I have a friend who's very intelligent and extremely well-read -- though she does tend to mispronounce a lot of words. She attributes this to having a large "reading vocabularly," meaning she picked up these words from books rather than from spoken conversation. For example, she first encountered the word "epitome" in a novel. She understood exactly what the word meant...she just didn't realize that the last syllable didn't rhyme with the words "home" and "dome."
It's a plight common to many young readers. It certainly happened to me. It's been decades, but I still turn red thinking about the time I publicly referred to something being in a "state of chay-os."
I also used to refer to that column in READER'S DIGEST as "Toward More Picture-es-cue Speech."
Okay, I was an idiot.
Naturally, those types of mistakes wouldn't have occured if I'd developed better dictionary skills. Strangely, I really did consult the dictionary fairly often as a kid -- but mainly to discover definitions. I tended to skip right past the pronunication guides, with their accent marks and umlauts and those confusing upside-down lowercase e's, long before Neal Schusterman made them famous.
But even if I had become an expert at deciphering diacritics, I still would have been up a creek when trying to sound out various proper names in books.
Geoff? I pronounced it GEE-off.
Reggie? I rhymed it with Peggy.
And for the longest time, I thought that Denys, Meg's brother in the Madeleine L'Engle books, pronounced his name like the restaurant chain Denny's.
Come to think of it, even today I'm not certain how to pronounce Ms. L'Engle's name!
Why didn't she go by her birth name "Madeleine Camp" or her married name "Madeleine Franklin"?
Camp and Franklin I could deal with.
L'Engle...? Not so much. When I have occasion to say her name outloud, I usually just sort of slur and smush it together and hope people know who I'm talking about. I once heard a little kid in a bookstore refer to her as "Madeleine L. Engle," which is certainly one way to solve the problem.
Heck, I'm not even sure how to pronounce Robert Cormier's name.
Oh wait, he was French-American. Is it Cormy-AY?
The sad thing is that I've actually asked people the pronuniciation of Mr. Cormier's name and they've told me...but it eventually flies out of my head because all those other alternate pronunications have been flitting around in there for thirty years and I ultimately forget which is correct.
And let's not even get into Jon Scieszka. I just refer to him as "the Stinky Cheese Guy" and everyone knows who I mean.
As I said, I know I'm not the only one who suffers from having a better "reading vocabulary" than "spoken vocabulary." I've already told you about my friend who is the epitome of a good reader and bad pronouncer.
Are you also in this boat?
I'd love to hear what words you learned incorrectly from the books you read as a child. Did you ever embarrass yourself by repeating them in public? Do you sometimes mispronounce them still? Please send your own examples to me, Peter Sieruta -- which is pronounced Sir-oo-ta.
Nah, even that's too hard to pronounce!
Just call me the "Collecting Children's Books Guy." I'll know who you mean.