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Aoife, Saoirse, omicron and Kyiv: Top ten words with the most difficult pronunciations are revealed – as Irish names, foreign foods and Americanisations leave us baffled

  • The pronunciation of Irish names and foreign foods are the most difficult for us
  • Study found ‘how to pronounce Aoife’ was searched on Google 111,000 times
  • It found that we are also confused by Americanisations like schedule, ‘shed-yool’

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If you’ve ever stumbled over friend’s name, or struggled with your meal order, you’re not alone. Irish names, foreign food and Americanisations rank among the words we find the most difficult to pronounce, according to a study.

Based on Google search results, the research found that the hardest name of all is Aoife, pronounced ‘ee-fa’, which generated 111,000 searches over the course of last year, The Times reports. 

Saoirse, pronounced ‘sur-sha’, ranked as the second, while the third was omicron, which has at least two common pronounciations in use – ‘om-my-kron’ and ‘om-uh-kron’. 

Next comes Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, which is pronounced ‘keev’ in Ukrainian. 

 English speaking countries have traditionally referred to the city as ‘key-ev’, like chicken ‘kiev’ but a campaign since 2018 prefers the sounding to be ‘kee-yiv’ or ‘keev’.

Finishing the top five is the Brazilian super fruit açaí – pronounced ‘ah-sah-ee’ – the Brazilian super fruit, followed by two more Irish names, Niamh and Siobhan, pronounced ‘neev’ and ‘shi-vawn’ respectively, as well as gyros – ‘yee-ros’ -, which is a type of kebab.

Another name commonly mispronounced is the Vietnamese surname Nguyen, typically said ‘n-win’.

We also get confused by Americanisations like the word schedule, which comes in tenth place in the study. 

The confusion might be because there are two common pronunciations — ‘shed-yool’ and ‘sked-yool’, the former being the traditional English version and the latter being American. 

Lee Beardsley, of Slotbox, told The Times: ‘This research might highlight how many of us have been wrongly pronouncing everyday words without realising — and even worse, it highlights our mispronunciations of names. 

‘The influence of current events can also be seen, with many Brits wanting to find the correct pronunciation of Kyiv and omicron to involve them in topical conversation.’ 

Research commissioned by car maker Hyundai found adults also struggle with other words including their own brand name.

Also in the top ten are tenterhooks and cache, which many people mangle into ‘tenderhooks’ and ‘cash-ay’.

The study, commissioned by car maker Hyundai, lists 25 words in all, also including parliament, foyer, Arctic, mange tout and February.

The survey of 2,000 adults found quinoa is the word we struggle with the most, often pronouncing the foodstuff ‘ki-no-ah’ instead of ‘keen-wah’.

Next comes probably, which regularly ends up as ‘probly’ instead of ‘prob-buh-blee’, followed by espresso, frequently rendered as ‘ex-spres-so’.

Also in the top ten are tenterhooks and cache, which many people mangle into ‘tenderhooks’ and ‘cash-ay’.

 The study lists 25 words in all, also including parliament, foyer, Arctic, mange tout and February.

It will doubtless remind readers of Ronnie Barker’s classic ‘Loyal Society for the Relief of Suffers from Pismronunciation’ sketch on The Two Ronnies TV show.

But unlike members of the comically created support group for ‘people who can’t say their worms correctly’, at least today’s sufferers have the internet to turn to for help.

Nearly half (47 per cent) of those surveyed admitted to ‘Googling’ to check the correct pronunciation of a word, according to the research.

Two increasingly used tech words, GIF, an abbreviation of a type of computer file used for images, meme, meaning a humorous image widely shared on the internet, made the top ten, with GIF often being mispronounced ‘JIF’ and meme ‘meh-meh’.

The study also found that where you live may impact your ability to say certain words correctly. ‘Probably’ was a particular problem in the North East, ‘zoology’ in the North West, and ‘Arctic’ in Wales.

Meanwhile, nearly half (49 per cent) of Londoners often use words or phrases they don’t understand or know the definition of in conversation, the survey says.

Londoners were also found to be the most likely to correct someone if they know they are pronouncing a word incorrectly, with 49 per cent of them saying they do that.

More than four out of ten (44 per cent) in the North West said they knew the correct way to say words – but chose not to.

The study coincides with Hyundai’s change from the anglicised pronunciation of its name – ‘Hy-un-dai’ – to the South Korean pronunciation ’Hyun-day’.

A separate study commissioned by Slotbox found the hardest words to say are the Irish names Aoife (correctly pronounced ‘Ee-fa’) and Saoirse (correctly pronounced ‘Sursha’)

These are the top 25 words which Britons mispronounce, followed by the incorrect and then the correct way of saying them (all according to the research commissioned by Hyundai): 

 1. quinoa, ki-no-ah, keen-wah

2. probably, probly, pro-buh-blee

3. espresso, ex-spres-so, e-spres-so

4. affidavit, affidavid, a-fuh-day-vit

5. GIF, JIF, GIF

6. meme, meh-meh, meem

7. tenterhooks, tenderhooks, ten-ter-hooks

8. cache, cash-ay, cash

9. coup de grace, coo-de-grah, coo-de-grass

10. zoology, zu-ol-oh-gee, zoo-o-luh-jee

11. parliament, parlament, par-la-ment

12. foyer, foy-er, foy-ay

13. mischievous, mis-chee-vee-ous, mis-chuh-vous

14. Antarctic, Ant-ar-tic, An-tarc-tic

15. Arctic, Ar-tic, Arc-tic

16. library, lie-berry, lie-bruh-ree

17. mange tout, manj-eh-towt, manj-two

18. February, Feb-er-erry, Feb-u-ary

19. jewellery, joo-luh-ree, jool-ree

20. sherbet, sher-bert, sher-bet

21. prescription, perscription, pr-scrip-tion

22. almond, aal-mund, aah-mund

23. moot, mute, moot

24. coupe, c-oo-p, coo-pay

25. triathlon, tri-ath-a-lon, trai-ath-lon

Source: Daily Mail UK

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