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The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations: The Complete Opinionated Guide for the Careful Speaker [Paperback]

Charles Harrington Elster
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 25 2006 061842315X 978-0618423156 Second Edition
The definitive pronouncement on more than 1,500 of our most commonly mispronounced words. From the language maven Charles Harrington Elster comes an authoritative and unapologetically opinionated look at American speech. As Elster points out, there is no sewer in connoisseur, no dip in diphthong, and no pronoun in pronunciation. The culmination of twenty years of observation and study, The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations is more than just a pronunciation guide. Elster discusses past and present usage, alternatives, analogies, and tendencies and offers plenty of advice, none of it objective. Whether you are adamant or ambivalent about the spoken word, Elster arms you with the information you need to decide what is acceptable for you. The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations has now been expanded and revised and features nearly 200 new words, including: al-Qaeda bruschetta commensurate coup de grce curriculum vita exacerbate gigabyte hara-kiri machismo Muslim Niger Pinochet Pulitzer sorbet tinnitus w (as in www-dot) and many, many more. Charles Harrington Elster is the pronunciation editor of Blacks Law Dictionary and the author of various books about language, including Verbal Advantage, Theres a Word for It, and What in the Word? He has been a guest columnist on language for the Boston Globe and the New York Times Magazine and a commentator on NPR and hundreds of radio shows around the country.

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From Amazon

"When it comes to pronunciation," says Charles Harrington Elster, "there are two types of people: Those who don't give the subject a second thought and those who do. This book is for those who do." Those who don't will likely dismiss it as a conglomeration of minutiae (mi-N[Y]oo-shee-ee). Elster's Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations combines and expands upon his two previous books on the subject, offering historical pronunciations, authoritative opinions (his own and others'), and meandering explanations. This book is more entertaining than a game of badminton (don't say, "BAD-mitten," which Elster considers sloppy) and more lasting than a daiquiri (that's "DY-kuh-ree"). And best of all, you'll tighten up that flaccid ("FLAK-sid") pronunciation. Kudos ("KOO-dahs") to Elster for setting us straight. For now, anyway--there's a neologism ("nee-AHL-uh-jiz'm") born every day. --Jane Steinberg --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Contending that a laissez-faire ("rhymes with guess way there") approach to English language pronunciation is not acceptable, this appealing guide awakens readers to the sad truth that "lots of people mispronounce words every day and plenty of people notice." Host of National Public Radio's A Way with Words, Elster has expanded and extensively revised his three previous books--including There's No Zoo in Zoology--into one delightful pronunciation guide that is not just for the cognoscenti ("KAHN-yuh-SHEN-tee"). The list of words ranges from "a"--"uh (as in ago)" or "ay (as in ate)"--to "zydeco"("rhymes with try to go"), but Elster goes way beyond a simple list of correct pronunciations. His explanatory essays refer to a wide array of research and reference tools, including dictionaries, etymologies, and such guides as the NBC Handbook of Pronunciation. Some may dismiss Elster's efforts as Sisyphean ("SIS-uh-FEE-in") or his compilation too anal ("AY-nal"). But he presents his entries with such aplomb (the second syllable "rhymes with Tom or bomb") and affection for the double entendre ("DUHB'L ahn-THAN-druh") that one cannot demur ("Pronounce mur as in murder not mural").
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passionate and Wonderful! Aug. 19 2001
Elster could be a blow-hard. He could be a nauseating pedant. Instead, he's the charmingly gnomish author of this magnificently entertaining book. Like many of us, he had a mother who would pin his ears to the wall if he dared confuse who with whom. And this guy's mom knew that "flaccid" is pronounced "Flak-sid", did you? Or how's this: try ordering a "daiquiri" (Dy-kuh-ree). Good luck; but of course you'll be correct. This very BIG book of "beastly" mispronunciations is gleefully entertaining. You won't just get the correct pronunciations, but concise reasoning on why a word crept into the language, why it should be tossed out, who corrupted it, and why we tend to garble nuclear (N(Y)oo-kle-ur), while clinging to the "psuedo-French"- ified envelope (AHN-vul-lohp). This could be nothing more than a pesky book, but Elster is so passionate about the Language, and so wildly fun that it's just great reading-- if not terminally humbling. Three distinct groups deserve this gift: Post-modernists who will turn away in horror (then read it on the sly), people who speak English, and those who find in words the delicate beauty of a very good opera-- when sung correctly.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Admit it: from time to time, we all like to use a ten dollar word to demonstrate our mastery of the English language. As President W. Bush can attest, however, nothing's more embarrassing at such moments than discovering you've just mispronounced the word.
To our rescue comes Charles Harrington Elster, an expert in the ways of saying words correctly. In "The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations," he provides not only an almost exhaustive list of frequently mispronounced words, but clear and entertaining explanations and arguments of why his pronunciation is correct.
Elster has carefully researched each word, providing evidence from dictionaries, usage in broadcast media, and historical linguistics to explain why a word ought to be said in a certain way.
Elster is someone who cares about the English language. The role of language is to communicate, and communication is impossible if we cannot understand one another. Thus, common pronunciation of words is significant.
On the whole, Elster prefers pronunciations that have history and permanence. Many arguments for words I thought I'd been saying all along were clearly presented with his preferred pronunciation in my dictionary. He does concede in some cases that a common mispronunciation of a word has become correct, by sheer weight of usage. He also is careful to note pronunciations that differ between British and American English. He also provides the correct pronunciation of some names and places.
As someone who shares Elster's love of the language, I recommend this book highly. It's one of my most-used reference books, and not just because it's stored in the guest bathroom.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
If you care about how you sound and the way you come across to other people, you'll want this book. It's a reference you'll want in whatever room you're in. You'll discover everyday words that are being mispronounced by newscasters and, more likely, by you. At least I did. And I'm a writer who prides herself on knowing words well! This book is for the American. It gives American pronounciation that is accepted by the educated class. It disdains words that are used for effect. And if a word is right in the UK but not America it will tell you so. Words like Missouri, Vase, the days of the week, yesterday, rather, begin and hundreds more are explained. You will learn the background on the usage. You will learn how to correctly pronounce February. Now that's a challenge! This is a terrific book and I highly recommend it. If I could give it more than five stars I would! Buy it!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent reference for the serious speaker April 27 2000
By A Customer
I couldn't disagree more with the first reviewer from San Fran. Few disagree with standards for spelling, grammar, or definitions; why should pronunciation be any different? I don't agree with all of Elster's prescriptions, (yes, it is prescriptive-- is Webster's not?) but he gives well-presented reasons for all of his conclusions and admits when he's just being arbitrary. Just like bad spelling, improper speaking does and should separate the careful from the cloddish. The author openly says the book is intended as a guide to American pronunciation, so Brits and Cans need not be offended (e.g. it doesn't necessarily matter how Newfoundlanders pronounce Newfoundland-- they don't speak American English). Of course for those of the, "make a mistake often enough and it becomes correct" school of thought, it will be of no use.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I opened this book first to the entry "pronounciation". The author wondered if I said it this way (I did). He then pointed out that there was no such word! Egad, he caught me! Although there is a word "pronounce", there is no word "pronounciation". The word is proNUNciation, not proNOUNciation. I suppose this could be considered a trivial difference, and many of the pronunciations in this book are somewhat of this nature. But the book is a quick read and always interesting. I for one found I was making many of these type mistakes.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A must have for any lover of words
Mr Elster's intuitive pronunciation key makes life so much easier than trying to struggle through the IPA, SAMPA or enPR that you always find in dictionaries. Read more
Published on May 21 2010 by Steven Repstock
1.0 out of 5 stars -1star (reference value) + 2 stars (entertainment value)
[...]. the author's rules are, indeed, entirely arbitrary.
simply performing a mental utterance of many of his "proper" pronunciations affected me as strongly as a fingernail... Read more
Published on Sept. 22 2001 by hedbanger
3.0 out of 5 stars NewfoundLAND-Understand
Ha! I was coming here to praise this book with the exception of the pronunciation given for "Newfoundland"; it appears that others have commented on this topic ... Read more
Published on Nov. 6 2000 by jensara
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun fun fun!
If you have ever gone into convulsions upon hearing the word "government" pronounced "GUV-uh-mint," then this book is for you. Read more
Published on Oct. 25 2000 by W. Doyle
1.0 out of 5 stars Big and beastly
Ill-informed snobs like Elster give prescriptivism a bad name.
One can legitimately adopt a prescriptive (= this is proper, thus correct) rather than a descriptive (= this is... Read more
Published on Sept. 28 2000 by P Scott Horne
3.0 out of 5 stars A cornupcopia of unintended humor!
Read in the proper spirit, this is an absolutely hysterical book (in whatever sense of "hysterical" one choses). Read more
Published on Sept. 4 2000 by Richard Hershberger
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely useful
Anyone who gives this book a poor review has a chip on his shoulder about Americans and American English. Read more
Published on June 2 2000 by Ash
1.0 out of 5 stars Language as a weapon
If you've been looking for a book that will teach you to be a complete drag about pronunciation, look no further. Read more
Published on Dec 27 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read for the careful speaker
Elster created a pronunciation guide that both informs and entertains. His careful attention to well-worded phrases and lively writing style forms a pronunciation guide with an... Read more
Published on Dec 13 1999 by OldBookGuy
3.0 out of 5 stars Great fun, but there's one glaring error
The book is quite enjoyable, but ought not to be taken too seriously. There is one major error, though. Read more
Published on Sept. 30 1999
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