Bob Howell

When I was a grown man, husband and father, my mother would still send me little reminders about the proper pronunciation of words she would hear me say while I was anchoring the news on WSFA-TV 12. 

I’ll admit, at first, I was a little put off by her infrequent critiques ... but then I realized she was right and only wanted me to write and speak correctly.

So, I thought I would share some of the mistakes I was guilty of over the years, plus several more that I have gleaned from others who read aloud for a living. Take, for instance, two of my favorite words that so often are wrongly used in everyday speech and writing: number and amount. Number deals with items we can count. Amount refers to quantities we can measure but not individually count. Got that? By the way there won’t be a test afterward.

One of my mother’s favorite misuse of words describes a cold, sweet treat. It’s sherbet, not sherbert, which so many of us make the mistake of using. 

Lots of people make this mistake when it comes to buying and selling property. That person is a Realtor not a realator, which I hear all the time. And a lot of the people using the word incorrectly buy and sell real estate for a living.

As they age, a lot of men develop problems with their prostate gland ... not their “prostrate” gland, which doesn’t exist in the human body ... at least I don’t know of any gland by that name.

I’m not a big coffee drinker. If I were, I might make the mistake of ordering an expresso ... not an espresso, which is a common mispronunciation.                  

One of the first times I remember my mother suggesting that I look up the proper spelling and subsequent pronunciation of a word dealt with a childhood disease. The malady is diphtheria ... where the “ph” is pronounced like the letter “f” not “p.” That’s one I mispronounced for a lot of years until Mama set me right.

When you go to your doctor, he’s likely to write out a prescription to combat your condition. However, lots of people mispronounce the name of that important piece of paper.  They call it a perscription ... which is close, but that only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. It’s a prescription. The first three letters are “pre,” which are key to the proper pronunciation.

Growing up in the rural south, I fell victim to a common mispronunciation when it came to fencing. For a long time, I thought the wire fencing was “bob” wire. Little did I know — until early childhood — that it was “barbed wire” that kept cows on the proper side of the fence. Barbed wire was one of the greatest inventions according to agronomists.

Here’s a mistaken word that I hear regularly. It has to do with measurements. If your need to know if a refrigerator will fit in a space inside your overhead kitchen cabinets, you measure the refrigerator’s height not its heighth ... which is also mispronounced high-th.

Next on our list is a word that is a contender for mispronounced word of the year! It’s etcetera. If you listen, you’ll hear people say “ex-cetera.”  Tsk, tsk.

We’ll close with a simple word that millions of people mispronounce 24/7. With everybody working on computers these days, you find so many people mispronouncing a simple little four-letter word — data. It’s correctly pronounced “day-tuh”...not dat-tuh. Make a note. Put it in your data file.

Now sit back and decide how many of these words you pronounce correctly and give yourself a pat on the back. If you didn’t do so well, try, try again.

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