Things Americans Say Wrong

This is a list of my personal pet peeves regarding people’s pronunciation of certain phrases here in the States. Note that this is not making fun of regional accents or speech impediments. Instead, these are true misunderstandings of what each phrase is supposed to be.

a whole other… Not “a whole ‘nother…”
abercrombie Not “ambercrombie”
across Not “acrost” or “acrossed”
addictive Not “addicting,” when used as an adjective.
all I did was… Not “all’s I did was…”
all of a sudden… Not “all of the sudden…”
alumni This is often mistaken as the singular form of itself. The correct form is alumnus for singular masculine, alumna for singular feminine, alumnae for plural feminine, and alumni for masculine or generic plural.
Alzheimer’s disease (ALTS-heim-ers) Not “old-timer’s disease”
Antarctica Not “Antartica”
anticlimactic Not “anticlimatic”
anyway Not “anyways”
as best as you can Not “as best you can” (pronoun may vary). Even more appropriate would be “as well as you can.”
as long as Not “so long as”
as opposed to Not “as oppose to.” This one is fairly subtle, since even in the correct pronunciation, the “d” is almost inaudible. However, many people do indeed consciously and audibly omit the “d.”
ask Not “axe.”
asterisk (AS-te-risk) Not “asterix” (AS-te-riks). This error is made frequently by low-ranking office employees or people who are beginning to learn computer terminology.
based on Not “based off of”
beck and call Not “beckon call”
better than the last Sometimes, to express pleasure toward something, someone might incorrectly say, “every day is better than the next,” or “every bite is tastier than the next,” and so on. If you think about this carefully, you’ll realize that these are actually negative statements. When a person says, “every day is better than the next,” it is equivalent to saying, “every day is worse than the previous.” The person is essentially implying that every day since the beginning has been getting progressively worse. The correct phrase, therefore, should be, “every day is better than the last.”
biceps Not “bicep.” The singular of biceps is still biceps.
boisterous Not “voice-terous”
bystander Not “by-standard”
calculate Not “caculate.”
cavalry Not “calvary.” Of course, if you’re referring to the place outside of Jerusalem, then you’re fine.
card sharp Not “card shark.” A reader contributes: “When someone is good at shooting pool or playing cards, they are sharp. Therefore, they are a ‘pool sharp’ or a ‘card sharp.’ They are not sharks as in ‘pool sharks’ or ‘card sharks.'”
chipotle (chi-POT-lay) Everyone seems to have their own pronunciation of this word. Most commonly, however, people mispronounce it by saying “chipolte” (chi-POL-tay), or “chipote” (chi-PO-tay), omitting the “l” altogether, or even “chipottle” (rhymes with “bottle”). The word itself has its origins in the Aztec language Nahuatl, where the “tl” sound was very common. It is derived from the words chil (chile), and pochilli (to smoke).
comeuppance Not “comeuppins”
couldn’t care less Not “could care less.” When you think about it, to say “I could care less” really means that you actually do care about something, and it’s possible for you to care less about it. It is more appropriate to say “I couldn’t care less” to indicate that you have reached the rock bottom of carelessness about something.
Darth Vader Not “Dark Vader”! Yes, I’ve seriously heard people say that!
data The word data is plural. Therefore it is inappropriate to use a phrase like “this data.” It is more appropriate to say “these data.” The singular form of the word is datum.
daylight saving time Not “daylight savings time”
drivel Not “dribble.” Dribble is what one does with a basketball. Drivel is childish or nonsensical language.
drowned Not “drownded”
enormity The word enormity refers to excessive evil or wickedness. It does not, however, refer to general excessive size. For that, the preferred term would be enormousness.
espresso Not “expresso.” I mean, come on.
et cetera Not “exetera.” Commonly abbreviated “etc.,” this is literally the Latin words et, meaning “and,” and cetera, meaning “the rest.” When spelled out, this is two words, not one.
exact revenge Not “extract revenge.”
fateful day Not “faithful day”
founder Not “flounder.” Founder is what a ship does when it collides with something and sinks in the water. Flounder is a kind of fish.
for all intents and purposes Not “for all intensive purposes”
hair’s breadth Some believe that this metaphor is actually “hare’s breath.”
heart-rending Not “heart-rendering”
height Not “heighth”
hertz This applies to the singular form of the unit, which is still hertz. Some people mistakenly say, “1 hert.”
horseradish Not “horsh-radish”
I’d just as soon… Not “I’d just assume…” An example phrase might be, “I’d just as soon not go to the park today.”
I’m not sure Not “I’m not for sure”
I’ve seen Not “I seen”
in other words Not “another words”
infinitesimal Not “infintesimal”
instant messaging Not “instant messenging”
integral Not “intregal”
inverse square law Not “invert square law”
jewelry Not “jewlery”
jury rig Not “jerry rig”
kielbasa (kil-BA-sa) For some reason, this is commonly mispronounced “kielbasi” (kil-BA-see)
lackadaisical Not “laxadaisical”
laundromat Not “laundrymat”
let it be Not “leave it be”
library Not “libery”
lie / lay These two are a constant source of confusion. Here are some correct uses of the words, so pay close attention: Lie down, Sally. Are you lying down? I lay there when Frank entered the room. I had lain there all morning. Lay those papers on my desk. You laid down the precious jewels with care. Our hens had laid many eggs that week. One of them is laying an egg right now.
literature Not “litature”
mano a mano In Spanish, this literally means “hand to hand.” However, many Americans incorrectly pronounce it as “mano y mano,” which would mean “hand and hand.”
mayonnaise Not “man-aise”
memento Not “momento”
menstruation Not “menstration”
mischievous (MIS-chee-vus) Not “mischievious” (mis-CHEE-vee-us).
moot point Not “mute point”
myrrh / mirth Myrrh is an aromatic gift brought by the Three Kings for Jesus from the Christian folk myth. Mirth means amusement, as expressed in laughter.
nauseated Not “nauseous.” A reader contributes: “Too often I hear people who are sick to their stomach say “I am nauseous” rather than “I am nauseated.” Saying “I am nauseous” means that I cause OTHERS to feel sick to THEIR stomachs.”
nuclear (NEW-clee-ar) Often disgustingly mispronounced as “nucular” (NOO-kyoo-lar). I still cringe when remembering George W. Bush say “nucular” in his speeches.
nunchucks Not “numchucks.” A reader contributes: “Nunchaku is technically correct. However in English usage it is acceptable to use nunchucks, but not in Martial Arts usage or Japanese.”
off Not “off of,” as in “get off me” or “peel the sticker off the box.”
olfactory Not “old factory”
on one hand… Not “on the one hand…”
one and the same Not “one in the same”
orangutan Not “orangutang”
parenthesis One of these “(” is a parenthesis (as opposed to parentheses, which is plural)
phenomenon The word phenomena is plural. Therefore it is inappropriate to use phenomena when speaking of a single phenomenon.
picture Not “pi’ture”
pieces and parts Not “pieces parts.” For some reason, this is catching on at an alarming rate.
powers that be Not “powers to be”
prescription Not “perscription”
pronunciation Not “pronounciation”
realty/realtor Not “real-a-ty” / “real-a-tor”
regardless Not “irregardless”
relevant Not “revelant”
repercussions Not “reprocussions”
rhombus Not “rhumbus”
sacrilegious Not “sacreligious.” It has nothing to do with “religion.”
sherbet Not “sherbert”
sidetracked Not “sidetracted”
statute of limitations Not “statue of limitations.” To quote Jerry Seinfeld, “Fine, it’s a sculpture of limitations!”
strength Not “strenth”
supposedly Not “supposably”
take for granted Not “take for granite”
that’s not fair Not “that’s no fair”
touch base with… Not “touch bases with…”
triathlon Not “triathalon.” Also applies to biathlon, tetrathlon, pentathlon, etc. Even the word athlete is sometimes mispronounced “ath-a-lete.”
utmost Not “upmost”
verbiage Not “verbage”
vertebra The word vertebrae is plural and should not be used as the singular.
vice versa Not “vice-a-versa.”
voluptuous Not “volumptuous”
warranty Not “warrantee.” It should not sound like “guarantee.”
wheelbarrow Not “wheel barrel”
where are you? Not “where are you at?” and certainly not “where you at?”
width Not “wi’th”
would have Not “would of”
wreak havoc Not “wreck havoc”
yin/yang Not “ying/yang”
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530 thoughts on “Things Americans Say Wrong”

  1. Two words I frequently remember mispronounced in the Carolinas were “Naked” and “Ancient”. Naked is supposed to be spoken as Nay-ked, as opposed to Nek-ked. Likewise the word Ancient is supposed to be spoken as Ayn-see-yent with the “see-yent” spoken more quickly than the “ayn”. Instead I often hear “Ank-shent” which is incorrect.

  2. Two that drive me crazy are:

    nitch, instead of niche, and
    safety deposit box, instead of safe deposit box.
    Neither of these are even in the dictionary!

    Add to that words that begin with PRO or PRE becomes PER,
    and words that end in AR or OR that become ER.
    How about information and opportunity becoming inFERmation and oppERtunity?

    I have little hope for the English language and/or humanity.

    D

    1. Yeah, I hate that – it’s bastardising the French language, which Americans have a habit of doing.

      Like Notre Dame – which they pronounce as “Noter Dame” – but it’s “Notrer Darm” phonetically.

      And scallops – but pronounced SCOLLOPS. And scones – which should be pronounced SKONS. They call basil “bayzil” – but it’s BAZZLE.

      It drives me batty.

  3. How about American? We’re from the U.S.A.
    U.S. American is Accurate and so is American if you’re talking about the continent.
    Usually we are talking about the country though.

    1. I was born and live in the United State of America. I am an American who is also a United States Citizen. If one is born and lives in Mexico they too are an American as well as a Mexican Citizen. If one is born and lives in Brazil they too are an American as well as a Brazilian Citizen. The America’s is a large continent that consists of North America, Central America and South America land areas / regions. Each of these geographic land areas / regions is further divided in to smaller units. Thus anyone who claims any of these locations as their home (citizenship so to speak) is an American. It is only improper to refer to one as an American if they do so at the exclusion of other area’s / regions of The America’s. That is why I am an American who is also a United States Citizen.

  4. The way they say “aloominum” when it should be Al-u-min-i-um! And as for addicting instead of addictive…….it makes me think the person is just stupid!

    1. Actually they are right with aluminum. It goes back to the first naming of the metal and how it got changed later. They stayed with the original.

      1. The fact that they may be using an older pronunciation does not make it right. The correct pronunciation of English is the way it is pronounced in England.

  5. Thanks for the list. I’m guilty of several and was not even aware until I read it through. These mistakes are not just American! You did miss one common mistake, at least here in Canada. It’s very common for people to say squashed instead of quashed. That particular one makes me cringe.

  6. These are all good (mainly phonology) comments, but two things that both me is when Americans say “a high school degree” – it’s not a degree. Also, they think the terms freshman, sophmore, junior and senior are universal, which they are not!

    1. In the US one typically graduates with a “High School Diploma” upon successfully completing from the 12th grade. Additionally, I believe one can also graduate with an “Advance Diploma” or “Honors Diploma”. The “Advanced and Honors Diploma” may very from one school district to another so I can not speak to the specifics.

  7. And (of course one should never start a sentence with and…) why do Americans say bring when they mean take, or vice versa? They seem to thing the two words are interchangeable but, of course, they have very different usage.

  8. I don’t get where you’re at with the “Darth Vader” one? That’s actually what the character is named. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

    1. I believe the above list indicates that some “Americans / disambiguate” say Dark Vader incorrectly instead of Darth Vader. You are correct the actual character and generally accepted term for Anakin Skywalker is “Darth Vader”. With that said a or the “Darth Vader” represents one who has been drawn into the dark side. Darth is synonymous with dark and perhaps some individuals have morphed the two into “Dark Vader”. Depending upon usage “Dark Vader” or “Darth Vader” can actually work. And finally, I often wonder how many individuals pronounce words in a less than accepted manner, do so due to some form of hearing deficit. So with that in mind I am mindful of the possibilities when critiquing ones word usage.

  9. Language and pronunciation evolves. It’s American English. You don’t like it? Too bad. I understand you can make an aesthetic case but you can’t say they speak incorrectly.
    There are no rules about how people are meant to speak. The only valid argument that someone is using language incorrectly is that they are not using it in a way that is commonly accepted.
    If enough English speakers in the UK started to use or pronounce a word in a different way then that new way would become correct in the UK.

    In America, they just use a slightly different form of the English language than in the you do in the UK (I assume you are from the UK)..

  10. Well, the point is that phonetics is the weakest point of English. I’m a translator from a CIS country. I’ve dealt with American/Scottish/Irish/British English. Each of them have differences in phonetics. I was confused when I first heard the North-East England pronunciation. They say Cat like short cARt and Summer like short sOOmer. Scots pronounce Site like sAYt and Loud like lOAd with rolling R’s of course. Some Irish have pronunciation as if they’ve lost their frontal teeth and call their own country OILAND….)) Regarding American pronunciation, the hard consonants are often softened and sometimes dropped, also O’s are often pronounced like U in cut. It seems like Americans are too lazy to utter words. Finally, the grammar in American English is so dumbed down (simplified) so that even a very stupid person could understand it….

    1. I think it is safe to say that the purpose of language whether written or spoken is to communicate. And although proper english (usage, grammar, style …) is ideal it is not necessary if it’s primary purpose is communication. In essence then, if the transfer of information can be accomplished in a less than formal format – does it really not amount to language snobbery to say “that even a very stupid person could understand it.” In fact I find it a greater test to ones intelligence to communicate information in a manner in which those who are less proficient in the written language (which does not mean less intelligent), can understand and comprehend it fully.

  11. The way they pronounce oregano origaño, Worcestershire Sauce instead of Wooster Sauce. BuckingHam Palace. They spell liaise
    liase, programeprogramme

  12. The English are very bad at pronouncing words of foreign origin. It almost seems they prefer to mispronounce foreign words as a point of pride. They mispronounce these examples and many more:
    pasta
    taco
    fillet
    paella
    jaguar
    Nicaragua
    junta
    Las Vegas
    parmesan
    Porsche
    Don Juan

    1. Suzanne, I fail to hear any error in how my fellow Brit say those words. Americans are notorious at speaking other languages poorly. Particularly German (cross Porsche off the list, the ‘e’ is silent, even in German) as I experienced during my gap year.

      Also, Parmesan in America is said really, really weirdly. Most of you almost adopt a cleft palate and say “ParmiCHAN!” If you wanted to say it like a real Italian, you would say “Parmigiano!” which is said how it is spelt (not spelled). Note: parmisan is the Anglicised version of the word, so no accent necessary. You presume that your list is of ‘foreign words’ when most are an Anglicised version.

      Don’t get me even started on “Horsh-Radish”.

  13. There is no such thing as ‘American English’, just bad English. They have tried to ‘dumb down’ the language, and in the process ruined it.
    You will find that very well educated Americans use proper spelling and grammar, not ‘American’…
    Unfortunately, American bad habits are poisoning the rest of the world, thanks to the internet.
    Americans don’t seem to know when to leave off or add on an ‘s’ to words eg. forwards when it should be ‘forward’, toward when it should be ‘towards’, the horrible ‘anyways’ instead of ‘anyway. I’ve had many books ruined for me because of this. It just grates.

    1. I suspect when you say “Americans” you are really directing your comment to “English” speaking people who live in The America’s. To refer to Americans, as such, is all encompassing, and incorrect. Many from The America’s who live in either North, Central or South America do not speak English. Spanish, French and Portuguse are spoken through a great many of the countries and territories of these continents.

    1. I suspect the two times usage come from how an individual was taught (multiplication) here in the US States.

      Here in the states most are taught the following

      2 times 6 equals 12 (2 x 6 = 12)
      as opposed to
      2 multiplied by 6 (2 x 6 = 12)
      Thus the two are virtually the same

      So one often says
      The alarm went of two times with the assumption being
      2 times 1 equals 2 (2 x 1 = 2)
      OR
      1 plus 1 equals 2 (1+1 = 2)

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