The Strategic Retreat

5 Words that make you sound stupid when you pronounce them correctly


About a year or so ago I was driving around the ‘Tino to visit Apple with my friends Chris and Allison. During this drive the conversation turned to responsive web-design, as it often does, and that led to a conversation on file formats. When gifs were brought up, I pronounced the word as ‘jif’ and was quickly corrected by Allison.

“Actually”, I said, in my smuggest tone, as I was a ‘jif’ hipster at the time, “I’m pronouncing it correctly, most people don’t know the correct pronunciation and they’re the one’s mispronouncing it.”

“That may be true”, she said, “but it makes you sound like an asshole when you say it that way.” She was not wrong. I took stock of the situation and decided, it’s better to be wrong yet socially acceptable than be a pedantic asshole. This was actually a bit difficult for me, as I’m at least part Vamspergers and being a pedantic asshole is one of my defining characteristics.

That decision turned out to be an extremely good call on my part as less than 6 months later the internet wouldn’t shut up about the gif/jif divide. Although the pronunciation has never been a secret to those with their eye on the pixel, Mr. Jif himself made a public statement on the matter and that sparked public discussion. And, to Allison’s credit; people who pronounce gif as ‘jif’ do indeed sound like assholes. I’m relieved I got off the boat when I did. I felt like a reverse hipster. It’s like I stopped listening to Sugar Ray right before ‘Fly’ hit the airwaves. Fucking nailed it.

Still, I must have sounded like an idiot for the years previous to that and that got me thinking of a few other words that it’s just better to mispronounce. If a word is mispronounced to the point that most people correct you when you pronounce it correctly then the correct pronunciation isn’t really ‘correct’ in a functional sense. Since we’ve already covered gif, we’ll just skip to #2. That’s the kind of zany people we are here at The Strategic Retreat.

#2 Qatar


Yep, the country. Or emirate, if you want to be fancy about it.

How it’s commonly pronounced: KUH-tar

How it’s actually pronounced: Cut-er

I, like an idiot, learned this one by correcting my world-traveling sister. On a country she was just in, like the day before. But, in my defense, nobody calls it Cutter. Newscasters who suddenly go native when saying country names still pronounce it KUH-tar. Even residence of Qatar will often mispronounce it for ease of communication. It’s actually more of a Kutt-r, anyway (English only has 44 sounds). So, if you’re talking to somebody from Qatar, it’s fine to pronounce it correctly. If you’re talking to anyone else, your proper pronunciation will lead the to the false assumption that you’re the untraveled one.

#3 Pho


Delicious Vietnamese Soup

How it’s commonly pronounced: Foe

How it’s actually pronounced: Fuh

I used to love ‘foe’ when I lived in Portland. Cheap, fun to eat, a bit ethnic but not in a scary way that the throngs of pseudo enlightened underemployed white 25-35 y.o. liberal art degree holders(That’s just a long way of saying ‘Portland’) would be put off by. Foe struck the perfect balance between what I already liked and my want to pretend I was worldly. Me and foe went together like heroin and Old Town.

Then I went to Vietnam, and much to my surprise foe didn’t exist. There was plenty of pretty girls, Bánh mì, and American war machines but no foe. It wasn’t a long term problem as I was able to sniff it out just 2 days into my tour of Nam. It was on the lam, going by “Fuh”.

So, now that I’m back in the U.S. I have two choices, pronounce it correctly or have people understand what I mean. Maybe “Fuh” would fly in Portland as I could smugly explain the correct pronunciation and segue that into a soliloquy on my enlightening eastern travels. But I don’t want to be that guy. Not for all the polyamorous loving on Alberta Street.

#4. Forte


Something you excel at

How it’s commonly pronounced: Fort-tay,

How it’s actually pronounced: Fort

I don’t have any good stories behind this one. It’s just something I know. I’m a man of vast yet shallow knowledge, like an easily crossed river in Sherwood.

If you tell somebody something like, “pronouncing words isn’t my fort”, they will -most likely- have no idea what you’re talking about. So, for the sake of saving face and ease of communication you have to say fort-tay, like an idiot, in order to not sound like an idiot.

#5 Often

Many times

How it’s commonly pronounced: Oft-en

How it’s actually pronounced: Off-en

Often, should be pronounced like soften or listen. The ‘correct’ way to pronounce it is by dropping the t, but if you do that you’ll sound dumb to the majority of people you run across. So, it’s best to just go with the flow and try to fit in. Otherwise you won’t get a seat at the cool kids table.

All 5 of these are a bit subjective. If you’re at a tweed-jacket-with-leather-elbows convention, feel free to pronounce these words correctly. But, in general, it’s just way easier to give in on these. You have to pick your battles in life and you’re not going to win the ‘forte’ argument. Save that energy for hiking, or laying in bed writing numbered lists. Whatever your version of what I do is.

Feel free to use the comment section to add your own words or be a jerk about the words I picked. Also, did you see that picture I took of a monkey reading a newspaper? Yeah, I know, pretty rad.

Just missed: Sacajawea, February, Cardsharp, lambaste, toward, prerogative and Brett Favre.

About Jeff

Jeff was born in the back of a War Game Store on the day the first Star Trek movie came out, to a computer programmer mother and a father who wrote the story for Dragon's Lair. Jeff has an MBA, a CSM, and a penchant for sticking his nose where it doesn't belong.