How to Pronounce ‘Biopic’

If you pronounce biopic as "BI-opic," you've made a mistake called a misle.

Neal Whitman, Writing for
4-minute read
Episode #543


What Is a Misle?

Today I want to talk about misles, and one misle in particular. 

What’s a misle, you ask? It’s a mispronunciation of a word based on its spelling. It gets its name from the past tense of the verb mislead. The word misLED can be misREAD as /ˈmaɪzəld/. People who read it this way might go for years before they realize that misle-d and mis-led are the same word—the same way that it took me to realize that Tuck-son and Tucson, Arizona were the same place. Other misles include infrare-d for infrared, and warp-lanes for warplanes.

Why Some People Say 'BI-opic' and Others Say 'BIO-pic'

However, the misle that I want to talk about today is a word for a movie based on the life of a real person, such as Amadeus, The Imitation Game, or The Theory of Everything. The word was coined in the 1940s by shortening the words biographical and picture to bio and pic, and then forming a compound word out of these clipped forms: bio-pic. The misle for BIopic is biOPic. This misle is particularly strong, because when we see -ic at the end of a word, it’s usually a suffix. The temptation to put the stress on the op syllable is even stronger in BIopic because so many other words end not just in –ic but in –opic, such as topic, tropic, and myopic. Many of them are medical and scientific words that contain the root scope, such as telescopic, microscopic, and arthroscopic. Even though –opic isn’t a suffix in any of these words, it’s still easy to notice a pattern. It doesn’t help that people don’t call movies pictures or pics anymore. They call them movies or films. 

So there’s plenty of reason to assume that BIopic is pronounced biOPic. Usually, when people learn the word’s etymology, they quickly revise their pronunciation. Sometimes they’re embarrassed by their earlier pronunciation.


About the Author

Neal Whitman, Writing for Grammar Girl

Neal Whitman PhD is an independent writer and consultant specializing in language and grammar and a member of the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, school board. You can find him at literalminded.wordpress.com.