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Aug 30, 2021
This week’s theme
Words with unusual pronunciations

This week’s words
blackguard
cwm
victual
gunwale
sidhe

Worcestershire
“I don’t know how to say it.”
“Just say it.”
“Worcestershire.”
Photo: rabiem22

Previous week’s theme
Blend words
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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

The English language is not fuh-NET-ik, to put it mildly, but it seems some words go out of their way to make things hard.

Not sure we should blame those words though. The language didn’t start out that way. Over time, some pronunciations had worn out or condensed and these “sloppy” or “lazy” pronunciations became “official”.

A language borrows words to fill its gaps. Most borrowed words get anglicized, in spelling and pronunciation, though some maintain their original forms.

Also, sometimes the English language borrowed spelling from one language and pronunciation from another. What we have now is a Mr. Potato Head of a language.

Take the word colonel. We imported its spelling from one language and pronunciation from another. Italian colonnello became coronel in French from where we imported it into English. Later we made the spelling closer to the original Italian, though we retained the French pronunciation. What a fine mess!*

This is just a small peek into the world of English pronunciation. Covering all the vagaries of English pronunciation would fill a giant book. In this week’s A.Word.A.Day we share with you five words whose pronunciations appear disconnected from their spellings.

*In case you were curious, the French word went back to be closer to the Italian, in both spelling and pronunciation. Modern French is colonel, pronounced, just as you would expect, (ko-lo-nel). Same in other languages: Dutch kolonel (ko-lo-nel), Hindi karnal (kuhr-nuhl), Portuguese coronel (ko-ro-nel), Spanish coronel (ko-ro-nel), Swahili kanali (kuh-nah-lee), and so on.
Can we add English spelling and pronunciation reform to this infrastructure improvement bill?

blackguard

PRONUNCIATION:
(BLAG-uhrd/ahrd)

MEANING:
noun:1. A scoundrel.
 2. A foul-mouthed person.
verb tr.:To disparage with abusive language.
verb intr.:To speak abusively.

ETYMOLOGY:
From a blackguard, a person who did menial work in the kitchen of a noble household. Such a person may be responsible for pots and pans. Hence black + guard. Typically such persons were treated derisively. Earliest documented use: 1535. Another word originating in the kitchen to describe a person is scullion.

USAGE:
“To write a novel is to be in the clutches of a cast of tyrants and blackguards.”
His Other Hand -- Collected Poems 1953-1993 by John Updike; The Economist (London, UK); Jan 29, 1994.

“Mr Walker said his client had been ‘blackguarded in a tabloid publication’.”
Georgina Mitchell; Suggestion Rush Recited Lines ‘A Slur’; Sydney Morning Herald (Australia); Nov 6, 2019.

See more usage examples of blackguard in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy. -Spanish proverb

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