I’ve been working for a small technology company as an account executive for the past 6 years. We have a small team and as the most senior AE, it is my responsibility to train new hires. Recently, one of our team members left the company to be a full-time parent and we hired someone to take over her accounts. The owner, one other manager, and I interviewed this candidate and we unanimously agreed to move forward with him. He had a strong background and interviewed well. I have been onboarding him for the past month and have noticed that he consistently mispronounces several words including; echelon and façade. He pronounces the “ch” in echelon like the “ch” in the word “chair “and the “c” in the word “façade” like the “c” in cake. Not only does this make me cringe with a very hard “c”, I feel very uncomfortable when I hear him mispronounce words while on the phone with clients. I am not sure how to correct him without feeling like uncomfortable. I’m not his boss, his parent, or his teacher. Please help Aunty Social.
Dear Lingual Linda,
This is a potentially pernicious problem of the precariously pedestrian kind. I often bristle with a reaction that is quite visceral to my entire constitution when I am within earshot of mispronunciations as well as malaprops. Unlike you, I make no attempt at covering up my disdain for such inaccuracies, and if in a direct conversation I am quick to correct the offender. Years ago, while living at The Plaza, I would often find myself shuddering at the myriad of ways people managed to mispronounce the word “concierge” or use a totally different word while trying to sound worldly uttering phrases such as ”I’d like to ask the con-serge about dinner arrangements” or “The consillier can give us a map.” Many believe the “g” is silent, however; the “g” is not silent rather it’s a soft “g” like the sound of “zh” or the “g” in the word, “beige.” Many concierges themselves mispronounce their own title. I can’t tell you how many times I called down to a myriad of hotel concierge desks only to be horrified upon hearing, “Good Afternoon, this is the concier desk.” Now, because this is a French word, I do reserve a bit of compassion when offering a correction. Not so much when it’s actually a common word in one’s own native tongue.
While living on the Upper East Side, weather permitting, I would often walk my purebred Pug, Prudence to the park. There was I period of time I would pass by a man sitting on a bench with a parrot perched on his shoulder. One day, Prudence became inquisitive and pulled me toward the man who appeared to be feeding something to his Parrot. I decided to strike up a congenial conversation with the gentleman and began inquiring about his pet. I found him to be relaxed and convivial. I quite enjoyed our repartee as well as that of his bird who chimed in with an occasional, “Hello,” “pretty bird,” as well as a quick whistle. And then it happened. I asked him, “May I ask what you are feeding your little feathered friend?” He replied, “Oh, I am giving him ca- chews.” I inquired, “Please come again?” He repeated, “ca-chew nuts.” At that moment, I had enough with this peasant and his passerine and politely said, “Are the ca-chews the cause of the chit on your chirt?” After that, the man avoided eye contact when Prudence and I passed by however the parrot always said, “hello.”
Now, Lexicon Linda, before we rebuke the offender with harsh and unfair judgement, let’s take a moment to address how mispronunciations occur in the first place. Often, we hear others mispronounce certain common words such us “mis-chee-vee-us” while the correct pronunciation is “mis-chiv-us.” These are the same people who prattle on about things preceded by, “for all intensive purposes” while misquoting song lyrics such as “It doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not” from Bon Jovi’s’ “Living on a Prayer.” Now, regardless, not to be confused with irregardless, we do need to help your colleague level up in order to insure he can carve out a good niche for himself on your team. Incidentally, niche is yet another commonly mispronounced word that does not rhyme with a term used for my precious pug Prudence’s mother.
Loquacious Linda, I understand these gaffes of gab could cause some potential embarrassment not only to the blathering blunderer himself but also to your company. I understand how awkward it is to correct a grown adult, especially a colleague, however; people can’t learn unless they are taught and therefore, Longwinded Linda, it is your duty to put an end to the suffering of all within in earshot of the malefactor. I would suggest the following:
- Don’t put on a façade and correct him on the spot. While you risk coming off like a rude arse, at least you will be perceived as a smart one
- Carve out time for a phonetics lesson while assuring him the request came direct from an upper-echelon client.
- Provide him with a trained parrot who is able to mimic the correct pronunciation of the mispronunciations along with a bag of ca-chews
- Call your local hotel Concier
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