The Grammarphobia Blog

Penal envy

Q: What has happened to “penalize” with the long “e”? I hear it more and more with the short “e.” Is it because people don’t like pronunciations that sound like body parts? Of course we still use a long “e” for “penal” colony!

A: Either pronunciation of “penalize” (with or without a long “e”) is all right. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) both list the pronunciation with the long “e” first, which means it’s more common.

If the “pen” pronunciation is gaining on the “peen,” it may be, as you suggest, because of the “peen” resemblance to “penis” and “penile.” On the other hand, it may be because the word “penalty” has a short “e” and is more common than the associated word “penalize.”

At any rate, both pronunciations of “penalize” are alive and kicking. You shouldn’t get penalized for using either one.

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