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DominicX's avatar

Is there any reason why "poinsettia" became mispronounced?

Asked by DominicX (28777points) September 11th, 2010

This is a mispronounced word in English that I’ve never understood. Where do people get the idea that you can omit the letter “i” in this word? “Poinsettia” is often pronounced “poinsetta” or “pointsetta” and I even see it spelled that way sometimes. (The dictionary considers “poinsetta” a valid alternative pronunciation of the word).

But my question is: where does this come from? It’s a very unusual mispronunciation and there is no word I can think of in this language that is mispronounced in a similar way.

Are there any other words like this?

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16 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

February; lieutenant, colonel, nuclear (in some cases), and dhoti.

DominicX's avatar


I’ve never even heard of that last one. :)

I think “Februrary” is a good comparison because the letter “r” is just omitted altogether. But it stills makes more sense to me than “poinsettia”. “February” with all the letters pronounced is somewhat hard to say. But pronouncing “poinsettia” like “poin-seht-ee-uh” does not seem difficult or “tongue-twisting” in any way. It just doesn’t make sense why it would arise as a mispronounced word. It seems really unlikely to.

Jeruba's avatar

@DominicX, I don’t know your answer, but I do know that mispronunciations seem to be both more contagious and more tenacious than correct ones. No amount of pointed modeling seems to make a dent in the awareness of a person who is committed to an incorrect delivery. I’m sure they just think we’re saying it wrong when we utter it carefully in front of them, with a cautious but distinct emphasis on the problem syllable.

While you’re asking, ask why so many feel they must spell this word “pointsettia.” In the classic botanical way, it’s just named after Mr. Poinsett, as plumeria is named after Mr. Plumier (and that might be a similar example, from plumiera to plumeria), forsythia after Mr. Forsyth, and wisteria (or wistaria) after Mr. Wister (or Mr. Wistar).

muppetish's avatar

People pronounce poinsettia “poinsetta”? That’s a new one to me.

The ones I hear mispronounced often are February (Feb-u-airy), library (Lie-berry) and familiar (“ferm”-iliar instead of “fuh”-miliar.)

EDIT: my younger brother wishes to point out that nearly every reality show contest pronounces “immunity” as “ammunity” and it aggravates him.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

How is it meant to be pronounced?

Aster's avatar

HANDKERCHIEF – Far as I know, the “d” was always silent.

DominicX's avatar

The dictionary considers it not to be, but clearly, that was not the original pronunciation. My question is why did that alternate pronunciation arise since it’s so unusual and there nothing else in English pronounced that way?

morphail's avatar

@DominicX I don’t know why exactly, but itʼs not the only word in English pronounced that way. For instance, “acacia” and “ambrosia” and probably other words can be pronounced with or without the “ee” sound before the final vowel.

the100thmonkey's avatar

@DominicX: From where do you derive the hypothesis that this one episode of (mis)pronunciation is “very” unusual?

Why do we pronounce tsunami and psychology without the leading consonants?

I’d suggest that the mispronunciation is due to a phoneme grouping that isn’t common in English outside of loan words and coinages (poinsettia is a coinage).

When it comes to language, it is better to leave your preconceptions at the door.

DominicX's avatar


See, I see a difference with “acacia” and “ambrosia” because with those words, the “I” is not pronounced, but the “s” and “c” are pronounced differently as “zh” and “sh” respectively. Asa vs. Asia. The “I” is omitted, but it causes the “s” to change sound, a common phenomenon in English. But with “poinsettia”, the “t” hasn’t changed. Why don’t we say “wistera” or “palmera”? That’s why I focus on “poinsetta”.


It’s true that “ps” and “ts” at the beginning of words is not common in English; they come from loan words and they are omitted from the pronunciation.

I suppose the only way to make a good comparison would be to find another English word that ends in “ttia” and see if the “i” is omitted.

the100thmonkey's avatar

@DominicX – that’s my point. I doubt that there are many words in English that are spelt that way.

Your application of the rules of English phonology is correct, but as has been demonstrated, the rules of English phonology are not the be all and end all of English phonology.

@Jeruba: research among language learners has shown that recasting (“silently” correcting an error; i.e. correcting an error in a non-explicit way) doesn’t work – the subjects don’t recognise that they’re being corrected. Indeed, repeating an interlocutor’s words is a very common comprehension/conversation strategy.

I suspect this is even more the case with people who aren’t used to being corrected. even pointed modelling may miss the mark.

gailcalled's avatar

@DominicX: Sorry. I meant “ghoti,” which is the jokey way of spelling “fish.”

gh, /f/ as in laugh,
o, /ɪ/ as in women,
ti, /ʃ/ as in nation,

MarthaStewart's avatar

Pimiento, which is often misspelled by Americans as “pimento”

lillycoyote's avatar

This is the best I could do. The author explains that the problem may be “English-speaking people trying to say a French word with a Latin ending. The majority of people will pronounce it as though it does not have the letter “i” at the end—POYN-set-ah. The majority may not be right, but they often rule.” I can’t vouch for this one, but it’s something. There may also be regional differences in pronunciation.

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