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How can I call attention to a casual acquaintance's mispronunciation? The individual is a native speaker, yet regularly misuses words like "antidote," when meaning "anecdote," as just one example.

If the meaning of their conversation is still understood, I don't want to sound pedantic in correcting them.

14

One way may be to make your calling attention to the correction a little subtle, and not directed at them.

You can take note of which word you want to correct, and then use it yourself correctly in a natural way. If you use the word yourself, one would hope that the listener will hear what you say, and realize that their usage was off. Now you can leave up to them to ask whether they want a clarification. That may help you answer whether they are interested in listening to a polite but direct correction.

Extending the example you gave. They say "antidote" when they should have said "anecdote". You can say something like:

What an interesting story. I have an aunt (colleague/friend) that was just loaded with great anecdotes like that.

Your usage will make the correct word part of the conversation, and hopefully give them food for thought on using it correctly.

6

Are you the right person to do the correcting?

I've been the person doing the mispronouncing before - generally not using the wrong word, but certainly saying it completely wrong - and I can confirm that it is mortifying to learn about my mistake. It's worse if it's a word I use on a semi-regular basis, because that means that I've probably flubbed it quite a bit before.

That said, it's much better to learn that from someone they know than a relative stranger. If the mispronunciations happen often enough, then sooner or later the person will be called out on it. But what if the person doing the correcting isn't being nice about it? What if they're a superior, or a job interviewer, or someone who they'd want to make a good impression on? What if continuing to make the mistake could cause issues for them in the future?

You know this person well enough that you notice these errors. I'd say that you might be suitable to point it out to them without causing them too much embarrassment - and as I said, that's something you'd probably want to minimize. It would obviously be better if you were a friend, but it's clear that you care about them and have their interests at heart. You're also clearly concerned about being polite, which suggests to me that you are indeed close.

I'd recommend correcting them on some of the more serious errors (or ones that could embarrass/harm them in the future). Minor mistakes might be a bit too much, but cases like the one you brought up would probably cause them mortification further on.

How should you do it?

I find that being blunt about something like this can be come off as rude or insulting. For instance, saying

You know, it's "anecdote", not "antidote".

doesn't seem that polite, especially if you're cutting them off mid-sentence. On the other hand, waiting until they finish and then saying

By the way, I think you mean "anecdote", not "antidote". Just a slip of the tongue, I think.

is a bit better. You could also try to be upbeat about it - after they respond, say something like

Hey, we all make mistakes - I just want to save you future embarrassment. I used to say [word] wrong all the time.

  • very interesting. The only people I correct are my children and my sister. My sister appreciates it, we've actually discussed me correcting her. – user57 Jul 2 '17 at 4:33
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Great question! In my humble opinion, this basically depends on three different factors.

1. How well you know them

You say casual acquaintance. However, as you know, casual acquaintances can take on a lot of different roles. This could be a casual acquaintance in a work setting, a box boy at the store whom you usually talk with while he's packing up groceries, and a ton of things. You'll have to go to a large extent on just how well you know the person.

A good question to ask when thinking this one through is if you have the freedom to correct each other on other minor issues. If you really don't, it might be best just to let the "antidotes" pass. On the other hand, if you have the freedom to correct each other when telling stories, talking about the weather, or whatever, it might be something to consider addressing.

2. How often you are doing this

If there are dozens of words they're pronouncing wrong, I'd just accept the fact that they speak a slightly different dialect. On the other hand, if it's just a word or two, it might be worth addressing.

3. How you go about it

In the majority of situations, an approach like:

Say, just thought I'd let you know, the word "antidote" is actually pronounced "anecdote."

or worse:

Actually, it's anecdote, not antidote.

will probably just cause a breach in the relationship. It can kind of come across as superior, unless the tone and inflection is just right. Then again, in certain relationships, that approach would be just fine.

However, the approach I find works really well in a lot of situations is to do a bit of research on the word and find references to make sure you're getting it just right. Then, when they next pull out that word, get a "lit up" look, and say something along the lines of,

Say, I just researched the word "antidote," and apparently, the correct pronunciation is actually "anecdote." I checked in Oxford English and American Abridged and [...], and everyone agrees that it's actually "anecdote."


Just a few ideas that have helped me. Hope they help!

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I've done this on occasion on the assumption communicating well is important and people do NOT want to make mistakes.

I try to keep away from any negative connotation by playing it down. All I show is a little confusion while asking confirmation, something like:

You meant anecdote, right?

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I'm someone who tends to mispronounce more than the general population. I don't mispronounce because I have an accent but for two reasons:

1. Learned in a book

Case one is, I learned a word in a book and since the word isn't often us in speaking language, I never had the chance to learn the "write" pronunciation.

In those case, I don't mind being corrected as long as it is done in a none mocking manner. So, make sure to have a serious look (or a puzzled one) and remove any smile from your face as it could be misinterpreted (and you don't want the person to think that you are mocking them).

Being alone with the person is also preferable. Being corrected in public is not a good place to be in and would cause unnecessary embarrassment.

For the phrasing, I will suggest saying something like:

I have noticed that you pronounce the word X, X'. Is there a reason for that?

When you put this as a question, you don't assume you have the correct pronunciation. Instead, you just note that you don't pronounce a word the same way which means one of you might be wrong.

If the other person doesn't know what to respond to your question (or after they answered), you can explain why you pronounce it the way you do. You don't need to convince the other person that you pronounce it the right way, you just need to make them think about it so that they can do research of there own and decide how they want to pronounce it in the future (knowing that other people don't pronounce it the same way).


2. "Mind Trick"

Especially when I'm tired, the words tend to mix and switch between them in my mind. I think of a meaning but, instead of picking the right word for this meaning, I pick is "neighbor". A word who is relatively similar (they both have the same "color" in my mind) but doesn't mean the same thing.

I have the same problem with the letters "c" and "s" and, whenever I'm going to say one of those out loud, I always have to pause to make sure my mouth will say the right one.

If your acquaintance has the same problem and sometimes use the right word, sometimes don't, don't correct them. They already know they have this problem and telling them that their tongue slipt again won't achieve anything. So, unless you didn't understand what they wanted to say or you want to clarify something, I would advise to not correct them.

But, if you still want to, you can use the same approach than for point one:

I notice you tend to switch words and I was wondering why?

If they weren't aware of the problem before, now they are. And if there already were, you have an opportunity to know this acquaintance better.

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