Chapter 10. Pronunciation Guide

Pronunciation keys are provided in the jargon listings for all entries that are neither dictionary words pronounced as in standard English nor obvious compounds thereof. Slashes bracket phonetic pronunciations, which are to be interpreted using the following conventions:

Syllables are hyphen-separated, except that an accent or back-accent follows each accented syllable (the back-accent marks a secondary accent in some words of four or more syllables). If no accent is given, the word is pronounced with equal accentuation on all syllables (this is common for abbreviations).

Consonants are pronounced as in American English. The letter ‘g’ is always hard (as in “got” rather than “giant”); ‘ch’ is soft (“church” rather than “chemist”). The letter ‘j’ is the sound that occurs twice in “judge”. The letter ‘s’ is always as in “pass”, never a z sound. The digraph ‘kh’ is the guttural of “loch” or “l'chaim”. The digraph ‘gh’ is the aspirated g+h of “bughouse” or “ragheap” (rare in English).

Uppercase letters are pronounced as their English letter names; thus (for example) /H-L-L/ is equivalent to /aych el el/. /Z/ may be pronounced /zee/ or /zed/ depending on your local dialect.

Vowels are represented as follows:

Table 10.1. Vowels

a back, that
ah father, palm (see note)
ar far, mark
aw flaw, caught
ay bake, rain
e less, men
ee easy, ski
eirtheir, software
i trip, hit
i: life, sky
o block, stock (see note)
oh flow, sew
oo loot, through
or more, door
ow out, how
oy boy, coin
uh but, some
u put, foot
y yet, young
yoofew, chew
[y]oo/oo/ with optional fronting as in ‘news’ (/nooz/ or /nyooz/)

The glyph /@/ is used for the ‘schwa’ sound of unstressed or occluded vowels.

The schwa vowel is omitted in syllables containing vocalic r, l, m or n; that is, ‘kitten’ and ‘color’ would be rendered /kit'n/ and /kuhl'r/, not /kit'@n/ and /kuhl'@r/.

Note that the above table reflects mainly distinctions found in standard American English (that is, the neutral dialect spoken by TV network announcers and typical of educated speech in the Upper Midwest, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Philadelphia). However, we separate /o/ from /ah/, which tend to merge in standard American. This may help readers accustomed to accents resembling British Received Pronunciation.

The intent of this scheme is to permit as many readers as possible to map the pronunciations into their local dialect by ignoring some subset of the distinctions we make. Speakers of British RP, for example, can smash terminal /r/ and all unstressed vowels. Speakers of many varieties of southern American will automatically map /o/ to /aw/; and so forth. (Standard American makes a good reference dialect for this purpose because it has crisp consonants and more vowel distinctions than other major dialects, and tends to retain distinctions between unstressed vowels. It also happens to be what your editor speaks.)

Entries with a pronunciation of ‘//’ are written-only usages. (No, Unix weenies, this does not mean ‘pronounce like previous pronunciation’!)