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Myzzled and Awree

Discussion on the previous post led to mention of the phenomenon in which those of us who grew up reading a lot pick up words that aren't used by the people around us, so that we invent our own pronunciations, which are not always correct.

I experienced a slight variation of this: in at least two cases, the words were in fact pretty common, but I did not connect the word on the page with the word I heard, and so possessed a couple of half-invented words, which I pronounced as myzlled and awree. The first is pronounced like "puzzled" with "my" substituted for "pu". The second is more or less like "tawdry" without the "d".  Or "outlawry" without the "outl".

They were spelled "misled" and "awry." 

I had the sense of "awry" more or less right--I thought of it as something close to a synonym for "crooked." I'm not sure that I didn't use it in conversation, though if I did no one ever corrected me.

"Misled" was more of a problem, because I conceived it to be the past tense and passive voice of a verb, "to misle" ("my-zzle"), meaning "to sow confusion." I was a little, um, puzzled that I never heard this verb used in any other form, e.g. "The British set out to misle the French about the strength of their forces."

I was in my late teens or early twenties before I realized my mistake. I was a little embarrassed, but only a little. To tell the truth, I still sort of like "misle"/"myzzle" as a verb. And I was pleased a few years ago to learn that my then-boss, a woman with a Ph.D., had suffered from the same confusion, and similarly thought it a rather good word in the sense that we understood it.


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Even though I was an adult when I first came across the word miniseries, and I knew what it was, I always had to puzzle over it for a minute when I saw it in print. I always though miseries with an "n" and a short "i" in the middle.


"miniseries" does = "miseries" often enough, I guess.

I think someone here finally had to explain it to me.

That's how I still read awry — to myself, anyway! And I'll have to find a way to use myzzled :-D

I'm very glad to hear that. "misle" is applicable when you want to denote a subtle mixture of error and confusion.

Ah! Then there may be imminent opportunities for me to use that word :-D

That same pronunciation of misled was the cause of great humiliation for the main character in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, a little novel set in 1930s Wales.

Cool. So maybe it's not all that uncommon. I've heard of that movie (and book, I think?).

I finally had to comment here after reading your blog intermittently for some time now, because of awry. I did that too. But I'm an ex-New Yorker as you can see and still had the accent when I read it that way, so I might still have pronounced it noticeably differently from the way you did :) Aw-ree just sounds to me like the room seeming to spin around your head, or something. It was evocative.

"like the room seeming to spin around your head, or something" Exactly. "aw-ree" is somewhat more messed up than "awry".

Actually I'm not sure how it would sound in a NY accent.

Awry in a New York accent would basically sound like or-ee. The New York "aw" in cawfee et al. is pretty much like "or" without the r on it. (Probably some slight difference only super-attuned people would commonly notice, though.)

I think I'm hearing what you mean. These things are tricky to describe without those formal phonetic thingies which I don't understand. Some people pronounce "or" the way I pronounce "are", but I don't think that's a New York thing.

I think I've mentioned here before that as a lifelong southerner until I was well into adulthood I was baffled by the sometime rendering in print of the southern pronunciation of "I" as "Ah." That's really not what it sounds like, but when I finally figured out what they meant I had to admit I couldn't think of a better way to render it.

Anyway, "or-ree" is effective, too.

I just meant the word "or," which I'm pretty sure everyone in the US who says his r's pronounces approximately the same way. New Yorkers such as I am would pronounce the "or" in, say, "horrible" as you'd probably pronounce "are."

I'm trying to remember where I've heard "or" pronounced somewhat as in "horrible" (yes, we'd say more or less "are" there). Some variety of mid-western, maybe. Can't really place it. I wonder if it's the same people who pronounce "horrible" with a long "o".

I do not have the slightest memory of ever having seen this before.

Antiaphrodite. Goodness.


It seems so long ago (I'm hearing that in the tune of the Leonard Cohen song that starts that way). But actually I'm just a bit surprised that it was as recent as ten years ago (approximately).

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