Nuculear Science


I just looked up the pronunciation of quixotic.



I used to know someone who would use “q as in quixotic” when they had to spell something out over the phone using a phonetic alphabet. Not quite as bad as, say, “x as in xylophone”, but it still made me cringe.


Don Quijote is also the name of a Japanese department store not far from me.
In case you’re curious:
I have no idea how they pronounce it in Japan. Here everyone I know pronounces it “Holiday Mart,” which was the name of the store that was there before Don Quijote bought them.


I’ve seen dictionaries that offer both pronunciation options, kwicks-otic and keehotic. (No, I am not going to bother with finding an IPA font.)

Despite knowing the root of the word, I’m with Ambrose Bierce in thinking that kwicks-otic better catches the feel of its meaning, at least to American ears.


Or when they’ve never been taught, they’ve only seen the word while reading on their own.

There are a lot of self-taught, highly intelligent people who come from difficult circumstances. In the U.S., we’ve gotten used to people who are proud of being ignorant, which is an entirely different thing. You can usually tell from other clues whether the person is interested in learning about the world around them, or doesn’t care.


For the longest time, well into my adult years, I thought awry was pronounced something like ah-ree. It’s not a word I’ve ever heard spoken much, but eventually I heard it and noticed that this ah-rye word seems to embody the same concept as awry. Hmmmm…


Not pronunciation, but for years I thought “prima donna” was “pre-Madonna”.


“Do-Nu Ki-ho-te”?
(“U” sound in nu practically silent but ennunciated)

Japanese doesn’t have consonant blends or syllables which end on a consonant. So there is a lot of whispered “u” sounds at the end of words taken from European languages.

Pain in the ass language. My wife has been urging me to take lessons so I can converse with my in-laws. But my response has always been, that I get along great with them precisely because I can’t communicate with them in a meaningful fashion.


Nucleus (as in, “The nucleus of an atom”) means the central part of something; it’s the Latin word for “kernel.” In Latin, you pronounce it “noo-klee-us,” so everyone who pronounces it “noo-kya-lus” is a moron.

But wait…

Forte (as in, “That’s not my forte”) means a strong point; it’s the French word for “strong point” (of a blade). In French, you pronounce it “fort,” so everyone who pronounces it “for-tay” is… well… we can’t all be morons, right?

“Nucular,” makes me gnash my teeth, and is totally wrong; but I try to remember:

  • linguistic drift is inexorable; and
  • English orthography is an absolute shit show.


I actually do pronounce it “fort”, I read dictionaries and encyclopedias as a kid.


Ha! Prescriptive or descriptive dictionaries?


Pretty sure prescriptive, since the pronunciation guides would always say it’s pronounced “fort”. A descriptive dictionary would mirror the vernacular, right?


Right, descriptivists would list the different pronunciations, in order of popularity. So today, they’d say “forte, n. (for-tay, fort)”. Of course “fort” was once the only pronunciation, so it could be they were just really old dictionaries?


The main one was my mom’s old college dictionary, which was printed in the mid 1970s.


An admittedly shoddy internet search says the new pronunciation started in “the 18th century” so I guess that’s out.


English orthography has nothing to do with pronunciation, and everything to do with history.

Or, as i originally heard it “English spelling is a guide to history, not pronunciation.”


The full Oxford English is a wonder to behold.



Did you think prima donna was pre-Madonna pre-Madonna, or only post-Madonna?[quote=“Mangochin, post:28, topic:77494”]
“Do-Nu Ki-ho-te”?(“U” sound in nu practically silent but ennunciated)
It is certainly possible. Or, it could be something very different. (Apparently most people actually call the store by the diminutive “Don-Ki”.)[quote=“Vert, post:29, topic:77494”]
Forte (as in, “That’s not my forte”) means a strong point; it’s the French word for “strong point” (of a blade). In French, you pronounce it “fort,” so everyone who pronounces it “for-tay” is… well… we can’t all be morons, right?[/quote]
Well, they could be Italian, where it is pronounced this way.

There are hundreds of place names in the US with a French origin. I doubt more than a handful are given the actual French pronunciation, though many are probably proper Québécoise.


Probably thousands, and a lot of those are actually the French version of the local Native tribe’s name for the place.

Signed, someone who lives in Illinois, pronounced ill-a-noy.