Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Aksing about Asteriks

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.”

Twinkle, twinkle little star.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.

One Response to “Aksing about Asteriks”

  1. Stacy A Says:

    I am a little late to this post, but I just read the list of most mispronounced words, and I feel a need to make a point (to people who know me, this is not surprising): While I agree with quite a few of the entries, it seems to me like many of them are simply regional pronunciations that differ from what’s “officially accepted”. Now, I LOVE words, I love using them correctly, knowing how to properly pronounce them, etc. But I also love regional dialects, the way they reflect the people who live there, where they came from, a sense of their history. It makes me sad to see that we’re turning into a nation where it’s harder and harder to tell from where a person comes by listening to them. Sadder still is that we judge people to be less educated if they say “differnt” instead of “different” just because they grew up in Texas and that’s the way they say things down there. I definitely believe we should have conformity in writing/spelling, and I think we need to speak enough alike that we can understand each other; but there’s no reason we should all sound like we come from the CNN news anchor’s desk. I prefer being just a little bit differnt from the norm.

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