Be Careful How You Say It

“Worsh,” “git,” “pore,” “crick.” Are those familiar words? Some of the words may be familiar, but not the meanings I ascribed to them in my youth. I grew up in rural Southern Indiana and our pronunciations probably contributed to our “hick” image. When I left home I soon learned the error of my ways.  Now I (usually!) say “wash,” “get,” “poor,” and “creek.”

As speakers we want to speak good general American English to maintain credibility and not be distracting because of poor pronunciation and certainly not poor grammar. Probably even more important is to make sure we are spelling proper nouns of key names within the context of the organization we are speaking to.

Even the name of the city in which you are speaking could be a challenge. Is it “Vur-SI” or “Vur-SAILS” Kentucky? You want to make sure, if you are speaking in Kentucky, to say “Vur-SAILS” and not the pronunciation of Versailles,France.  If there is an unusual spelling of a person’s name or organization that you may mention in your speech, ask someone who is in the organization the correct pronunciation.

An extreme example of this concept is recorded in the Old Testament book of Judges. The Ephraimites, after they were routed by the Gileadite army, tried to retreat by sneaking across a ford of the Jordan River that was held by their enemy. Finding out about this, the Gileadites asked every soldier who tried to cross if he was an Ephraimite.

When the soldier said “no,” he was asked to say “shibboleth” which means “stream” in Hebrew. Gileadites pronounced the word “shibboleteh,” but Ephramites said “sibboleth.”  Anyone who left out the initial “sh” was killed.

I would hasten to say that there is no such danger by mispronouncing a name or using poor grammar today. You are, however, more likely to command the respect and attention of an audience when you have command of the words you speak.


Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *