Which Words or Phrases Did You Misunderstand Until Late in Life?

Quinoa Graphic

In the children’s book Ramona the Pest, there’s a passage in which the protagonist misinterprets the “Star Spangled Banner” lyric “dawn’s early light” as danzer lee light and concludes that “danzer” is another word for “lamp.” I recalled it fondly a few days ago when I discovered–to my endless delight–that my mom thought Heimlich maneuver was pronounced Heimlich remover, and has been saying it that way for 57 years.

The phenomenon of misunderstanding a word or phrase and subsequently mispronouncing it well into adulthood is universal and, in my humble opinion, universally hilarious, not only because almost everyone can relate, but also because the initial misunderstanding is often rooted in innocent childhood logic. Heimlich remover makes complete sense! So does pronouncing Hermione Granger as “Hermie-won” Granger, which is precisely how I said her name until the Harry Potter movies came out in 2001.

When I brought up this topic during a recent meeting at work, my colleagues were quick to chime in with their own examples:

“I used to pronounce wunderkind as if it were a compound word of ‘wonder’ and ‘kind’—rhyming with ‘mind,'” said Haley. “When I learned its pronunciation was much more German than that (rhyming with ‘pinned’), every existential crisis from my twenties about not being one flashed through my head.”

“I pronounced the word ‘assuage’–which I learned from a thesaurus when I was in high school and trying to make my writing sound more legit–as ‘ass-ooo-ahj’ until I was recording the audio version of my book in 2012,” said Leandra. “The audio engineer finally cut me off around the end of the recording to ask what assoooahj meant because he was reading uh-swayj. Had to re-record the 16 sentences that contained that word.”

Mispronunciation Graphic

“‘The ghost is clear!’ instead of ‘The coast is clear,'” said Sabrina. “Still makes sense though.”

“I thought the hiking term ‘rock scramble’ or ‘scrambling’ was ‘scrabble’ until maybe a month ago,” said Amalie. “Also: One of my good friends who works in fashion has always said the word ‘accessories’ as ‘uh-sess-ories’ and I one day said to her (with love): ‘You do know it’s ack-cess-ories, right?’ She had no clue. Super cute.”

“This is highly embarrassing,” said Crystal, “but when quinoa first hit the scene in the U.S., I pronounced it ‘key-know-ah’ until my friend almost melted into a pile when I ordered it at a restaurant that way (I was swiftly and embarrassingly corrected.)”

“I thought cuff links were ‘cufflings’ until a few years ago,” said Jasmin.

Have you had a late-in-life pronunciation revelation? Please (PLEASE!!!!!) share in the comments. I can’t wait to spend my entire lunch break reading them.


Graphic by Coco Lashar

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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