‘Omicron’ and ‘Eilish’ Among Most Mispronounced Words of 2021

18 December 2021

Each year brings a new set of words that are widely used but difficult to pronounce.

Among the terms making the 2021 list were a new version of the coronavirus, a superstar singer and the names of two digital currencies.

The list identifies words that were most often mispronounced by American newsreaders and television presenters. The U.S. Captioning Company chose the words. It creates captions for live events on television and in courtrooms.

Billie Eilish arrives at the LACMA Art + Film Gala on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Billie Eilish arrives at the LACMA Art + Film Gala on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

The creation of the list was supported by the language-learning company Babbel. Esteban Touma is a teacher for the company's Babbel Live service. He said, "As a language teacher, it's always interesting to see that some of these terms are usually new colloquialisms, or are rooted or borrowed from another language." A colloquialism is an informal word or expression that is more useful in speech than writing.

Touma added: "As a non-native speaker, I must confess it's fun to see English speakers stumbling a bit for a change."

He provided The Associated Press with guidance on how to correctly pronounce the words that made the list. Here are the explanations, with phonetic pronunciations next to the words.

Cheugy (CHOO-gee): A term made popular by members of Gen Z, a name for the generation of people born in the late 1990s through the early 2000s. Cheugy is used to describe people and lifestyle choices considered outdated, unpopular or uncool.

Chipotle (chih-POHT-lay): This U.S.-based restaurant company received viral attention on the internet with a campaign that centered on how older people pronounce the name.

Dalgona (tal-goh-NAH): A sweet Korean treat made with melted sugar and baking soda. It was shown in the widely popular Netflix TV series Squid Game.

Dogecoin (DOHJ-coin): A form of cryptocurrency that began as kind of a joke before being popularized by Tesla and SpaceX chief Elon Musk.

Ethereum (ih-THEE-ree-um): Another form of cryptocurrency that skyrocketed in value this year.

Eilish (EYE-lish): The last name of Grammy Award-winning singer Billie Eilish.

Ever Given (EV-er GIV-en): The name of the ship that blocked the Suez Canal in March, costing billions of dollars in lost trade. Many news presenters mistook the name of the ship as "Evergreen." But that was actually the name of the company that owns the ship, which was printed on its side.

Glasgow (GLAHZ-go): The Scottish city where the United Nations Climate Conference was held. The name was widely mispronounced, including by both President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama.

Kelce (KELs): The last name of American football player Jason Kelce, who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. He said earlier this year that his teammates and the media had been saying his name wrong for years.

Omicron (OH-muh-kraan (U.S.) / OH-mee-kraan (Britain)): The name of a new COVID-19 variant. It is a letter of the Greek alphabet, in keeping with the World Health Organization's system of identifying new coronavirus versions.

Shein (SHEE-in): The Chinese clothing company at the center of the "Shein haul" trend. The trend involves people recording themselves trying on numerous sets of the company's clothes.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (STEH-fuh-nohs TSEE-tsee-pas): A Greek tennis player currently ranked number 4 in the world.

Yassify (YEAH-sih-fai): A popular trend in which different beauty filters are put onto well-known pictures to produce humorous effects.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press and Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

pronounce – v. to make the sound of a letter or word

caption – n. words written under a picture or with video to explain it

confess – v. to admit something

stumble – v. to make a mistake, such as pausing or repeating a word, while speaking

phonetic – adj. relating to the sounds you make when you speak

trend – n. a general development or change in a situation

filter – v. to pass liquid, gas, light, etc. through a piece of equipment in order to remove unwanted material