Feb 4, 2013

Posted by in Question | 8 Comments

Question – What Do You Do When You Come Across A Word You Can’t Pronounce?


Last week I asked about what you do when you come across a word you don’t know while reading and I mentioned that I tend to guess what it means and skip it more often than not.  Really, coming across a word I don’t know doesn’t affect me.  But words I can’t pronounce is another story.

Names of cities or buildings, if I can’t pronounce them, I don’t dwell.  I just do my best and move along.  Most likely I won’t be reading that word again and if I do, it won’t be that many more times over the course of the story.  So I figure why let it bother me?  But character names…that’s different.  These are words I will be reading over and over and over and coming across an accent I am not familiar with or a few letters in a row that I have never seen before frustrates me.  It’s not that I’m upset that the author has chosen to use such a name but I’m upset that I can’t get it right!  My frustration is all on ME!

Then there are some names that are a little on the unique side but I can fudge the pronunciation and still be cool with it.  Don’t know why these names don’t bother me where others do but *shrugs*.  I’m an odd bird.  What can you do?

One of Kevin Hearne’s main characters in his Iron Druid Chronicles series is a perfect example of that.  Granuaile.  The name totally suits the character, I can’t picture her with any other name, but I just can’t say it!  Kevin even provides a pronunciation guide in his book and I STILL can’t get it right!  But I’m okay with that because my way of saying it rolls well off my brain so I’m not hiccuped while reading.

The names or words that bother me most are the ones that stick in my brain and I just can’t seem to get it to be smooth while reading.

What do I do when I come across a word that makes me go O-o?  I try saying it out loud syllable by syllable.  Then I say it faster and faster.  If even by then I can’t seem to say it the same way twice, I make up my own word or try to skip it entirely while reading.  Not the easiest thing to do but sometimes it’s worth skipping just to avoid unnecessary frustration.  And the last thing I want to be while reading is frustrated at the words an author chose to use as opposed to getting emotional over the story.  Like I’m suppose to while reading.

So…  What do you do when you come across a word you can’t pronounce?

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  1. I’m with you right up until you get to the pronunciation of character names, but that’s where we disagree. Names are so important that I’ve even tracked authors down to get the straight dope on pronunciation. (Went NUTS trying to decide on whether it was “Ak-er-on” or “Atch-e-ron!”) If I can find a correct pronunciation by searching the Internet, I’ll let the author slide. But I hate-Hate-HATE it if I have to keep guessing throughout a whole book how to read the character’s name. Since I enjoy PNR stories that often involve Gaelic names, I’m very grateful that I found pronunciation cites.

    And don’t get me started on authors who give characters—or locations—annoyingly similar names! For Pete/Piet/Peet’s sake!

    I don’t mind difficult names, but I beg authors to take pity on folks like me who want to know how to say (or “think”) them. And some authors do take care of that, thank goodness. They cover it stealthily in the dialog. I love them for it.

    Just like with actual people, names have rhythm and music. I feel the need to know the score.

  2. Northwoman says:

    I just sound it out. My mom was a remedial reading teacher and very into phonics. So I was schooled early and often on that. I figure the way I sound it out is close enough. If it is a name, I don’t worry at all if I’ve sounded it out correctly or not.

  3. Sure, phonics are great. Most of the time.

    But how do you sound out “Éibhear,” the blue dragon from G. A. Aiken’s How to Drive a Dragon Crazy? Or the word “sídhe” that pops up in so many PNR stories?

    And then there are names with multiple pronunciations, like “Lucia.” I want to know if the author was thinking loo-see-a or loo-sha. Eventually I make peace with it while I’m reading, but I much prefer to know what the author intended.

  4. I get frustrated as well if I don’t know how to pronounce a name. I like when the authors give you clues or other spellings to help you get it. For years I called Hermione Granger… Her-me-on. Until the movies came out and then I had a slap the forehead moment.

  5. Barbara Elness says:

    First I try to pronounce it slowly, syllable by syllable, and if that doesn’t work I just find something that I’m comfortable with and go with it. After a while it’s not worth the hassle and takes me out of the story, so I just make up a way to pronounce it that works for me and move on.

  6. Interesting question Julie. English not being my mother tongue I think sometimes I’m even at a disadvantage not knowing how cities/names are pronounced “correctly”, but I always give them a pronunciation, I don’t let it bother me. However, at times when I learn that the author or some other readers pronounce the characters’ names a certain way and I don’t like it, I stick to my own. (Barbara, to this day I much prefer to call Hermione Her-mee-on, it sounds more elegant to me.)

    And another problem: when the character’s name makes me picture him/her a certain way: for example there is Elena in Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, her name is Spanish sounding and she is feisty, so I pictured her a brunette with sparkling deep dark brown eyes and olive skin, then after some time I saw/read that she was indeed intended to be a pale blond woman. Needless to say I have a schizophrenic relationship with her now: at times I see her as the beautiful brunette until I remember she is intended to look like a Swedish model. But then, why wasn’t she called something more Nordic-sounding? 🙁

  7. That is so funny you mentioned that character’s name and that you just created saying it your own way.
    In one of my favourite books, there is a character (whom I hate) and her name in Gaelic is ” Laoghaire”. I just called her “Leg Hair” the entire book. Until I heard that the real way to say her name sounds like “Leary” and that is what I call her now but it is much more fun to make a name that matches the character.

  8. Mzcue – I was confused with Acheron too! But then it’s explained in his book so I was okay lol. And you are so right about the multiple pronunciation names.

    Northwoman – Just like me 🙂

    MamaMoon – Yes. Thank goodness for that movie lol

    Barbara – That is exactly my view too. 🙂

    Stella – I love how sometimes you stick with your way anyway. And you are right about picturing characters based on their names. I think that may make a good Question one day… 😉

    Michelle – Leg hair! LOL Awesome.

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