The Grammarphobia Blog

Is he an old fuddy-duddy?

Q: Some supposedly educated people pronounce the word “mischievous” as mis-CHEE-vee-us instead of MIS-cheh-vus. Surely that rather demonstrates an ignorance of the word’s spelling, if nothing else. I’ve always thought that unless one keeps one’s standards up, the language will degenerate into a series of grunts and snarls. Am I right, or am I just an old fuddy-duddy?

A: You may be an old fuddy-duddy, but you’re also right.

“Mischievous” is among the most frequently mispronounced words in American English, according to Garner’s Modern American Usage. As you point out, it’s correctly pronounced MIS-cheh-vus.

In addition to being mispronounced, “mischievous” is often misspelled, but both vices have a long history. The common misspelling “mischievious” (note the extra “i”) goes back to the 16th century, so the mispronunciation (mis-CHEE-vee-us) probably does too.

I can’t explain why this mispronunciation is so common. It may be that people are picking up the sounds of words like “previous,” “devious,” and “lascivious”

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