Ross Petras and Kathryn Petras, self-proclaimed "word nuts . . . and (they must admit) sometimes annoying grammar pedants," want to save you from embarrassment and drops in social status by teaching you the right way to say things that are so often said wrong. The brother-sister writing team has written You're Saying It Wrong: A Pronunciation Guide to the 150 Most Commonly Mispronounced Words--and Their Tangled Histories of Misuse.
More than just presenting a list of words or a dry reference book, the Petrases bring together good humor, a penchant for puns and word play, and a broad knowledge of language and linguistic history. Some of their examples I sloughed off; I'm an educated person! I know how to say or spell that word! Some, well, I couldn't care less. They didn't provide a plethora of words I didn't know. Regardless, You're Saying It Wrong is not dull as ditch water. The book is an excellent vehicle for brushing up on and learning some familiar and unfamiliar vocabulary. The Petrases pwn these words.
(In case you're wondering, the italicized words are all featured in You're Saying It Wrong. One note: plethora, which I understood to mean "a lot," really means too many. Close, but not exactly right.)
The book is laid out in alphabetical order, with a few sidebars on specific topics. (I found the British place names particularly vexing. E.g., Ralph is pronounced rayf, and Ranulph is pronounced ralph.) I am not a fan of the alphabetical order. I would have been happier if the words were arranged by topics, such as food, proper names, place names, phrases, etc. Also, and this really isn't the Petrases' fault but a feature of the changing nature of language, many entries were rife (not in the book but maybe should have been) with ambiguity.
There's the right way to say something, and the accepted way to say something, and in many cases the wrong way to say something that becomes accepted simply because that's how most people say it! Like forte. I always thought "Cooking is my forte" would be pronounced FORTay, like in music. But no, it's like FORT. But I think I would be laughed at if I said "Cooking is my FORT." (And not only because of my lack of culinary skills.) Similarly, if I pronounce Vincent Van Gogh as van GOKH or Henry David Thoreau as THOR oh, I'd probably be mocked, even if those are the right pronunciations.
So I still have to find the right balance between "sticking with the tried and true" and being required to "turn in my smart card." Now if I could only remember if niche is NEESH or NITCH. . . .
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!