Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Nucular deterrence

NO!!! That’s not how you pronounce it!

This word has been in common use for decades. I’ve never once seen it misspelled. But so very many people mispronounce it, and always in the same way.

Look at the word:


First, where exactly are you getting this magical extra syllable hidden between the C and the L? Second, what’s the rationale for the sound you’re putting at the end? But no, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s begin at the beginning.

Happily, everyone seems to get that the first bit goes ‘new’. That’s an excellent start, and we can build on that. Having got this part banked, we can look at the rest of the word:


Read that again. See if you can think of a very common word that might contain that string of letters. Perhaps a five-letter word. Got one? Excellent. Try to hold in your mind how it sounds.

Now say them together: New. Clear. Now faster: new-clear. Good.

Easy, isn’t it? So why the common mistake? All I can think is that maybe ‘nuclear’ doesn’t feel like a proper adjective in the way that, say, ‘molecular’ (of or pertaining to molecules) does. Perhaps. But what, then, what the hell is a ‘nucule’???

Nuclear: of or pertaining to the nucleus of an atom. (I could understand people wanting to pronounce it ‘new-clee-ar’, but nobody ever does.)

Phew. Sorry. Rant over. Just as long as we’re clear about that. Are youcular?


jams o donnell said...

I better not talk about foilage then!

Actually it gets on my nerves too.

Chris G said...

I'll tell you what drives me mad - "Aluminum".

Americans don't have Helum, Sodum, Titanum or Potassum. They don't watch "football" games in a stadum or work out in a gymnasum. Do they keep their fish in an aquarum?

God only knows what they make of the old limerick about the man from Leeds, who swallowed some seeds, then had a geranum grow out of his cranum (his eyebrows were covered in weeds).

Tom Freeman said...

This could be a right old can of worms I've opened here...

People who say "ec cetera". People who write "could of" and "should of". People who use "disinterested" to mean bored (rather than impartial).

Come on. Let loose the verbal bugbears!

alvin.lucier said...

I was once told that Dwight Eisenhower had been unable to pronounce Nuclear, despite weeks of training from his aides, and eventually his misspronunciation became common usage in the 50s.