like in 'wound'.
Title text: I pronounce the 'u' in 'pronunciation' like in 'putting' but the 'ou' in 'pronounce' like in 'wound'.


Pronunciation guides are used in many languages to indicate the commonly accepted way to translate a written word into sound. This can be particularly important in the English language, where the pronunciation of individual letters and of combinations of letters can vary broadly, and there are very few rules that can be applied consistently. As a result, the 'correct' pronunciation of any given word is determined by common usage, and therefore can only be learned either by exposure or by memorizing them from guides. Some guides use the International Phonetic Alphabet, but the average person is not familiar with those characters, so most guides written for laypeople instead reference familiar words that feature the phonemes.

This, of course, presumes that the reader is familiar with the pronunciation of those words, but the words should be chosen so that a) they're commonly known b) there is only one common pronunciation and c) the pronunciation doesn't vary much between regional accents. The comic seems to be poking fun of this idea by using words which can have vastly different pronunciations even for a single dialect or accent, let alone a geographically spread one, and by extension at how English pronunciation is a mess even at very small scales.

In this strip, though, the selected guide-words are deliberately chosen to be confusing. They are heteronyms – spellings that are used for multiple words with different meaning which are pronounced in very different ways. Moreover for most of them it is the less common homograph which matches the pronunciation in "Tuesday". In other words, how the reader chooses to pronounce each guide-word determines what pronunciation of "Tuesday" they end up with.

To complicate things further, there are multiple 'correct' pronunciations of 'Tuesday', involving different pronunciations of practically every part of the word.

(Note: General American pronunciations are primarily assumed here except when otherwise stated)

Guide Correct for Tuesday Other Notes
Buffet /ˈbʌf.ɪt/ (verb: strike) /ˈbʌ.feɪ/ (noun: type of food service where a wide selection of foods are presented for diners to choose from, the table or heated fixture from which the food is served, or (in British English) a low cabinet used to store alcoholic spirits, glasses & plates.) The <t> in the "Other" pronunciation is silent (or arguably /ɪ/ or /j/)
Minute /maɪˈn(j)uːt/ (adjective: small) /ˈmɪnɪt/ (noun: unit of time) There may be no combination of the first two letters which produces the 'correct' pronunciation of 'Tuesday', depending on whether the speaker uses the /ˈtʃuːz.deɪ/, /ˈtjuːz.deɪ/ or /ˈtuːz.deɪ/ form, and whether they include the /j/ sound in 'minute'.
Record (there is no inarguably 'correct' version in this position) iˈkɔɹd/ (verb: write down/make permanent)
/ˈɹɛkərd/ or /ˈɹɛk.ɚd/ or /ˈɹɛk.ɔɹd/ (noun: medium containing information; vinyl disc which has sound encoded in a spiral groove embossed on its surface)
In some dialects the leading 'e' in both words is pronounced identically, though in the case of the noun there is more emphasis on the first syllable.

In others, for the verb it is almost silent, which could perhaps be considered the closest approximation to the "e" in 'Tuesday', which is typically not pronounced at all. It is more practical to consider it part of a digraph with the preceding "u", to change that from being read as something more like /ʌ/ or /ʊ/ into the more rounded /(j)uː/ sound.

Use /juːz/ (verb: to employ a thing for a particular end) /juːs/ (noun: the purpose for which that thing is employed) Some pronunciations of 'Tuesday' use a softer sound partway between these two examples.
Moped /ˈmoʊ.pɛd/ (noun: motor scooter with an engine smaller than 50cc) /moʊpt/ (verb: past tense of "mope," to brood or feel dejected) Perhaps less notable than the other letters, as both forms of the letter in question form a hard consonant if applied to 'Tuesday.'
Bass /bs/ (noun: low-pitched notes and the instruments that play them) /bæs/ (noun: fish) In some pronunciations of 'Tuesday' the 'a' is silent.

/æ/ is also correct in New Zealand English.

Gyro /ˈj.ɹoʊ/, /ˈjɪɹoʊ/ or /ˈʒɪɹoʊ/ (noun: meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie, in Greek cuisine) /ˈd͡ʒ.ɹoʊ/ (noun: gyroscope) The meat can also be pronounced like the gyroscope. Also, in many dialects, the <ay> in Tuesday is pronounced [ɛʲ], in which case both options are wrong.

Following this guide, a pronunciation of Tuesday as /iɛstæaɪ/ is possible. You can hear a pronunciation at http://ipa-reader.xyz. A rather famous prior satirical take on spelling/pronunciation oddities is of the word "Ghoti", as a 'valid' spelling of "Fish".

The title text references how some people pronounce the word "pronunciation" like "pronounce" (with /aʊ/) and others use a different vowel (/ʌ/). Here Randall is saying that he pronounces them with the 'u' from "putting" and the 'ou' from "wound". If we take putting to mean /ˈpʌtɪŋ/ (golf) and wound as /wnd/ (coiled), this could mean he pronounces them using the commonly differing pronunciations. However those two words could also be pronounced /ˈpʊtɪŋ/ (placing) and /wund/ (injury), indicating a non-standard way of saying each word. In accents that lack the FOOT–STRUT split, such as those in the north of England, both versions of "putting" would be pronounced identically.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[The word "Tuesday", with each letter labeled by a box with an arrow:]
T: As in buffet
u: As in minute
e: As in record
s: As in use
d: As in moped
a: As in bass
y: As in gyro
[Caption below the panel:]
Pet peeve: Ambiguous pronunciation guides

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


These are all heteronyms

(/ɪ/|/t/)+(/ɪ/|/juː/)+(/ɛ/|/ɨ/)+(/s/|/z/)+(/t/|/d/)+(/eɪ/|/æ/)+(/aɪ/|???) ...what's the alternate (anglophone) pronunciation for the 'y' in "gyro"? 19:03, 23 August 2023 (UTC)

...oh, ok, now there's an explanation on this. Not convinced by the alternate 'y' at all. And I pronounce "putting" exactly like "putting", as well. Consider me additionally confused. 19:22, 23 August 2023 (UTC)
gyro as in the sandwich (pronounced like Euro), or gyro as in short for gyroscope.
Never even heard of a "gyro" sandwich. (And "Euro" can be YOU-ro, OY-ro, ERR-oh, etc, depending on which country you're(-oh) in.) Clearly something very Leftpondian, this comic. 21:51, 23 August 2023 (UTC)
Oh man! Come on, we're going to the grocery store. You're one of today's lucky 10,000.- 22:43, 23 August 2023 (UTC)
It's a Greek dish similar to a shawarma. It's pronounced YEE-ro, I believe. (Which is kind of similar to that first pronunciation of "Euro", so that's probably what they were going for.) 22:04, 23 August 2023 (UTC)
Putting/putting - think southern England if you want to appreciate the difference. The golfing sense is somewhere between "patting" and "potting"; the placing sense more like...well, like "putting". "Pooting," I suppose, with a "book" type "oo".Yorkshire Pudding (talk) 22:46, 23 August 2023 (UTC)
It's actually gyros, or γύρος using Greek spelling, there is no singular form because it is uncountable, like news. It's not like you can have one new. It's still probably the same word but I guess the meat is more likely to be pronounced in the original Greek way while words like gyroscope, which is a device originally used to measure (scope) the rotation (gyros) of the earth, have been anglicized in their pronunciation. Tharkon (talk) 23:25, 23 August 2023 (UTC)
So in English, is it gyros meat or gyro meat?
The "original" Greek way would be /gyros/, but the word for the sandwich was borrowed from modern Greek, while the word for the device was borrowed by way of Latin and maybe French. And English has this silly habit of treating mass nouns with final /z/ or /s/ as plural count nouns, especially if the masses are made of many countable objects, like pease and cherise. Anonymous11:54, 24 August 2023 (UTC)
Where are people getting the idea from that it's uncountable in Greek? Singular is γύρος (gyros, /'jiros/), plural is γύροι (gyroi, /jiri/). Vince (talk) 09:24, 26 August 2023 (UTC)
I did not actually mean for the word to be uncountable in Greek specifically, though I see how my sentence could be taken that way. The word γῦρος in Ancient Greek (I don't have a lot of experience with modern Greek) also simply meant ring or circle, so clearly it was countable then. But now it refers to meat which is generally uncountable in English, maybe less so in inflected languages like Latin, Italian and Greek. I now remember that pasta is singular with a plural paste (or pastae in Latin). Tharkon (talk) 21:47, 26 August 2023 (UTC)
Cool fact about the pronunciation of Euro: Yet another pronunciation (used in Greek), is ev-RO (ευρό). They also don't refer to eurocents as "cents", but rather as λεπτά (lepta, sg. lepto). You can tell that you have a Greek cent coin because it'll say ΛΕΠΤΟ or ΛΕΠΤΑ on the back. Vince (talk) 09:24, 26 August 2023 (UTC)
Also, Most Americans pronounce it /hiɹoʊ/, as in "I need a hero", a pun Arby's made ample use of when they started selling gyros. I presume this also where the name "hero" for a sub comes from, despite the fact that most gyros I'm familiar with look more like Greek tacos than subs. Anonymous11:54, 24 August 2023 (UTC)
OED has references to the hero sandwich from 1938. Arby's was founded in 1964, and references in English to gyro sandwiches only date back to 1971. So it's unlikely that the hero sandwich is derived from gyro. Barmar (talk) 14:44, 24 August 2023 (UTC)

In Finland that's not far away. By starting with T and removing æ you are almost correct. Tuesday in Finnish /Ti:stai/

Someone has GOT to find a better joke than "TOMATO BOTATO" - 22:41, 23 August 2023 (UTC)

I think maybe the counter-example of orthography might work for everyone? I linked it, for those who might still be confused. 22:48, 23 August 2023 (UTC)
That's a lot better, and I feel like an idiot for not thinking of it, since I was just watching Tom Fawkes last night when he mentioned Ghoti of the Deep Beyond.- 01:52, 24 August 2023 (UTC)

Does someone familiar with the IPA have a silly-looking but reasonably accurate transcription of /ɪɛstæaɪ/ they want to add to the page? GreatWyrmGold (talk) 23:19, 23 August 2023 (UTC)

Listening to the IPA reader, it sounds almost like "yesterday", which is interesting because the comic was posted on Wednesday... 00:04, 24 August 2023 (UTC)

I think for the 'e' he means the 'schwa' (ə) sound, basically an unstressed neutral vowel sound (as in the 'a' in 'about', the 'e' in 'taken', the 'i' in 'pencil', the 'o' in 'havoc', the 'u' in 'supply', the 'y' in 'sibyl', or sometimes not even written as in 'rhythm') Trogdor147 (talk) 01:31, 24 August 2023 (UTC)

Wait, it's a penn-sill, not a penn-sull!
ProphetZarquon (talk) 17:13, 24 August 2023 (UTC)

My naive reading of this is: the T in buffet is silent. U in minute is UH, E in record is EH, S in use is Z, D in moped is T, A in bass is AH, Y in gyro is YI. together this makes: UHEZTAYI 04:23, 24 August 2023 (UTC)

There's a more modern semivocalic analysis of English diphthongs that could affect how the T and Y are interpreted. The video focuses on British dialects, but anecdotally, the main principles also apply to General American, so they may be more intuitive here. Not sure if this is worth going against convention to incorporate, but I figured it'd be worth suggesting.

The relevant transcriptions would become buffet /-fej/, minute /majˈn(j)uwt/, use /juw-/, moped /mow-/, bass /bejs/, gyro /jij- dʒaj-/; and in the prose, pronounce /-aw-/, wound /wawnd wuwnd/. In the mispronunciation of Tuesday, the /-æaj/ would correctly look like a sequence of two vowels instead of three.

Since E doesn't usually represent /ej/, Great Vowel Shift and all, you might analyze the T of buffet as corresponding to the /-j/ rather than being silent. That would add an extra phone at the start of the mispronunciation. Maybe that's a bit ghoti, though.

Anyway, for readers who don't know the IPA, my attempt at a pronunciation respelling would be (y)ih~ess-ta~eye. I can't think of a foolproof way to evoke unchecked /æ/ instead of /ə ɑ ej/. I tried adding silent GH, but that can also yield /ij/ as in shillelagh. ~AgentMuffin

Is it worth adding a note about the old "ghoti" being pronounced as "fish" thing? That was my first exposure to deliberately pathological pronunciations in English, but I'm not sure if that's common? The joke is that you take "gh" from "enough", "o" from "women", and "ti" from "nation", to get "ghoti" = "fish".

This joke is essentially the opposite of "ghoti". Rather than taking unusual pronunciations and creating a weird spelling from them, it takes a normal spelling and finds words where those letters have unusual pronunciations. Barmar (talk) 14:54, 24 August 2023 (UTC)
Wait, doesn't ehvehrreewunn pronounce the "wo" in "women", the same as in "wet"? I think of it as a "wooeh" sound.
ProphetZarquon (talk) 17:13, 24 August 2023 (UTC)

Also note that while bass can refer to a type of fish, it can also refer to sound/tone as compared to treble and is pronounced like 'base'. 13:45, 31 August 2023 (UTC)

Already up there in the Explanation: "/bs/ (noun: low-pitched notes and the instruments that play them)"... 13:54, 31 August 2023 (UTC)

The "y" in Tuesday doesn't really have a sound, it just serves to make the "a" long. That doesn't correspond to either of the "gyro" pronunciations. Barmar (talk) 14:54, 24 August 2023 (UTC)

So, you pronounce "da" in words like "propaganda", "Andromeda", "Canada", "soda", "agenda" just like "day" in "Tuesday", but with a shorter "a"? :) BytEfLUSh (talk) 15:17, 24 August 2023 (UTC)
Those are pronounced more like "dah", but clipped. It's in between the short "a" in "dad" and a schwa. But if you were to add a "y" they would sound like you were a Canadian. Barmar (talk) 14:40, 25 August 2023 (UTC)

This reminds me of a joke my Dad used to tell. "A as in Aye", "S as in Sea", etc. Shamino (talk) 15:15, 24 August 2023 (UTC)

Until reading this explanation, I never noticed how many people say "recorded", 'wrongly': "wreck-OR-dedd" sure seems wrong to me (even though I see some pronunciation guides that OK it). Shouldn't that be "ree-KOR-dedd"? ProphetZarquon (talk) 17:19, 24 August 2023 (UTC)

I most often say r'-KOR-dedd with a schwa sound on the first syllable, and occasionally say ree-KOR-dedd as you suggest. I never heard anyone say wreck-OR-dedd. Rtanenbaum (talk) 12:52, 25 August 2023 (UTC)

For Dairy Queen, the final day the Cows grased on the range was the most important day for their milk. But for all others, it was Juice Day.-- 23:42, 24 August 2023 (UTC)

Not really relevant to the comic, but a fun thing others might enjoy... I have used the nickname "MAP" (my initials) since about 1970, it occurs twice in my email address. When spelling it out (to someone where it'll work), I give it as: "M as in mnemonic, A as in aesthetic, P as in pneumonia" and when doing it the second time in my email, I end with "P as in ... psyche!" MAP (talk) 17:14, 25 August 2023 (UTC)

Not the unit of time. The adjective meaning "very small." See https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/File:en-us-minute-adjective.ogg for intended pronunciation. (talk) 22:06, 26 August 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~) We are recording this, we record Janis (talk) 11:37, 30 August 2023 (UTC)

What new points do the above two comments seek to add? 14:57, 30 August 2023 (UTC)