The Grammarphobia Blog

ri-PREEZ or ri-PRIZE?

Q: Frank Sinatra created the Reprise record label in the early ‘60s and pronounced it ri-PREEZ. I’ve always heard “reprise” pronounced that way until recently, when an NPR promo for a theater company said the actors would ri-PRIZE their roles. When did this second usage begin and is it correct?

A: Modern dictionaries are all over the place on the pronunciation of “reprise.”

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) lists only one acceptable pronunciation for the noun and the verb: ri-PREEZ.

But Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) lists both ri-PREEZ and ri-PRIZE as standard pronunciations of the noun, though M-W says the second one is less common.

Merriam-Webster’s gives ri-PREEZ as the correct pronunciation of the verb when it’s used in the modern sense of repeating or recapitulating something.

But M-W says the verb is pronounced ri-PRIZE when used in two archaic senses: to take back or to compensate. This suggests that ri-PRIZE may be the older pronunciation.

In fact, my 50-year-old, unabridged Webster’s New International Dictionary (2d ed.) lists only ri-PRIZE as the pronunciation of both the noun and the verb, with one exception. The noun is pronounced ri-PREEZ, according to the dictionary, only when used in fencing to refer to a redoubling of an attack.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists both pronunciations for the noun, but says ri-PREEZ is now used principally in a musical sense. The OED doesn’t give a pronunciation for the verb, but the earliest spelling of the verb (from 1481) is “repryse,” suggesting that it may have originally been pronounced ri-PRIZE.

So, in answer to your questions, the ri-PRIZE pronunciation appears to be the older one, perhaps going back 500 years or more. Although it’s still acceptable, the ri-PREEZ pronunciation is more common today.

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