you say tomahto I say tomayto

See, I have this wonderful library in my office of books of quotations, dictionaries, grammar books and style books, plus lexicographies, etymologies, not to mention sources and provenances plus special interests. So when I was putting back my Dictionary of Newfoundland English the other night my eye fell on “the big book of beastly mispronunciations” by Charles Harrington Esler (Houghton Mifflin, 1999), given me several years ago by an admirer. (Men didn’t give me jewellery, they gave me books, more precious than gold.)

I hadn’t read this one for some time - well, you know, you never finish reading a book like that; you dip and browse. So I perched and read and read, on and on, till another hour or so went by and I was late to bed. Fun, though. So I’ll pass on a few words to you, some pet peeves and some corroboration of my choices.

Number one, for example, is basil, pronounced bazil not baysil. Misguided Americans, including my U.S.-based daughter now, have succeeded in spreading the use of the mispronunciation, but I’ll stick to British tradition. So with cumin, as in comin’ through the rye, not koomin. My favourite peeve is forte (strength), a losing battle. Everyone says for-tay. Wrong,wrong, wrong, but I give up. (It’s like lie and lay, a lost cause.)

I once quit dating a boy because he corrected me incorrectly. I had said something was stultifying and he dared to tell me the word was stuLLifying! I withdrew a piece from a magazine when I was trying to make a (meagre) living as a journalist because the editor put wrong words into my copy - and also changed my slant.

You must have some words you love to hate if they’re mispronounced, like nucular or restauranteur. There’s another one like that, with an added or misplaced letter, but I can’t think of it right now. Someone will tell me.

This book doesn’t offer turmeric or inveigle, but it does have bi-ZAN-tin (Esler’s and my choice) not the commoner BIZ-in-teen. I love kun-SOR-shee-um, not kun-SOR-tee-um.

Which makes me think of the pronunciation of ghoti. Fish.

You know that one, don’t you?