‘Probly’, ‘expresso’ and ‘Artick’: The top 10 most annoying mispronunciations revealed

  • Experts from Perspectus Global polled 2,000 British adults about speech errors
  • They found that 65 per cent admitted they were annoyed by mispronunciations
  • However, the same number said they would be embarrassed to point out errors
  • Unlike the 10 per cent who had no reservations about correcting total strangers
  • Other irksome mispronunciations were ‘excetera’, ‘nucular’ and ‘tenderhooks’

The top ten most annoying mispronunciations have been revealed — and they include ‘probly’ (instead of ‘probably’), ‘expresso’ (‘espresso’) and ‘Artick’ (‘Arctic’).

Researchers from London-based insights agency Perspectus Global polled 2,000 British adults about the garbled phrases that irked them to hear.

The most maddening mispronunciation, they found, was when people say ‘pacifically’ instead of specifically, which enraged 35 per cent of respondents. 

Other top irritants were saying ‘specially’, not ‘especially’ — upsetting a quarter of those polled — and ‘tenderhooks’ for ‘tenterhooks’, irking 18 per cent of people.

Despite these frustrations, 65 per cent of the adults surveyed said that they would be too embarrassed to correct the speaker. 

That said, 35 per cent of people said they were happy to correct their friends’ and family’s errors, while 10 per cent would freely police the pronunciation of a stranger.

Researchers from London-based insights agency Perspectus Global polled 2,000 British adults about the garbled phrases that irked them the most to hear

Overall, 65 per cent of the adults polled said that mispronunciations in general were something that annoyed them.

And 25 per cent of the respondents reported having had a full-blown row with either a friend, family member or colleague about the correct way to pronounce a word. 

‘It seems Brits are a nit-picking bunch when it comes to how others say things,’ said Perspectus Global creative director Ellie Glason.

‘However interestingly the research shows that, in true British style, 65 percent are more likely to mutter under their breath than call someone out on it,’ she added.

I’d not recommend calling people out in public if they pronounce something in a way you are unhappy with,’ phonetician Jane Setter of the University of Reading told MailOnline.

‘If you don’t understand a speaker, it’s OK to ask them to repeat what they’ve said. Correcting them in public over a word you have understood but just dislike the pronunciation of makes you look pedantic and can make the speaker feel belittled.’

‘There are all sorts of reasons for differences in the way people pronounce things. These include differences in style,’ Professor Setter continued. 

‘For example, in rapid connected speech, “probably” is likely to be pronounced “probly” and “especially” to be pronounced “specially” because of something called weak vowel elision.’

‘Speakers tend to pronounce stressed syllables more clearly in rapid speech as these are important for processing meaning. This is different from giving a word as an example or when speaking more slowly.’ 

‘We might also adopt a particular pronunciation because we’ve heard someone else use that pronunciation or we are more familiar with a similar word.’

An example of this, she explained, is the use of ‘expresso’ instead of ‘espresso’. 

‘We know “express” so we assume we’ve heard “expresso”. We are much less likely to mispronounce “macchiato” or “cappuccino” because we have no other words like them,’ Professor Setter explained.

This is, however, a very small sample, so we should question how representative it is. 2000 people is tiny compared with the population of the UK, which is over 66 million,’ she cautioned.


The top ten most annoying mispronunciations have been revealed — and they include ‘probly’ (instead of ‘probably’), ‘expresso’ (‘espresso’, left) and ‘Artick’ (the ‘Arctic’, right)

‘While these “mispronunciations” may seem annoying to some, it’s important to remember that many of these reflect common and natural processes of language change,’ sociolinguist George Bailey of the University of York told MailOnline.

‘Many of the words we say today originate from similar ‘mistakes’ that eventually became common usage,’ he continued.

‘I’d be surprised if the people of this survey take issue with the modern pronunciation of “bird”, but historically it was actually pronounced “brid” before a process of metathesis took place, swapping the middle sounds around. 

‘”Probly” takes second place on this list, but this process of sound deletion — which linguists call syncope – is no different to how the middle syllable is often dropped in the word “memory” or “library”, which people seem to take no issue with.’

‘What people deem to be “correct” language use is completely arbitrary: languages are naturally in a constant state of change and this isn’t an inherently bad thing.’

‘Language is always changing, and this can apply to pronunciations of words and not just word meanings and grammar,’ linguist Alex Baratta of the University of Manchester told the Times.

‘In some cases, a word may change its pronunciation, or end up with two existing pronunciations, based on what might have started out as an error. Once the new pronunciation takes hold in a society, then it’s no longer an error but an innovation.’

‘Differences in pronunciation can arise due to the natural speech of certain groups or informal speech in general, so that we have clippings, e.g. “probly”.’ 

‘For words which are used with more frequency than others, there is more chance to have issues arise regarding ‘correct’ pronunciation.’

‘Changes in pronunciation are a natural part of language evolution and whereas some see it as language decay, there’s no such thing in linguistics.’

NAMES ‘FAUCI’, ‘KAMALA’ AND ‘DA VINCI’ AMONG 2020’S TOP TOPICAL MISPRONUNCIATIONS 

America´s preeminent infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, and vice president Kamala Harris joined Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci on last year’s list of the most mispronounced words on US television.

The list — released in December — was drawn up by the US Captioning Company, which makes subtitles for events on TV and in courtrooms.

The firm said that it surveyed its members to generate the list, which is now in its annual iteration and was commissioned by Babbel, the language-learning app company headquartered in Berlin and New York.

Babbel senior linguist Todd Ehresmann said that the list, perhaps unsurprisingly, reflected a year in which US news was dominated by presidential politics and the coronavirus pandemic.

‘All of these have added some new phrases to our national vocabulary, which may take some practice,’ he said.

Ehresmann broke down the proper pronunciations for some of the commonly misspoken words that the list identified:

  • Anthony Fauci (AN-thon-nee FOW-chee): Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
  • Bangtan Sonyeondan (PUNG-tahn SOH-nyun-dahn): The full name of South Korean K-Pop band ‘BTS’, which translates as ‘a group of bulletproof boys’ or ‘bulletproof boy scouts’.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (YON-nis AHN-de-doh-KOON-boh): Greek basketball player who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks and was named the NBA’s ‘Most Valuable Player’ this year.
  • Isaias (ees-ah-EE-ahs ): The name given to a powerful hurricane that caused significant damage to the East Coast and Caribbean this summer.
  • Kamala Harris, the then Vice President-Elect. The Associated Press reported that Harris’ first name is pronounced ‘KAH-mah-lah’ – or, as she explains in her biography, ‘ “comma-la”, like the punctuation mark.’
  • Leonardo da Vinci (lee-oh-NAR-doe dah-VIN-chee): The Italian painter, architect, and engineer who created the ‘Mona Lisa’. A mispronunciation of his name was the subject of a viral meme on social media this year.
  • Mahamayavi Bhagavan Antle (mu-HAH-muh-yaw-vee bag-AH-wahn ANT-uhl): The full name of wildlife park operator ‘Doc’ Antle, who shot to fame in the Netflix documentary series ‘Tiger King’.
  • Nevada ( nev-ADD-ah ): Homestate of Las Vegas that played a central role in the presidential election.
  • Yosemite: The famous national park in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, it was notably mispronounced by President Trump in August. Multiple sources list its pronunciation as (yoh-SEM-it-ee).

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