Q: I thoroughly enjoy your recent segments on Australian pronunciation with Peta Credlin on her Foxtel program. One word I haven't heard you discus is the correct pronunciation of the second month of the year, "February". So many people, including many presenters on radio and television, completely omit the first "r" in the word, ending up with the ugly sounding "Feb-yu-ary". I cringe every time I hear this, as I do when I hear the equally horrible "nucular". Alan, Kurraba Point.
A: The answer is the usual "lazy mouth syndrome." Just like "library" the two "R" sounds together in the middle of February mean we need to take care in saying the word -- many people don't. As for those who use the US the pronunciation: I tell them that if they don't carry an American passport they are aren't allowed to speak like that!
Q : What is the correct pronunciation of Centrifugal: Cen-TRIF-ugal or Centri-FUGal? Perhaps a good one for your 2GB radio program. I use the first one. Ross, Croydon.
A: The Oxford English Dictionary says both pronunciations are correct but that cen-TRIF-ugal is far more common.
Q:  Why do you say "AT the weekend" but say "ON Monday etc". It was always "on the weekend" when I was younger.  Also, why have we changed the way we say words, eg worry has changed the "U" sound in the middle to an "O" sound as in a warrior,  magistrate is now magistrit, respite is resprit. Thanks for your segment, it is always so enjoyable and informative. Margaret, Beecroft.
A:  Both locutions are equally grammatically correct. But there are fads and fashions in spoken English as in everything else.  The "worry" pronunciation baffles me. I don't hear it much, but I assume the people doing it are semi-literate and trying to make the sound match the spelling.  Yes, those two changes (both shortening vowels) have puzzled me. I suspect it may be the influence of all those British crime shows (from "The Bill" to "Midsomer Murders") that so many have been watching for so long.
Q: I watch Peta Credlin most nights and particularly enjoy your participation. The late and former US Secretary of State always insisted on his Christian Name pronounced COLON. How on earth could one get that pronunciation out of COLIN ???? Ian, Renmark.
A: Back in those days I was at the ABC and a member of SCOSE (the ABC's "Standing Committee on Spoken English"). We sent the ABC Washington correspondent to speak to Colin Powell to find out about the pronunciation of his name. He told us that all his life he had called himself "Colin" -- but that the US media had pronounced his name "colon" (as if he was a body part). He said he had given up fighting it! How the America media could ever have come to use that pronunciation is something that those of us in the civilized world will never understand.
Q: I have noticed lately that TV commentators use the word 'anxiousness'. I thought the correct noun was anxiety. Please, what is correct? I must admit I am very disappointed with the incorrect grammar being used in the print media these days. Don't we have proof readers anymore? Janice, Victoria Point.
A: I would have made the same assumption as you -- that the correct word is "anxiety", so I looked it up. Unfortunately for us "anxiousness" is recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary as a real word -- that has been around since 1636! The people who should correct copy in newspapers are called "subs" (short for subeditor) -- and you are quite right, newspaper companies have been cutting back on "subs" as a money saving measure. And it shows.
Q: As for 'Don't date your Granny whilst she is shaving' in my mind, she is not a Granny, if so, she maybe a freak and you would not look much better!!! Food for thought. Campbell, Redlynch.
A: Thanks Campbell. Still looking for an explanation of that odd phrase...
Q: When politicians (or others) use the phrase 'protection racket' are they not misusing the phrase? A 'protection racket' surely, is when someone is threatened as a means of being paid off to remove the threat? The phrase misused is trying to say that the person accused of 'protection racket' is just protecting the subject of the discussion?? What would be a better phrase for what the politicians mean? Keen to hear your thoughts. Andrew, Dee Why.
A: What you say about the meaning of "protection racket" is quite correct. So if the phrase was being used, say, of Gladys Berejeklian keeping her relationship with Daryl McGuire secret to protect her private life, that may be wrong (in the event of a conflict of interests) but it is not "a protection racket." However, I need to listen more carefully to politicians using (or misusing) this phrase.
Q: A phrase that I have heard, and even seen in print, is, ‘one foul swoop’, instead of ‘one fell swoop’. Surely an eagle doesn’t pick up a rodent in a foul swoop? Mark, Newcastle.
A: Quite right. "Fell" means "wild". It's related to the word "feral" and the "fen country" in England. So the expression means "one wild swoop."
Q: 50 odd years ago when an apprentice, a line around the workplace was "never date your granny while she's shavin' " What's your interpretation of this? I was going to ring you last nite but but it might've been a bit risque ? Thanks Kel, Ben
A: I've never come across this before. Can any reader of this website suggest a meaning please?
Q: Dear Kel, Have been watching your segment on Peta's show with great interest. I would like you to consider the following two words that are constantly mispronounced by people on TV and radio and they really grate on me. The words are: Olympic (alympic) and eleven (aleven) it's so frustrating. The last Olympics I contacted ABC and other stations complaining (yet again) that they keep announcing it as alympic, these are my two pet hates. Glad you also listed my other one, aitch. I am constantly telling my 8yr old grandson that the word is aitch (I spell it for him everytime) not haitch (which he is taught at school!) Thank you for trying to teach the younger people how to pronounce words and not be so lazy. Regards, Lesley , Earlwood.
A: I understand you frustration, but according to the Oxford the opening vowel in both olympic and eleven is the very short "ah" sound (that linguists called the "schwa" sound), rather than a distinct "o" sound. Only in America is the "oh" pronunciation common.
Q:  I know we say keelo (kilo gram) but as far as weights and measures go, I pronounce kilometre as KILL-ometre opposed to keelo-metre. Is this correct?  Metres in distance between points and meters as measuring in counting is my understanding and having been taught. Cheers, love your work on Credlin. Campbell, Redlynch.
A:  Perfectly correct. The additional syllables change the pronunciation.  "Metre" came into English from French, while "meter" came from an old Germanic word -- but behind both is the ancient Greek word metron ("measure").
Q: What is the correct pronunciation of the word tour? I have always pronounced it as toor (as in door), but know a lot of people pronounce it as too-a. Robyn, Newcastle.
A: The Oxford tells me there are three standard pronunciations of "tour" (two British and one American) -- and they are only slightly different from each other. Yours is one of the approved pronunciations, but so is "too-ah" and so is another that is somewhere in between those two.
Q: Thanks Kel for your segment and your rich voice with impeccable articulation. My neighbour, is a retired school teacher, 80, and a wonderful wordsmith. She reminded me of “pre-emptive pauses” that I think people now call fillers, disfluencies, crutches etc. She told me the history of many of these “pre-emptive pauses” with mmm, ah, um, ah etc. She has kept a mental history through time of the new ones: but, and, yeah but/no but (from “Little Britain”, like, you know, and that, and so, so etc. I cannot find any entry that uses “pre-emptive pauses” and would like to know the correct current term. Raymond, Ormond.
A: "Pre-emptive pauses" is a new one on me. That's not an expression I've come across before, and I like it. However, perhaps we can improve on it -- because more than a silent pause is used. It's something more like a "pre-emptive filler" -- something meaningless to say while the mind races to construct a proper sentence. I still think the most common pre-emptive filler is "you know" -- a phrase that travels in swarms (like flies around rubbish).
Q: Response to how are you? Two common errors:-  “ I’m good(well)  and yourself (you)?“ Carl, Canton Beach.
A: These are now so well established as English idioms that we are unlikely to be able to banish them. Your preferred versions are better, but this is a game we have lost!
Q: Hi Kel, I love listening to you with John Stanley. I actually raised this a few weeks. Sadly I feel like the start of AN epidemic. I can’t believe how many times I’ve started to hear a used instead of an before a word beginning with a vowel. I just heard a Sydney Morning Herald reporter say on the radio ‘a explanation’. Martin, Eastlakes.
A: Martine also named a 2GB presenter who does this (who shall remain nameless here to protect the guilty). All I can do is scratch my head in bewilderment -- the use of "an" before a noun that begins with a consonant is such simple and familiar rule I don't understand who anyone can consistently break it!
Q: I’m sure someone has beaten me to it, but if I suggest the word ‘vaccist’. Just as ‘racist’ means ‘one who treats others differently on the basis of racial characteristics such as skin colour of eye angle’, so I suggest that ‘vaccist’ means ‘one who treats others differently on the basis of their vaccination status’. John, New Lambton.
A: No one has beaten you to it -- and I think your coinage is very clever. But I think I would spell it "vaxxist" to help with the pronunciation.
Q: PLEASE start a campaign to eradicate nothink, somethink, everythink etc from our spoken words. Drives me crazy!
A: What is most alarming is that the terminal "K" sound is sometimes used even by intelligent, professional people! They would never write the word with a "K" at the end -- so why do they say it that way?
Q: Hi Kel, since moving here from Africa I have been fascinated as to why Australians pronounce the colour maroon (same sound as moon) as maroan ( sounds like groan)? Alan, Sydney
A: The Oxford says there are two equally correct pronunciations of the colour: "maROON" and "maROAN." The second is probably the earlier of the two. The word came into English from French and the "maROAN" pronunciation probably reflects the French the source word. The earliest spelling of the colour word was "marone." So, both pronunciations are correct--the one that sounds odd to you is probably the older of the two, while the one you prefer reflects a change to make the pronunciation match the spelling.
Q: Hi Kel, I love watching you on Peta Credlin's show. I have a question regarding the word "myself". I believe people may be misusing this word but I could be wrong. For example, I watch The Outsiders every Sunday and Rowan Dean always introduces Rita, James and then myself, Rowan Dean. Is that correct? If so, could you please explain how to use this word. Thanks, Niki, North Bondi.
A: I hesitate to be critical of Rowan -- who (as editor) publishes my language column every week in The Spectator Australia. However, the truth is that "me" would be correct in the example you quote. Years ago BBC announcers had a standard form to use at the beginning of bulletins: "Here is the news, read by me John Smith". As the expression of the first person pronoun the correct compliment to "I" used in the objective case is "me". So why is "myself" substituted? Professor Pam Peters in her authoritative style guide suggests it is a self-conscious attempt to be modest, to avoid the putting the spotlight on themselves. So, although his language is wrong (at this point) Rowan comes out if it with untarnished humility!
Q:  The week before last I asked a question about the pronunciation of "genealogy" on this website. Should it be pronounced as geneAlogy or as geneOlogy?
Having not heard from you I started a search of my own. I have discovered that "The Free Online Dictionary by Farlex" suggests that the USA uses geneOlogy and the Brits use geneAlogy. The A version makes more sense to me (it fits the spelling); however the O version is almost universally used on OZ. What do you think?
 A new question. It seems that "to" and other small connecting words are being omitted from sentences these days, especially in newspaper articles. Have you noticed this?
Has there been some sort of grammatical revision agreed to that most of us have not been told?
Thanks for your regular segments on Credlin each Wednesday. Although I am a mathematician and scientist, I am always keen to use correct spelling and grammar in my writings. Barry, Gelong.
A: Sorry I failed to answer your earlier question. It might have been lost in the tsunami of questions I'm getting these days.  The Oxford English Dictionary disagrees with your online dictionary -- its says geneAlogy is correct for both Britain and America (and for us). I can't agree that it is always mispronounced in this country -- I quite often hear geneAlogy spoken as it should be!  Yes, prepositions are disappearing to some extent -- I suspect this comes from the American inclination to produce shorter, more compact statements.
Q: Why do people talk about going to the libree? Is that where the librian works?
I don't reconise the word. (That's meant to be a joke. Reconise. Get it?) Bruce, French's Forest.
A: I get it. Just another example of what I call "lazy mouth" syndrome.
Q: Why do people talk of the virus being contagious when they mean infectious? I was taught (and my Concise Oxford backs it up) that contagious means transmitted by contact, whereas you can contract an infectious disease just by being in the same room. Bruce, French's Forest.
A: You are correct in your understanding of the words "contagion" and "infection" -- the latter is the disease that is passed on, and the former is the manner in which it is passed on (by contact). In a scientific paper the distinction would clearly matter. Probably in ordinary conversation (and non-scientific journalism) the distinction matters less. After all -- what counts as "contact"? If I touch a surface you have touched and left the infection on, is that "contact"? If I breath air containing infectious aerosols is that contact? That is why in conversational English the two words become almost synonymous.
Q: Which is correct? In relation to a comment by Hilary Clinton "If I was/were president ..." Dermott, Queensland.
A: The "If I was..." form is correct in modern English. The "If I were..." form is called the subjunctive -- an obsolescent form in English grammar. Subjunctive verb forms diverged from the indicative and were used for special purposes such as expressing a wish or a hypothesis. There are rare survivals of the subjunctive in some English idioms. And because Hilary is expressing a hypothesis she could use the "If I were..." form. In that sense, both are correct. But better (I would have thought) to stick to modern grammar than the ancient, decorative, subjunctive form.
Q: I love your time on Sky with Peta.
May I add a couple of my own teeth- gritting examples you may be able to point out / explain.
1. Many Verbs have to have a ‘ little friend : watch ‘ on’, print ‘off/ out’ , chill ‘ down ‘ , reverse / revert ‘ back ‘ back’ off. They drive me MAD.
2. Nouns and verbs should be pronounced differently in the following: supplement, document , implement etc. This is being ignored by TV ‘presenters and I don’t exclude the ABC from any of these continuing mistakes . ( When I was growing up, seven decades ago, the ABC presenters were the top of the class in elocution , diction and grammar . Those were the days !
3. I remember doing a spelling test , out of 100 words, and got 99 right because my sister always pronounced "mischievous" as “mischievious “ and I thought I was wrong to think it wasn’t....great lesson. But I still hear it all the time .
I am so glad someone still cares about spelling, words , grammar. I despair over my grandchildren’s “ English “ classes ; it’s so very sad how the wonderful adventures with words have been lost. Catriona, Mornington.
A: You've said what needs to be said. Surely the education system cannot go on ignoring grammar and spelling forever? There must come a time when the need for communication means these tools of communication are restored!
Q: Just a quick one, i have used the word 'waiver' extending into 'unwaivering'! My research recently on the latter was nebulous and ambiguous to say the least. Again, i thought it was American spelling as they are good at bastardising the King's language.
Can you be more accurate, thank-you? Campbell, Redlynch.
A: The standard British (and Australian) spelling is "unwavering." It is a well established spelling, recorded from 1570. Our commitment to this spelling should be unwavering!
Q: What did the term "stuff up" originate from. Stuff means items, and stuff up sounds like a chipmunk's savings for future food security. Did someone stuff up the term somewhere along the way and change it from a positive to a negative term? Li, Canley Vale.
A: To "stuff up" literally means "to block" (a head cold can give you a "stuffed up" nose), so the colloquial use (meaning "to fail") may be a kind of comic metaphor. If your attempt at doing something has gone wrong perhaps the metaphorical image is of being blocked?
Q:  An annoying use of grammar is people saying "dove" instead of "dived" e.g. He dove into the pool" when it should be "He dived into the pool".  Another one .... saying "lay" instead of "lie" e.g. "He was laying on the ground" when it should be "He was lying on the ground".  There are others e.g. "came" instead of "come" - "He come over" when it should be "He came over, "seen" instead of "saw", "She seen him" when it should be "She saw him", "it's" & "its" "Its hers" when it should be "It's hers". Judi, Rosevale
A:  It is difficult to see why the verb "to dive" is treated these days as an irregular verb (as a parallel to "swim, swam, swum").  The distinction is that "lie" means "to put into a horizontal position" while "lay" means "to place or set down." The confusion arises because "lay" is also the past tense of "lie." If people would only think carefully what they mean, they might avoid the trap.  These are childish errors which people should put aside when they put aside their childhood.
Q: Hi Kel, I’m going to bombard you with another annoying grammar habit I’ve been hearing and reading for a long time now. Perhaps it is taught from parents to children rather than picked up along the way. It is ‘off of’ .... (get off of the table). Please tell me it’s not correct. Cheers Rosemary, Adelaide.
A: Yes, I have heard the same thing -- in fact, I'm sure I've heard it for many years, so it's not new. It's original source may be American -- since Americans seem to have a fondess for multiplying prepositions.
Q:  Why must people pronounce the word Height as 'Hiteth'? TV commentators should know better.  Also, I was taught to say "I was sitting on the chair". Why do the English say "I was sat on the chair"? It creeps me out, particularly when it is said by a well educated and well spoken person. Sue, Frankston.
A:  I haven't heard that strange mispronunciation of "height" you draw my attention to -- I'll listen out for it.  Yes, why do we use the past continuous form of the verb, while the English use the past simple? I have no idea.
Q: My wife (a crossword scholar) and myself (retired journalist) love your Wednesday feature appearance with Peta. We only wish it ran daily … it’s our favourite time of the week. But can you clarify her use of the name of Scottish city Glasgow - is it “Glarz-go” as Peta persists in using, or what I with my Scottish heritage believe should be pronounced “Glazz-go”. Les, Burnie.
A: According to my research it should be pronounced "glass-go" -- does that work for you? Years ago I used to watch a police series set in Glasgow called "Taggart" -- and I seem to remember the cast saying "glass-go." Mind you, there are many regional Scots accents. My wife and I met a visiting Glasgow couple in church one week, and (to make conversation) we mentioned that we watched "Taggart" -- but often found the accents hard to follow. Their response was: "Aye, so do we!"
Q: Occasionally I hear the words " enjoy the remains of the day". I think it should be
" enjoy the remainder of the day" and would very much appreciate your comment on this. Marie, Clayfield, Qld
A: I think you are right about this. In fact, the most common version of the idiom is "enjoy the rest of the day." The word "remains" suggest only a little bit is left -- like the "remains" of a cake of soap. So you might get away with saying "remains" close to sunset, but no earlier!
Q: Kel, I enjoy your articles in the Australian Spectator and read a review of your new book in the Australian a few weeks ago. In reading the review I was reminded on some sayings my great uncle used that have now disapeared from common usage. He lived to be a hundred and died about 20 years ago. He remembered when he was a kid growing up in the bush (before WW1) there was an expression that you should be wary of over pious folk: the expression was "if your neighbour be religious, brand your cattle young...". The other he used when I was leaving after a visit was: "don't be strange.." (meaning come again soon). Old sayings I thought you may be interested in. Andrew, Sydney.
A: I think they are wonderful old sayings! They evoke a more peaceful and innocent world. Thank you for sharing them.
Q: Why do some people add an extra syllable at the end of one syllable words? Four becomes "forwa". Door is "doorwa". Flour is "flourwa". Law is "law-wa". Anonymous, Gold Coast.
A: There are even more examples of this added syllable syndrome than you've mentioned. For example there are those who make "shown" into "show-un" and "known" into "know-un." I wish I could figure out why people do this. Is it because their parents spoke in that way? Or an influential teacher? Or their peer group at school? It makes no logical sense.
Q: Love your contribution to Peta Credlin's program. Would you please raise the following examples of mispronunciation or misuse of words:
Recognise vs. Reconise
Systemic vs. Systematic (many, including Rita Panahi, say 'systematic racism' when they mean 'systemic racism'
I am advocating something (correct) vs. I am advocating for something (incorrect). You can be an advocate (noun) for something but not advocate (verb) for something (is my understanding). David, Melbourne.
A: All of these are good observations -- and all have been added to the list.
Q: WORRIED: People under 30 now say WO -RRIED (short o) instead of pronouncing it
WU- RRIED. We don't say, "No wo-rries!"
Drives me NUTS! And it's said on the ABC news just about every day by cub reporters. Helga. Gippsland.
A: What you are reporting is the American pronunciation. It seems that American verbal colonialism is all around us! If we are aware of it we can resist becoming a verbal colony of the United States.
Q: I have been following you on Peta Credlin on Wednesday nights. The one that annoys me most is the use and misuse of “lay” and “lie”. In newspapers I hardly ever see where it is used correctly and I fear it will be imbedded in our language incorrectly. Would you be able to talk about this next Wednesday? Bob, Terrey Hills.
A: I will add it to the list. The distinction is that "lie" means "to put into a horizontal position" while "lay" means "to place or set down." The confusion arises because "lay" is also the past tense of "lie." If people would only think carefully what they mean, they might avoid the trap.
Q: Dear Mr Richards, I really enjoy your segments on Peta Credlin. Have you noticed the rampant misuse of the reflexive pronoun “myself” when the speaker apparently means “me”. As in e.g. “ He invited John & myself…”. It seems to be the same crew who also used “I” instead of the object pronoun “me”…. those who wish to appear to be well educated! Grrrr! Robyn, Trentham.
A: Yes, I have noticed it, and I can only add my "grrr!" to yours. I keep suggesting that if someone is uncertain they should take out the other person to test what is correct. Would they say "He invited myself"? No, they would not. It is a simple test that alerts them to the error.
Q: Kel, I cannot believe that you mentioned pronouncing "Fifth" without "Sixth" on Credlin tonight !!! Not many Aussies pronounce Sixth the correct English way (Sicth), which I protest must've come about from laziness in England, just as you've accused Aussies of.... saying Fith. Simon, Sanctuary Point.
A: Not all Aussies -- only some say "fith" instead of fifth. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the standard pronunciation of "sixth" as -- siksth, which I think most Aussies say.
Q: My query is when, why and /or how did the term Aunt and Aunty become associated with Australian Aborigines. Having recently discovered an indigenous ancestor in the family my adult children who work in the area of indigenous affairs have been using the term. Given the disdain for all things colonial I'm finding this use really frustrates me. Help!!! I would love to see you discuss this with Peta on Credlin as I really enjoy your segment. Bev, Mount Dandenong.
A: I will consult with some linguists who have expertise in indigenous languages to see if I can find a definitive answer. Until I hear from them, my suggestion is that kinship is very important in all Aboriginal communities, and there are terms of respect that used to indicate and acknowledge this in all these languages. My best guess is that "aunty" is the English word that best captures, for Aboriginal people, this note of kinship respect.
Q: Just a comment Kel, Why are so many presenters on TV and radio keep saying "Good stuff" Eddie McGuire on Hot seat is the main culprit...around 12 times per show. Sandra, Hamilton.
A: If I knew the answer as to why people do this, I would tell you. But I am as puzzled as you are. The nearest I can get is this -- one linguist has coined the term "verbal tick". That means a kind of uncontrollable habit -- a bit like a facial tick, but occurring in the phrases one utters. These repeated phases that people seem unable to stop coming out of their mouths are a kind "verbal tick."
Q: Can you talk about the habit nowadays of mispronouncing ‘exit’ as ‘egg-zit’? It is very annoying and journalists are as guilty as many. Rosemary, Adelaide.
A: This is a very acute observation. You are quite right that this is a common mispronunciation, and I will certainly include it in the list of "lazy mouth" pronunciations.
Q: Hello Kel, an Australian term that has really been a great source of irritation for me is the word "known" - it is often pronounced as an ear-shattering "know- en"!! Ouch. Anonymous, Lake Gardens.
A: Yes, I am as irritated as you by this. They also turn the word "shown" into two syllables as "show-un." I had an uncle who used to pronoun "beer" as two syllables -- "bee-uh". Strange. Why make more syllables then you need to say the word?
Q: This is about the misuse of the past participle for the past tense by the British generally and the BBC in particular. For example '' I was sat'' instead of ''I was sitting''. Have I got this right?. If so, hope it doesn't creep into OZ language , it sounds awful. Brendan, Geelong.
A: I haven't heard this one -- I will listen out for it.
Q: The increasing use of word "they" meaning "he/she". Re Article "two of us" in Good Weekend Magazine [ SMH]; page 7. It looks so odd; is this for real now? Even "their" has crept in with similar context. Anthony. Double Bay.
A: Centuries ago the singular form of the second person plural ("thou") disappeared, and what had been the plural form ("you") took over as both singular and plural. Something similar seems to be happening now. (Because English is a living language it is in a constant state of flux.) If this observation is right, it is because people have found "they" used a singular pronoun to be useful in certain contexts. For instance, when you don't know the gender of the person you are speaking about. E.g. Let's imagine you want to make a suggestion beginning with the words "If a person wins the lottery they should..." (plus whatever your advice is). In that context "they" saves you from using the clumsy construction "he or she". That seems to be the way the language is moving at the moment.
Q: I would like to know the difference between the words delegated and relegated. Shane, Taylors Lakes.
A: To "delegate" is to assign a task to someone; while to "relegate" is to remove someone to a less important position.
Q: For your spot on Credlin I would like to contribute two more words whose mispronunciation annoys me.  Library pronounced as "lie berry" - not sure what sort of bush such berries grow on.  Remuneration pronounced as renumeration - interesting when this is a word most commonly used and mispronounced by the well-educated. Annette, Bundaberg
A:  I guess, to be generous, "library" is tricky to pronounce correctly -- those two "R" sounds together in the middle can be awkward, even for those who don't have a lazy mouth. But turning that noble institution into a berry bush is just too much! This seems to be one of those simple words that some people just can't wrap their tongue around, hence they reverse the "M" and the "N" -- a little effort, and a little less lazy mouth, should fix this one.
Q: Hi Kel, could you mention the mispronunciation of the word "Fifth" -- every 2nd person pronounces this as "Fith". Why? There's no such word. People I've asked says they were taught this in school, which is outrageous if true. Kay, Nerang
A: No, they were not taught this in school! Mispronunciations come from either a lazy mouth or a lazy mind. This one comes from a lazy mouth. The middle "F" is there to be pronounced -- and should be! (Mind you, the Americans are worse offenders than us in this regard -- "fith" with the middle "F" missing is very common in the U.S.)
Q: The phrase ‘bell the cat’ has become very popular if late. My understanding was that it related to undertaking a dangerous task for the good of many (ref the fable). In the media, however, it seems to be used in the sense of making people aware of a particular issue which has been hidden. Could you please clarify the meaning. Has the latter definition become the colloquial meaning? Christine, Brighton.
A: Until you drew this my attention I had not consciously become aware of how often this is now misused. The expression, as you point out, began, with the mice wanting to know when the cat was coming, but which mouse would be brave enough to fix a bell around the cat's neck? However, now "belling the case" is being used to mean alerting us to something. This misuse resembles the misuse of "begging the question" which is the logical error of building the conclusion you wish to reach into the premises with which you start. This is way beyond most journalists who think "begging the question" means "avoiding the question." But bear in mind that journalists are like sheep -- they just follow the mob. Whatever the mob gets wrong, they will get wrong!
Q: So many obviously enjoying -- and learning, more about our language -- cannot wait for you to share thoughts about our pronunciation of " Picture" and "Months".... Graeme, Halls Head.
A: The standard British/Australian pronunciation of "picture" is "pik-chah" (the Americans say "pik-chur". As for "month" I know of no way to say it except "munth."
Q: Mispronunciations! The word mispronunciation is often mispronounced. The ‘nun’ said as ‘noun’. Be gentle on my grammar though please. Catherine, Melbourne.
A: Well spotted. Yes, I have notice the word becoming "pro-NOUN-ciation" on occasions, and it is very irritating.
Q:  Beside mispronunciations on TV or radio, there have been many interviews and news conferences where the speakers use irritating introductions or insertions such as: Look! You know! I mean, Um, Err, plus a few others. Loud 'Ums' often means that it is difficult to follow the person's line of thought or story.  Another difficulty is that many talk so quickly that words are not completely pronounced, usually called 'poor diction.' Paul, North Narooma.
A:  Most of those sounds that people utter are "fillers" -- meaningless phrases or grunts that fill the space while their brain is getting into gear. Few people have the confidence to allow a few seconds of silence while they gather their thoughts and (mentally) construct their next sentence.  Your point about people speaking too rapidly is well taken. Our brains work faster than our mouths, so it is easy for articulation to get lost in the process of trying to spit out words as quickly as we think of them. It takes discipline for a speaker to consciously slow down to be better understood.
Q: Should we refer something that is named "The Sydney Morning Herald " for example as, the The Sydney Morning Herald ? We have this situation with a number of Trusts etc that are officially named "The XYZ Trust". Please advise your thoughts, many thanks, Rod, Parramatta.
A: The first rule is: if the trust/newspaper uses the definite article, so should you. Hence the newspaper "The Times" has the definite article while the magazine "Time" does not. But there are occasions when the construction of the sentence plays a role. So, we would talk about "a Sydney Morning Herald article" and use the indefinite article, but we would "I saw an article in the Sydney Morning Herald" in which the definite article is correct. You really have to decide based on context.
Q: My wife Margaret and I (both ex Scotland) would like you to explain the correct pronunciation in regards to: Plead guilty(Pronounced pled) , Pleading guilty, pleaded guilty. John and Margaret, Goodna.
A: The one syllable version of the past participle of the verb "to plead" is "chiefly Scottish and U.S" (so the authorities tell me). Elsewhere "pleaded" is the past participle. That means (in effect) that both constructions are correct. But for myself, I would always use "pleaded" in Australia.
Q: My query for you is regarding the recent invention of the strange plural form of the word "freedom". In my mind, freedom is a binary concept - you either have it, or you don't. Much of the media and most politicians have recently started speaking of "returning some freedoms". This seems improper to me and seems wrapped up in politics. What they should really be saying is that they are "removing restrictions" but that doesn't sound as good as "returning some freedoms". In any case, I'm keen to understand your view on whether "freedoms" is actually a word, or whether they have taken a liberty with our language for political means. Mike, Glen Iris.
A: The Oxford English Dictionary accepts the plural noun "freedoms" as correct English. I suspect the concept is more complicated than binary. I might have freedom of speech, but not freedom of movement; freedom of thought but not freedom of association. All of those possibilities are listed in the Oxford. And that, I suspect, is why they accept the plural.
Q: The mispronounced word I find the most annoying is "performance". Commonly mispronounced by sports reporters as "proformance" or "preformance" Glen, Bargara
A: This is a weird one. I must admit I have not heard it myself (perhaps I don't listen enough to the sports commentators, so I have missed it). It's the kind of muddle people get into with "nukular" instead of "nuclear" -- it sounds as if they are having difficulty getting their tongues around fairly simple words!
Q:  Will you please clarify? "The proof of the pudding is in the eating" or "the proof is in the pudding". I think the former, but hear the other version all the time and it grates!  "You have 2 choices" when in fact there are 2 options and you have the 1 choice between them. Love your segment on Credlin. Suzanne, Daintree.
A:  The longer version is correct. It comes from a period when "proof" meant "test." (This comes up in "The exception proves the rule" which really mean "The exception tests the rule.") The shorter version is uttered by people who (I guess) are assuming we know the full version and will know what is meant.  Yes, you are right. This is one of those errors that spring from mental laziness.
Q: Most people seem to say 'grievious' not 'grievous'. Which is correct, please? Anonymous, Airport West.
A: The word is "grievous" -- two syllables, not three.
Q: Kel, To channel the inimitable ‘H.G. Nelson: “Love ya werk!” but I’d like to add to your list of ‘mots noises’ as follows:
 ‘hone’/‘home’: I’m sure you, too, wince when we are told that measures will “hone in on…” some errant situation;
 ‘congradulations’ instead of congratulations;
 ‘comradery’ instead of ‘camaraderie’, and
 the misconception that students ‘sit’ an exam, when they ‘sit for’ it. (By way of corollary, the failure to know that ‘sit’ on its own can only be an imperative command, whereas all other ‘useful’ forms of ‘sit’ (verb intransitive) require a preposition to transfer the action: ~ down, ~up, ~still, ~there, ~as far away from me as possible!)
Yours in pedantry, John, Adelaide
P.S. I am attached to an epithet Len Deighton coined to describe his erstwhile fictional head of the fictional WOOC(P) group of secret agents: ‘Dawlish was a man who would rather split his trousers than an infinitive.’
Q:  Well said -- we gave a rocket to this one last week on "Credlin".  This business of turning a medial "T" into a "D" is (sadly) not uncommon: see also "important / imporDant"  This combines two errors (a) mispronouncing the first syllable, followed by (b) completely omitting the second syllable!  We seem to be living in a strange time when some prepositions go missing, while other are added unnecessarily! As regards your PS -- I love Len Deighton's phrase, but (along with Shakespeare) I am prepared to split an infinitive. This means that Star Trek can still be in a business ("To boldly go...")
A: I would like to know the correct pronunciation of CONTRIBUTE/DISTRIBUTE- I thought it was Contrib-Ute. Distrib-Ute. But I hear it on English News shows being said CONTRA-BUTE. DISTRA-BUTE- Can you advise which is correct? Thanks, Anonymous, Marlestone.
A: The question is whether to stress the first syllable (CON-tribute / DIS-tribute) or the second syllable (con-TRIB-ute / dis-TRIB-ute). The Oxford English Dictionary (the main authority on such things) says both are correct. However -- stressing the second syllable is more common in the English language, and that is how I say the words.
A: I am always excited to watch your segment on the Credlin show Kel. Tonight in particular was superb. My number one irritation is when one attempts any sort of telephone or indeed direct interaction with an official who, as is usual, listens then asks ‘ what was the name then’.
I’m far from perfect but this drives me mad. I apologise if this had been covered in the past. But please tell the world to stop this inane attempt to ascertain a name. My response is simple. I say, the name is and always has been Stephen. That tends to confuse them. Thank you and please keep up your good work especially on Credlin. Stephen, Battery Point.
A: It is an absurd locution you point us to. We can see what the hapless public servant is trying to get at, but their language suggests that your name has been changed in the last few minutes ("What was your name then"). I like your response (which I am certain merely baffles them).
Q: Please send me the correct use of hung vs hanged. Personally I use hung and don't like the use of hanged. Anonymous, Merimbula.
A: Paintings are "hung" and people are "hanged" -- so unless you are talking about capital punishment there is no need to use "hanged."
Q: Which is correct I:-- am sure and have always been taught (I am 78) H is pronounced AITCH. I hate that it is taught HAITCH now .... Which is correct? Thanks, Lois , Nunderi.
A: You are quite correct: "H" has no aspirant in front of it. The old story was that Catholic schools taught "haitch" and state schools taught "aitch" -- but there is no evidence to support this.
Q: This really annoys me. I notice mainly journalists say from the “get go”. Instead of “from the beginning" it really seems to be creeping into our language everywhere. They are all guilty if they wish to shorten the line maybe just say “from the start". Lizzie, Black Mountain.
A: "Get go" is an Americanism -- originally a Black-American expression, first recorded from 1958. Why anyone would use it rather than a standard English language expression I can't imagine. Do they think it is cooler, or hipper, to say "get go" than "start"? I would be happy for them to stop!
Q: Can you tell me how the usage of the following invitation to ‘take a listen’ seems to have become widespread? S. L. Underhill, Gheerulla.
A: It comes from the need hosts have to find a way of throwing to a clip when they are ad-libbing rather than reading a script off the autocue. They need a way of letting the control room know to roll tape. There are probably better ways to do it, such as "here's what he/she said..". Or, "This is what the Premier said at a news conference this morning..." So the "take a listen" expression is awkward and could probably be avoided.
Q: Why do journalists and commentators constantly say “thanks to” rather than “due to”, when it is generally bad news on which they are reporting? Robin, Melbourne.
A: I hesitate to be unkind to my own profession of journalism -- but I think it comes down to the limited vocabulary of journalists (especially younger journalists). And that means blaming the education system that made little effort to stretch or improve their vocabs. And you are right -- the "thanks" word sounds weird when reporting bad news that no one in their right mind would thank anyone for.
Q: Hi, can you explain to me why people these days cannot speak without saying the word "like" every second word in their sentence is "like" It drives me insane. Do you know why? I love you on Peta Credlin. Lisa, Prospect.
A: I wish I could explain why. According to one report it started among teenage girls in California perhaps 20 years ago (they were know as "Valley Girls"). However, when this practice spread to Britain, commentators there tended to blame "an Australian influence" (presumably from Neighbours and Home and Away). It became a useful bit of padding when the speaker could not think of the right word. I presume it spread because of peer pressure to talk like everyone else around you -- a very strong pressure among girls in their early teens. We can only hope they grow out of it as they grow up (and their vocabulary increases).
Q: One of my favourite hates is the imaginary verb, to verse, meaning to oppose. The misconstruing of the Latin versus is almost universal among schoolchildren, and increasingly commonly heard from sports commentators including on the ABC. Paul, Beachmere.
A: It started among schoolchildren. I was first alerted to this by a school teacher from Perth some 25 years ago. You can understand how children could make this sort of mistake, what is harder to understand is how adult sports commentators should use it! Makes no sense to me. Cheers, Kel
Q: Should it be mis-led and/or myzled? Louise, The Oaks.
A: Definitely "miss-led". It is an "S" sound not a "Z" sound.