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Get to the Point!

Five Words You’re Probably Saying Wrong

By Theda C. Snyder

Incorrect pronunciation can signal there’s something not quite right about the speaker. The speaker means to sound impressive, but incorrect pronunciation is a sure way to undercut a message. Generally, only your mother will correct you, so you could be embarrassing yourself unknowingly.

A rich vocabulary allows you to communicate precisely and efficiently. Here are five words that pack a lot of meaning, so long as you say them correctly.

1. Desultory. When settlement discussions jump back and forth among issues, you might characterize the negotiations as desultory, putting the accent on the first syllable, not the second. The accented, or stressed, syllable is the one said slightly more loudly than the others. The derivation of the word is “leap” and means random or occurring haphazardly.

2. Formidable. Similarly, when your opposing counsel is known as hard-to-beat, you might characterize that attorney as formidable, with the accent on the first syllable, not the second.

3. Detritus. Fragments left behind after destruction are “dih-try-tus.” Accent the second syllable pronouncing the “i” as its name, a long vowel. Employees who lose their jobs after a merger might metaphorically be called the detritus of the transaction.

4. Spurious. False allegations have nothing to do with a cowboy’s boots. Such allegations may be spurious, but, unlike that little metal wheel, the first syllable is pronounced “spyoor.”

5. Forte. The correct pronunciation for one’s strong suit or special talent is “fort.” This word is said incorrectly so frequently that the incorrect pronunciation (for-tay) now appears in dictionaries. Remember, dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive. The late comedian George Carlin explained in Brain Droppings that when the Italian word forte, pronounced “for-tay,” is used in a music score, it directs the musician to play loudly. Because dictionaries now include the Italian as an alternate, secondary pronunciation for this English word is not a license for a language expert like you to use it.

Practice. It might feel strange to pronounce these words correctly if you’ve been saying them wrong for years. Practice a few times during your morning toilette, and pretty soon you’ll be known for your facile use of an impressive vocabulary.

Illustration ©

Categories: Communications Skills, Daily Dispatch, Get to the Point
Originally published January 18, 2016
Last updated April 26, 2018
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Teddy Snyder Theda C. Snyder

Theda “Teddy” Snyder mediates civil disputes, workers’ compensation and insurance coverage cases, including COVID-19 related coverage disputes, in person or by video. Teddy has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She was a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and is the author of four ABA books, including “Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips, 4th Edition” as well as “Personal Injury Case Evaluation” available on Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at and on Twitter @SnyderMediation.

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