Michael Kaskel wrote me last week with some suggestions for our Most Often Mispronounced Words list.
“Enjoyed your: The Most Often Mispronounced Words in English. You might like to add asterisk, I have heard many educated people say asterick.”
“Also, celestial and controversial . People seem determined to say: celes-TEA-al and controver-SEA-al when it should be celes-chul and controver-shul.”
Asterisk is a good one we should have caught but the other two are simply careful pronunciations of the words in question. The problem with asterisk is that a final SK cluster often metathesizes to KS, i.e. astericks (like ask > aks). The word then sounds like a plural form: two asteriks but one asterik. Still, this is no excuse.
With respect to words like celestial, there is a rule in English that the sound combination [ty] becomes [ch] in unaccented syllables (e.g. picture and denture). [t] usually does the same thing before [r], accent or no: tree, try, etc. However, these rules must apply to something, i.e. the original pronuciations with the [ty]s and [tr]s intact. They are still there, so we can’t correct them. The Brits would certainly be upset since the upper class, at least, tend to avoid this rule (appreciation for them is a-prissy-ashun). Words are generally reduced in normal conversation but you can’t get to the “normal” pronunciation without the original one, which indicates that it is still there and must be recognized and accepted.