Merriam-Webster’s word-of-the-year list reminded us of a common question: how do you pronounce niche?
"Nitch" or "neesh"? That common pronunciation question may have landed niche on Merriam-Webster's 2013 word-of-the-year list, which is based on how often people look up words on the Merriam-Webster site. The lookups for niche were 140 percent higher in 2013 than in 2012.
“The spike in lookups may well be entirely related to the pronunciation of the word. Is it ‘nitch’ or ‘neesh’ or ‘nish’?” said Kory Stamper, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster who monitors lookup statistics on Merriam-Webster.com. She also noted that the spike in niche lookups could be tied to a viral Web video by Mental Floss about common mispronunciations.
What Do Dictionaries Recommend: "Nitch," Neesh," or "Nish"?
Stick with "nitch."
Is there a correct way to pronounce niche? Some dictionaries, such as Dictionary.com, list only one pronunciation: “nitch,” with no variants.
On the other hand, Pronunciation Hub has a YouTube video where the only pronunciation they share is “neesh.”
The American Heritage Dictionary (4th Edition) lists two pronunciations: "nitch" and "neesh."
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary lists several pronunciations for niche: "nitch," "neesh," and "nish."
Why Do Dictionaries Differ?
Why do some dictionaries list only one pronunciation while others, such as Merriam-Webster, include more than one? It depends. It could be because, as Grammar Girl wrote in a previous episode, there are two types of dictionaries: prescriptive and descriptive. She wrote that most modern dictionaries are descriptive, meaning they attempt to describe the language as it’s used. Merriam-Webster is one such dictionary and addresses the reason for the inclusion of pronunciation variants on its Pronunciation Overview page:
“This dictionary attempts to include—either explicitly or by implication—all pronunciation variants of a word that are used by educated speakers of the English language.”
How to Pronounce "Niche"
There you have it. There are several ways to pronounce niche, and what you use seems to depend on which dictionary you consult and its pronunciation recommendations. In the case of Merriam-Webster’s entry, the first pronunciation—"nitch"—seems to be the most widely accepted form and the variants follow.
We recommend you stick with "nitch."
2013 Merriam-Webster Words of the Year
And in case you're wondering, science topped the word-of-the-year list. Here's the entire list.
How Words Get Into the Dictionary https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/how-do-words-get-in-the-dictionary
How to Pronounce “The” https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/how-pronounce
[Note: As some readers have pointed out, this article takes an American perspective. "Neesh" seems to be the dominant pronunciation in British English.]