10 Words Whose Pronunciation Has Changed Over Time

As languages change, so do pronunciations. This list from our friends at Vocabulary.com contains ten words that have gone through relatively recent shifts in pronunciation or whose spelling is a mystery unless one knows a bit about the history of how they were pronounced.

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  1. ration
    a fixed portion that is allotted (especially in times of scarcity)
    This was at one time pronounced to rhyme with nation, but sometime after World War I, the current pronunciation, which rhymes with fashion, began to predominate.

  2. trough
    a long narrow shallow receptacle
    As you can probably guess by the spelling, trough once was pronounced with a hard "gh" sound, as in Scottish loch. In its modern pronunciation, the "gh" has been softened to an "f" sound, so it rhymes with other words this has happened to, like cough.


  3. atone
    turn away from sin or do penitence
    This one is notable because the second syllable of this word, the one that sounds like own, is how the numeral "one" used to be pronounced until the 14th century, when the one we know today, rhyming with done, began to take hold. It wouldn't completely displace the other pronunciation for a few hundred years, until around the 18th century.


  4. antique
    made in or typical of earlier times and valued for its age
    Originally this word rhymed with frantic because it was considered parallel to antic, a word of similar origin meaning "old and grotesque." The current pronunciation, rhyming with mystique is modeled on the French pronunciation and dates from the 18th century.


  5. quandary
    state of uncertainty or perplexity especially as requiring a choice between equally unfavorable options
    Originally the second syllable was stressed, roughly to rhyme with yon fairy. In modern pronunciation, it rhymes with laundry.


  6. algebra
    the mathematics of generalized arithmetical operations
    The word originally had stress on the second syllable, rhyming with gal Debra before the stress shifted to the first syllable.


  7. schedule
    an ordered list of times at which things are planned to occur
    Although originally pronounced like said you'll, in modern times there are two pronunciations. One, associated with Britain, is "SHED-yul" while the other, American, pronunciation is "SKED-yul." It is interesting to note that while Americans tend to associate anything British with being proper, it is the American pronunciation of this word that more closely imitates the original Greek root.


  8. humor
    the quality of being funny
    The word dates from the mid-14th century, but a pronunciation including the "h" is very recent, around the early 20th century.
  9. blush
    become rosy or reddish
    The vowel in blush was originally a short "oo" sound, roughly rhyming with koosh , before taking on its modern pronunciation, rhyming with plush.


  10. business
    the principal activity in your life that you do to earn money
    Until the 17th century, this word was pronounced with three syllables, so it rhymed with dizzyness, as opposed to the modern two-syllable pronunciation.

To learn about more words whose pronunciations have changed over time and to add them to your vocabulary-learning program, see the full list at Vocabulary.com.

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