Outwitted by Words #3


Ever had it happen that you see a word and it fixes itself immediately in your head as being pronounced a particular way? It’s always slightly offensive when you hear someone else say it differently, isn’t it? Scone is such a word. Inveigle, nous and irreparable as well. The thing with these words is, no matter how they’re said, they’re still at least meaningful.

The other day, I was so completely outwitted by a word that I couldn’t even fathom what it meant. It was written in a legal context (the description of a high profile court case on a news website), so my first thought was that perhaps it was some technical or archaic word whose meaning I couldn’t possibly know unless I had a masters in Law.

I looked it up and the definition was, “a trial rendered invalid through an error in the proceedings.” This might have been very useful except that, in order to make my misunderstanding of the word reasonable, my brain assumed this definition was missing the salient piece of information: the actual error. It was the only possible explanation. I set the matter to one side, having more pressing matters to deal with, like finding my son’s one missing school shoe and trying to remember when I last saw my car key.

About a week later, whilst discussing the infamous court case with friends, I mentioned this word, to which every media outlet had been referring all week, and to which I was still completely benighted as to the meaning, and asked what they thought it meant. They looked at me as though I had farted and asked me to repeat myself. I duly did. They duly laughed until tears ran down their faces and expressed dire concerns as to the quality of my upcoming novel, if this was indicative of my understanding of the English language.

Turns out, the word I couldn’t fathom was mistrial. Scarcely a simpler root-and-prefix pair has there ever been, but I didn’t read it as mis-tr-igh-al. I read it as mis-tr-ee-al and upon doing so, fixed in my mind the image of a mystical, ethereal entity wholly unconnected with litigation – and that was how the word remained in my mind, no matter how many times I read it, nor in what context, until it was mercilessly scoffed out of me by my consummately tactful friends. Ah, what it is to be comprehensively #outwitted by words.


  1. My mother still laughs her socks off – and brings up at every opportunity, even 25 years after the event – that I once mispronounced the band name ‘Jamiroquai’.
    Having never heard of them before, I thought it was quite reasonable that ‘quai’ might be pronounced like the word ‘quay’ and so I read loudly from the TV guide that Jammy-rocky were going to be on Top Of The Pops…

    There is nothing that makes me cringe harder than when I mispronounce a word and others laugh. I feel every hair on my head prickle with embarrassment. I’d rather have spinach stuck in my teeth.

    On the other hand, mis-hearing and repeating incorrect song lyrics is always hilarious. As a kid, one of my favourites to sing along to was Madonna’s ‘Poppadom Beach’…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Poppadom beach! 😂 What’s even worse than pronouncing something wrong is correcting someone else for pronouncing something incorrectly, then realising *you’re* wrong! 😳 (Guilty!)


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