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written by Sam Greenspan

An ice cream with caramel and a pie.

Words like Oregon, GIF, desserts, nuclear, praline, and more.

About a week ago, my wife and I were at Sushi. I wanted to get a baked salmon roll, but she pointed out it was covered in mayonnaise. Pronounced “man-aze.”

“Wait,” I said, “Did you just say man-aze?” “Yes,” she replied, “that’s what I say. Man-aze.”

Somehow, in five years, I had never noticed she and I pronounce mayonnaise differently. (I say “may-uh-naze.”) And I assure you, with the amount we are either discussing or engaging in eating, the word mayonnaise comes up constantly.

11 Words With Different Pronunciations

Here are 11 other words with different pronunciations that may get you in trouble with a few people if you argue it too much. Some of these are regional differences, straight up mispronunciations, and others are just eternally unsolvable debates.

But in all 11 cases, there are people who will freak out if you pronounce the word differently than they do. And this reminds me of a book where a woman named her baby girl SHUH-TEED, but is regrettably spelled as Shithead!

1 | Oregon

Pronunciations: Ore-eh-GEN, Ore-eh-GAHN

Driver's License ID in the state of Oregon.

When I was a sophomore in college, one of my friends — who will remain nameless because he’s a bit paranoid that one day an Internet mention will bring his entire empire crumbling down — got his hands on a fake ID.

It was from Oregon. The first time he used it at the local college bar, the bouncer immediately knew the ID was fake and asked him to recite his address. My friend had memorized it — as you do with a fake ID — so he recited it, concluding with “Eugene, Ore-eh-GAHN.”

The bouncer let him in, and as he passed, told him, “For future reference, everyone from Oregon actually pronounces it Ore-eh-GEN.” That bar has since been shut down by the city for two decades of serving alcohol to minors.

2 | Porsche

Pronunciations: PORE-shuh, Poresh

There’s nothing like finally proving you’re a big man and dropping $97,000 on a Porsche… then having everyone talk about your new “Poresh” or, worse, “Porshh”. How does that car even run?

I mean, life without subtitle could get us into trouble. And your friends wouldn’t be making that mistake if you’d bought a practical Kia.

But it bogs me a little that China is not making a rip-off version of that name brand.

A grayish white Porsche sports car speeding in urban streets.

3 | Pecan and praline

Pronunciations: pee-KAHN, pi-KAHN, PEE-kan, PEE-kahn, PRAY-leen, PRAW-leen

If mispronouncing a single word is already bad enough, then how about two words in a row? Blasphemy.

There are many ways to slice a pie and eat a nut, but this time, I have no idea which pronunciation is correct for either word. There could be a hundred ways to say them, but only one or two is correct.

I say pee-KHAN and PRAY-leen, both of which almost got my throat cut by otherwise genteel Louisianans. By the end of my last trip there, I decided just to call them “um, those sweet nuts” and “um, that pie” respectively.

A Pecan Pie which is very delicious but confusing to pronounce.

4 | Caramel

Pronunciations: CAR-mul, CARE-uh-mel, CAR-ml, CARRA-mel

A heat map of the US for the pronunciation of the word "caramel."
A heat map for the pronunciation of Caramel because saying it incorrectly could start another civil war.

Looking at the map of where it’s used, the pronunciation of caramel might be the one and only thing that can unify the Northeast and South. Other than mutual beliefs that California is full of phonies and a place called Wyoming may or may not actually exist.

5 | Mischievous

Pronunciations: MIS-che-viss, mis-CHEE-vee-iss

The world of pronunciation is a mysterious and treacherous place, full of hidden traps and pitfalls, and Mischievous is just one of its many snares.

Luckily, this word only has two different pronunciations, but still considered as one of those words with controversial pronunciation. Still, there’s a 50-50 chance that your throat will get sliced by some grammar nazi.

The four syllable pronunciation is incorrect, even though it sounds so much more proper and sophisticated. It’s the way a proper English gentleman would refer to a neighborhood child swiping extra biscuits or a particularly pernickety dormouse with a penchant for nibbling on assorted cheese.

6 | Nuclear

Pronunciations: NUKE-lee-yur, NUKE-yuh-lure

One thing I’m afraid of on these words with different pronunciations is to start another world war especially if it involves NUKE-lee-yur or NUKE-yuh-lure, or whatever. We should agree on saying it as NUKE.

The pronunciation of nuclear has evolved to become THE dividing line between whether or not you’re a damn fool. It’s (quite fittingly) a pedantic Cold War.

7 | Sherbet

Pronunciations: SURE-bit, SURE-burt

The phantom “r” has been added to the end of sherbet so many times that Webster’s even includes “sure-burt” as an alternate pronunciation for the word.

I’ve said in the past regarding the atonement of my bloopers, I believe Webster’s can be sloppy and wrong, adding this to the evidence pile. I don’t exactly know how to feel about being such a know-it-all that I’ve added a major dictionary company to my enemies list, but it’s who I am and I’m rolling with it.

Two cups of sherbet in different flavors.

8 | Espresso

Pronunciations: ess-PRESS-oh, ex-PRESS-oh

I’m all for throwing random “x” sounds into words, as it gives words character. I have no problem with people axing me questions, censoring words with asterix or drinking expressos. To me, those are, at worst, minor faux pas (and the “x” in “faux” isn’t silent in this case).

I still think you can get away with this if you order an espresso with an “x”, and request it to serve asap.

9 | Gyro

Pronunciations: YEE-roh, JY-roh

I’ve never had a problem correctly saying YEE-roh, but I still regularly pronounce “spanakopita” as “span-uh-koh-PEE-tuh.” It just sounds (and tastes) better to me, especially the meat sandwich Gyro.

I also once jokingly referred to a gyroscope as a YEE-roh-scope. Cracked myself — and no one else — so consistently up.

One pronunciation is a food and the other, a machine.

10 | Coupon

Pronunciations: COO-pahn, QUE-pahn

I like this one because I think I’m in the wrong. I’ve always been a QUE-pahn guy, and I’m fairly sure that’s incorrect. Both pronunciations are acceptable until you run into a guy who is fond of coupons for the last 20 years and hear you say it incorrectly.

Other than that, I also think Oxford commas and punctuation outside of quotation marks looks better. If the Internet can turn “because” into a preposition, maybe all of these can become up for grabs too?

A coupon for discounts.

11 | GIF

Pronunciations: gif, jif

The Internet had come to a decent consensus on the pronunciation of GIF, which is remarkable, of course, since the Internet has never come to a consensus on anything.

Everyone was cool with the hard G pronunciation. It sounded better, wouldn’t lead to confusion with the peanut butter brand, and was logical, since GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format. And that’s where the debate SHOULD have ended.

Two words with different pronunciations in a peanut butter. GIF and JIF?
Hard G or soft G?

But earlier this year, Steve Wilhite, the man who invented the GIF format for CompuServe, talked. And he said, with conviction: “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of arguement.”

So who’s correct: The guy who created GIF, or every single other person on the Internet?