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Jane Stephens says people are finding Omicron difficult to pronounce correctly, but it’s simply one in a long line of mispronounced words.

A new intruder has breached the barricade, hitching a ride from Africa to Australia and causing a kerfuffle. Mysterious sucker this Omicron, isn’t it? Not only the virus variant itself, but also the way it is pronounced.

Like all COVID-19 strains, the latest infraction on our peace is named after a Greek letter.

The World Health Organisation adopted that scheme in June after wide consultation because they said the letters were simple and easy to pronounce.

Yeah, right. As oral stumbling blocks go, this one is a doozy. Apparently, the correct Greek pronunciation is oh-muh-cronn.

Sometimes mispronounced words grind my gears, particularly when the contortion happens so often that when correctly articulated, a spoken word is perceived to be incorrect.

We have mischievous most often said as mis-chee-vee-us when it is mis-chuh-vus. Apparently there are records that show the mis-speaking on that one goes back hundreds of years.

But most of the time the incorrect pronunciations are humorous. I still dine out on the day a person at the table next to mine asked the waitress for a serve of leh-zag-nee, when they meant lah-zahn-ya – the stacked-up Italian concoction. And that popular superfood berry acai? It’s ahr-sie-ee, not ark-eye.

Sometimes I think politicians’ speech writers have a little titter as they load up the daily monologues or media talking points with words they know will be mangled.

Our previous premier Anna Bligh, who said arks instead of ask. Despite what I imagine must have been an avalanche of advice and correction, the switcheroo persisted throughout her tenure.

Hyperbole, meaning excess or exaggeration, has been articulated as hyper-bowl by people as educated as the former PM Julia Gillard. It is another Greek offering, it should be high-per-boh-lee, to rhyme with Penelope.

I say all of this, knowing I have my own peccadillos and inconsistencies in speech. We all do.

Pronunciation fails are like a bit of food caught in your teeth: a good friend will tell you and a brash colleague might too. But most people just inwardly cringe, let it slide, and you will feature later as a funny anecdote from their day.


Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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