Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Don't be misled

Sometime back I wrote about those snare-words that lie in wait to embarrass us. We have read them—many times—but we have never heard them said, and so, when we sprinkle our sparkling repartee with them, the trap springs. We bungle the pronunciation.

My most recent dustup with a snare-word was "wastrel," which I have always said—in my head—as though it rhymes with "wassail." My friend gleefully pounced, pointing out that since it means a wasteful good-for-nothing, it naturally has a long "a."

Today I found out that I needn't have coined a term like "snare-word" to refer to these imps. They already have a name: "misles." The name is inspired by what is arguably the most common word-we've-said-wrong-since-grade-school—"misled." While I thought all mispronouncers of this misle said "MY-zuhled," I also learned that a significant minority see the word "isle" in there and, thus, give it a one-syllable variation.

The fascinating (to me) article*  that set me straight on that also included a list of misles, many of which have earned that designation through the sad waning of the hyphen (see Hyphen, we hardly knew ye). Among the horribles are "apply (not lemony, more sort of … )," bedraggled (bed raggled)," "beribboned (berry boned)," "molester (mole ster)" and the truly horrible "middecade (middie cade)."

My favorites, though, are "unshed" pronounced as the past tense of the mysterious verb "to unsh," and "unionized acid, "which, instead of denoting a dearth of ions, calls up a vision of Hydrochloric and Sulfuric, in jeans and work boots, meeting the other fellows down at the union hall.

There are more misles out there than I ever expected. Send me more examples! I promise not to be a wastrel.


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