A Guide to Saying Words Properly for the Overly-Educated and/or Upper-middle Class Populace

curly hair woman talking to bald man at college campus

For some, it’s religion.

For people like my mother, education is the road to salvation. She is forever pestering and propagandizing my sister and me to seek advanced degrees. With student loans still whipping our asses like jockeys riding Kentucky Derby losers, we don’t want no education, at least until til those are settled.

This endless educational journey for a “cleansed soul” is like the financial nightmare version of a pilgrimage up Mount Kailash.

I love reading. I love achieving. I love learning. That’s all cool and great by me. I just appreciate when people learn the right things. Like how to have a coherent conversation with another human being.

If you keep your nose shoved in your books for 25 years and graduate with all sorts of honors and double majors and masters and doctorates and score some fancy letters after your name, that in no way guarantees you from sounding like an idiot.

In theory, what should cause you to sound intelligent is from listening to intelligent people speak and imitating their diction. However, it has been my experience talking with many people with higher merit and IQ scores than I, and this is far from the case. Maybe I’m get caught up in semantics, but it is totally distracting when highly “educated”/cultural/people of stature or honor mispronounce words or use incorrect phrases. It’s like, ” Are you three? Who the hell taught you to speak?’

For this particular purpose, I am going to omit the common mispronunciations that make us all turn up our noses and scoff. Axe, libary, Walmarts, and so on, will not be included here.

Small Talk:

Let’s start off when you bump into one of your colleagues at Whole Foods. They will ask, “How are  you?” Now stop. Do not respond, “I’m good.” This is an inappropriate response. Good is an adjective, a describing word, like fancy, rich, or uptight. Your friend is not asking what kind or category person you are, they want to know how, or in what manner, you are at the moment. They are looking for an adverb. Adverbs describe how, where, when, how often and why something happens. This is why you need to respond, “I’m well, thank you.” Well is an adverb. Of course, if you are not well, you can be a Debbie downer about it and risk sounding like a complainer, or suck it up and lie and say you are well. Most people say “I’m good”. This doesn’t make is right, and it doesn’t make it OK. If you really bothered to go to school for X number of years and either earn scholarships by busting your tail or are still paying off student loans into your fifties, why the hell are you going to sound uneducated when you are first meeting someone? Wasn’t it the point of all your hard labor, to be educated and correct in all things? Don’t blow it right off the bat.

Now, maybe you get into talking about how cold it’s been this February (Feb-brew-ary. Not Feb-you-ary), and you are shopping for hot beverages to percolate (per-co-late, not per-cue-late) into a hot brew.

You might be looking for certified-organic fair-trade coffee beans. If you like Espresso, then make sure you pronounce it Ess-press-oh. Now that’s class in a glass. It is not Ex-press-oh. This is the Starbucks version of axing people questions. If Busta Rhymes figured out how to pronounce Courvoisier, I’m sure, with practice, you can become proficient at Espresso.

Perhaps you get into talking about whetting your appetite with a little dessert. Please don’t say “wet”. Did you ever see that Family Guy episode where Brian, (the talking dog) really enunciates Cool Whip? He and Stewie (the talking baby) get into a “wh” discussion. If not, watch this clip. And practice: whhhhhet.

Which leads me into saliva. Sa-live(as in live music)-ah. It is not “sa-lava”. Saliva comes from the Salivary glands. Lava comes from volcanoes.

If you have your heart set on something a little creamier than sorbet (which I know you know how to pronounce), be sure you are equally as learned in sherbet. Shur-bet, not sher-bert. There is only one “r’. Bert is a character on Sesame Street.


Maybe you’ll mention you can’t talk too long because you need to meet your realtor (real-tor, not re-la-tor) or pick up your Xanax prescription. Pre-scription, not Per-scription.

However, you continue talking for 45 minutes. You explain that you need your zannies because they offer you a respite (res-pit, not re-spite) from your teenage son, whom has caused you much perspiration (here we go again with the “pre-” prefices: Press-per-ation, not per-spur-ation) because he has  developed the recurring (not re-occuring, there is no such word) problem of sneaking out of the house at night.

In fact, just last Friday, he sneaked  (not snuck) out again. It’ shocking really, because he excels in academics and athletics, and is usually such a good kid. Naturally, he is the “spit and image” (not spittin’ image) of his father at that age, height (not heigth: no such word) and all.  In fact, he just won his age group in his last triathlon (try-ath-lon, not tri-atha-lon). And you should have read the paper he submitted on Aesop’s (Ee-sop, not Ay-sop) Fables! You’re really going to have to make a forte (fort, not for-tay) to get him back on track. The word is spelled “forte” but the “e” is pronounced only when speaking of music, as a “forte passage.” The words for a strong point and that mess of pillows and blankets covering your bonus room are pronounced the same: “fort”.

Perhaps this matter gets you so upset that you fall back against a display of herbs. All English speakers outside of the United States, as well as educated people within the US say, “Hhherbs”. The rest of America drops the “h”, which, in my opinion, is just as bad as saying “git ‘er dun”.

Now, if in this process, you scuff your Hermès bag, this is where you can drop that “h”. Pronounce it “air-mez”. If you consider repairing it with your L’Occitane  (Lox-ee-tan) lotion, maybe you should cut back on the zannies.

Your companion may turn back to lighter conversation such as giving you a compliment on your jewelry (jewel-ry, not jew-lerey. Jewel is the root word here, see to it that it makes it into your enunciation) or on your clothes (not close), or even on your perfectly umber (um-ber, not ohm-ber-ray or omm-bray; don’t try to class it up with a botched foreign language pronunciation) hair.

Now, a note here: umber is a natural brown clay pigment that contains iron and manganese oxides. The color becomes more intense when heated, and the resulting pigment is called burnt umber. So check it out: is your hair

or is it


Regardless, “umber” is the English translation derived from the Latin word for shadow, “umbra”. If you think it raises your social stature to say the French translation, “ombre” (om-bray), know that this more commonly refers to the card game Ombre. In “real” France, whether it’s used as a noun (the actual pigment) or an adjective (the color description), the phrasing is more specific: terre d’ombre. Even raw umber must be described as “ombre naturelle”. Ombre is not a stand-alone word unless referring to the game.

Heavier Conversation:

Now perhaps that person you ran into was an old college friend. Most likely, your alumnus pal is just one of many alumni (co-ed/including males) you knew.  However, if you graduated from Wellesley, she would be one of the many alumnae (alum-nee, not alum-nay, and female, plural).

If you’re into the sciences, you may discuss the publication of your journal article on wasp larvae (lar-vee, not lar-vay), or your recent trip to the Arctic (Ark-tick, not Ar-tick) where you worked on a research project involving the prions (pree-on, not pry- on) of fungi (although the dictionary considers both fun-guy and fun-jee acceptable pronunciations, remember the root word is fungus, so fun-jee is kind of an unnecessary stretch).

Let’s take a moment to consider the word prion.  In 1982, American neurologist and biochemist Stanley Prusiner, made up this portmanteau from the words “protein” and “infection”. Protein-infection. The word is so new, perhaps any pronunciation may be acceptable, but Prusiner invented it, he says pree-on, and he’s American. So if you are not American and say “pry-on”, realize that just because we are in our own country we don’t call ballet “bal-ett”; we respect the French language and use their pronunciation, “bal-lay”.

On a humorous note, when asked by a foreigner how to avoid bad meat while visiting America, Brian Wickham responded, “Prion is pronounced “May-oh-naze”. Always order your burgers without this. At least on the East Coast anyway.”

Or maybe politics is more your game. You might mention your opinions on parliament (par-lia-ment, not par-la-ment) or Angela Merkel’s (Un-goo-lah and I like to think: Medical’s, making a soft “r”) latest decision.

Additional subjects may arise, pertaining to government (gov-vern-ment, not gov-ver-mit nor gov-ver-ment) such as what candidate (can-did-dett, not can-a-date nor can-a-dit. R emember, you always want to have a good candidate for your “candy date”!) you’re giving your vote to. Or perhaps you’re concerned on the latest nuclear (nu-clear, not nuke-you-lar) policy, or what politician was indicted (in-dite-ted, not in-dick-ted) for what.

Regardless of who you need to impress to maintain your perceived educational and social stature, the only exception that you are allowed to make, is “Duck Tape” for Duct tape, because ducks are just that fucking cool.


My Mom: Cyber Monday

My mom really blew my mind tonight.

She was jabbering away about her adventures Christmas shopping; I wasn’t really paying attention until out of her lips spilled the words, “Cyber Monday“.

“How the !@#*& (heck) do you know about Cyber Monday?!?!?!” I am  floored.

She gives me her sideways glance, “I haven’t been living under a rock, you know.” Coulda fooled me.

Has my mom really been initiated into the Age of Information? Could the prophecy be true? She did just get an Iphone a few weeks ago…

But no, Cyber Monday was just an outlier. She then proceeded to tell me how she wants a Bose surround sound system…so she can really listen to NPR.

After trying to explain to her that the quality of sound is only going to be as good as the input, I could see the glazed look come over her face. I tried to explain that she would hear the difference if she was listening to an expertly mastered, superior quality audio file, but probably not local radio. Not to mention that she could find a comparable system for a better price (I’m really not a Bose girl).

“But my friend Jeanne has one! And she loves hers.” (Certain Connecticut wives would love two pieces of copper wire scotch-taped to a pie pan covered in a used coffee filter if it cost $1000, made noise, and had the Bose emblem on it. Talk about not knowing your ass from a hole in the ground.)

My hand slaps my forehead. Geez.