Did you know that your brain gives sound to the words you read? Meaning is tied both to the phonemic (spoken, or heard) representation of a word, and to the visual representation, and you process both in parallel. Any time you read, the part of the brain that is used for speech is stimulated as well as the part that is used for reading.
That means that when you learn a new word in written form, you also learn a pronunciation for it. The pronunciation may be completely wrong, and almost everyone has one or two words that they pronounce wrong "in their heads", even if they have learned to say them correctly. Sometimes when you hear a word pronounced for the first time, you don't realize it's a word you already know how to write, and you keep them as two separate words for a while.
When my father was young, he thought there was a word "mizzled." In fact he was mizzled into thinking it was a separate word from "misled."
I've asked my friends if they have any of these words, and the most common one seems to be "epitome." Many people think there is a separate word "epitomy" for years before they put the pronunciation and the writing together.
Since I posted this page, many more people have provided words that misled (or mizzled, or in one case MYzled) them. Here is the list so far, with the incorrect pronunciation in brackets where I know it:
Amelia wrote with the following interesting MYzled story:
"Our family has used the word "MYzled" ever since a precocious young child for whom we babysat 30 years ago pronounced it that way. In our family, being "misled" is an ingenuous and even benign state of affairs, often resulting from your own general confusion. But MYzled is when you've been deliberately duped as part of someone's treacherous and duplicitous scheme. You can be misled by bad directions into making the wrong turn on your way to a birthday party, but your lying no-good boyfriend myzled you into thinking there was nothing wrong with the relationship when, in fact, he was engaged to another woman. It's a useful distinction, often because you often start out thinking you were misled, and then, suddenly, the horrible situation escalates into the realization that, oh my god, you've been MYzled!"
Thanks all! If you have any words to add to the list, please write to Ann.
And if you're a writer introducing a word that you think will be new to your readers, give a pronunciation for it if you can. Often the easiest way of doing so is to provide a rhyming word.
There are also words that we mis-hear, rather than mis-read. I thought for a while there was a word "botato" and didn't realize until I started to read that in fact it started with a "p".
A reader of this page, Lachlan, tells me that when he was younger than 10, he thought there was a word "familyer" (like one’s family). Then he saw it written as "familiar" and the mistake was clear – except that it took several years to fall out of the habit of pronouncing it as "family-er!"
Janie thought until third grade there was a word "incrediculous" (with the accent on the third syllable, of course), until one day she saw it "misspelled" as "incredulous." It took her a while to figure out that she was wrong and not the book.
Another reader supplied a couple more of those mis-heard words:
And here's another really cute example of what children say:
My daughter, at age four, noticed a hitchhiker while we were driving on the highway one day, and commented, "Mommy, we just passed a thumbtacker!"
How often misused words generate misleading thoughts.
Page maintained by Ann.