Getting Arrested by the Pronunciation Police

  • SumoMe

It happens like clockwork.

Every day, without fail, my e-mail inbox contains a message from an aggravated and exasperated listener.

Is it a message expressing outrage over the views expressed by a guest on my WPHT 1210-AM radio show?

Did they want to take me to task about an opinion I expressed?

Were they annoyed by a caller to the show?

Nope, none of the above. What is the reason behind their long-winded complaints? They wanted to call out a word that, in their opinion, I mispronounced on my radio show.


In my view, this petty nonsense is ridiculous and exasperating.

Doing the Math

I have done some rough calculations- in the course of a three-hour show, I speak about 75 minutes (subtracting time for callers, guests, newsbreaks and commercials). At an average of 110 words per minute, that comes out to 8,250 words per show (or 41,250 words per week for those of you keeping score at home). What are the odds that every one of those 8,250 words will be properly pronounced? Here is my bigger question: why would someone even care?

You have the right to remain silent (if you mispronounce a word)

You have the right to remain silent (if you mispronounce a word)

The ones who seem to care are the self-appointed “Pronunciation Police.” They are hell-bent on enforcing their strict and unforgiving pronunciation laws.

What I would like to ask these folks is where can I find this Pronunciation Lawbook? They get quite worked up hearing a word that violates their official “rules of pronunciation” and want to throw the book at me. I would at least like to see this repository of official word pronunciations.

My View…Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (and this is borderline microscopic)

Personally, when I get pronunciation notes and calls from these cranky listeners, I am reminded of the song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” written by George and Ira Gershwin and sung by the incredible Louis Armstrong:

You say either and I say either,

You say neither and I say neither

Either, either neither, neither

Let’s call the whole thing off.

You like potato and I like potahto

You like tomato and I like tomahto

Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto.

Let’s call the whole thing off

I get amused when I get e-mails or voicemails from these cranks. Their rants are often epic, going into molecular detail about my mispronunciation crimes. The more obsessive ones express their OCD in multiple platforms- they will e-mail, call AND write a snail-mail letter.

It’s a little bit over the top, don’t you think?

Putting Things into Perspective

In the course of a three-hour show, listeners are going to hear some hot-button topics. The guests might be controversial. The callers will surely be passionate and opinionated. That’s what good talk radio should be, not the radio equivalent of vanilla pudding.

It’s high-octane dialogue and debate. So from a content perspective, there’s plenty of things to get worked about about and compel you to “talk back” to me.

But what stirs these people? The way a particular word is pronounced!

I fortunately have options when I encounter cranks. I simply delete their e-mails, erase their voicemails, toss their letters in the trash or un-friend them on Facebook. But what about the poor people who have to live with them or put up with this on a daily basis?

You have to feel sorry for the family, friends, neighbors or co-workers of people like this. Chances are they are trapped in pronunciation prison, constantly hearing these cranks drone on “that’s not the way it’s pronounced!”

Getting to the Real Issue

If you are constantly compelled to correct others or point out things that don’t meet your standards, perhaps a bit of self-introspection would be helpful.

Just because you see an opportunity to correct another person or think your offer of “constructive criticism” would be helpful does not mean you should act on this impulse. More often than not, these actions are not viewed well by the people receiving the criticism. People who become known as critics and “correctors” rarely command respect. People are either too polite (or too stunned) to call out a crank.

So for those who still insist on wearing the Pronunciation Police badge and keep the world safe from people like me who will occasionally pronounce a word differently, I will not resist arrest.

But if you are going to read me my Miranda Rights, I will absolutely insist you must pronounce every single word carefully AND correctly.

14 Responses to Getting Arrested by the Pronunciation Police

  1. Chris From Pine Hill March 1, 2014 at 3:14 am #

    Hi Dom,

    Thanks for your rant. And now, wise up! Pronounce all of your words correctly! You used to be a school teacher, didn’t you? So do the right thing. Otherwise, you should go to jail. Lock ‘im up!!!! By the way, I noticed a typographical error in your writing, just so you know. Hee hee hee!!!!!!!

    Well, now I am done. It is fun to tweak Dom, my favorite talk radio show host.

    All the best to you,


    The Pronunciation Police

  2. constance kelley March 1, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    I have followed you since your infancy in the business. Your few and far between mistakes only make you more human. Otherwise, how can we identify?
    God bless you!
    Keep up the great. You’re still the “man who ever sleeps”!

  3. Gerry h March 1, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    Hi Dom,

    There will always be people who have nothing better to do than critique people who have an audience that want to hear your views.

    These people usually have an unwilling audience when they spout their opinions. I believe they have a high opinion of their intelligence. They like a captive listener who usually can’t wait to get away from them.

  4. constance kelley March 1, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

    Whoops! Made a mistake in my reply; missing word. So, I’m only human too!

  5. Jason from Hatfield March 1, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    “I would at least like to see this repository of official word pronunciations.”

    I’m sure the Pronunciation Po-Po’s would refer to the dictionary as that repository. Definitely agree you with on this one, but, I’m just sayin…

  6. Joe from Brookhaven March 2, 2014 at 12:29 am #

    Hi Dom,
    When a “Pronunciation LEO” spends a few years in Boston and moves back in the area, he or she will need serious medication. It would be interesting to hear their pronunciation of Coffee, Acme, Schuylkill Expressway, Passyunk, Water, Mahanoy City (remember that? lol) to name a few.

  7. Gail March 2, 2014 at 2:03 am #

    Louis Armstrong? I thought Fred Astaire sang that to Ginger Rogers in one of those Fred & Ginger movies. Mispronunciation does not bother me – it is gross grammatical gaffs that are my grievance. But I’m not going to arrest anybody. I work with someone who says “wit” for “with” but I just let it pass – what can you do, eh? Just keep calm and carry on Dom, lol.

    • Dom March 3, 2014 at 12:26 am #

      It was Louis Armstrong, Gail. You will hear it if you ever watch “When Harry Met Sally.”

  8. Ray Haupt March 2, 2014 at 2:14 am #

    But what was the miscreant word?

    • Dom March 3, 2014 at 12:25 am #

      Ray, the list is long…there is an entire Pronunciation Police Force out there! I would prefer the pay more attention to the discussions than the so-called mis-pronunciations!

      • Ray Haupt March 4, 2014 at 1:58 am #

        I agree, Dom. If I had a dime for every word I mispronounce I’d be a rich man.

        From my native Philadelphia perspective I recall President Kennedy mispronouncing words left and right but I expect he would say the same about me.

        Here is a word that is relatively new to me that I have apparently been mispronouncing: “quinoa”. I would say “quin-oh-ah” but apparently the more correct pronunciation is “kin-wah”. At least I was not kicked out of the restaurant.

        Quinoa is a grain from South America.

  9. Nina March 2, 2014 at 5:29 am #

    Hi Dom!

    Those who are critical about pronunciation must not be bright. They probably haven’t dealt with people who live in other parts of the country. I had to deal with people in Long Island, NY, and they couldn’t pronounce my name correctly. They added an “R” to the end of my name. Didn’t bother me. While I was growing up, I heard a commercial for detergent. The person in the commercial was “warshing” in lieu of “washing” clothes. That made me realize that people speak differently.

    I enjoy your show. I’ve been listening to you for a long time.

    Have a great trip!


  10. Dan from Downingtown March 3, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    Great minds think alike, and sometimes I do too.
    2 things here, Dom:

    1) Before I read one word of this Blog, I was going to write,” you say Tomato-e, and I say FRESH JERSEY TAH-MATES !”

    B) Some get by with a Tele-Prompter.

    BUT …If you would like to get THEIR goat, you could (or is it “can” ?) always do what my Wife does when she makes any of her many daily mispronouncing’s, that I am just waiting to pounce on.
    Deny. Deny. Deny… and then yell at me to clean up my Computer room.

    The Factor word of the day is, “pithy” . Don’t pithy me off, when you call into my Show !

    There is no better Show on the Radio, Dom. Keep at it.


    • Dom March 3, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

      Dan, thanks for the great advice…and for the kind words. I appreciate both. Thanks for being a listener, blog reader and a subscriber. That is a Triple Crown type of audience I love to have!

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