The Grammarphobia Blog

A nitch to scratch

Q: I’ve discovered a new word – right out in the open! So many people use it, but it’s not yet in dictionaries. The word is “nitch,” an apparent merger of “niche” and “notch.” It’s used when someone finds his place (or “niche”) in the world and his level (or “notch”) at work. Do I get a reward?

A: No reward for you! What you’re hearing is the word “niche” pronounced in the traditional way – NITCH.

Today, the word “niche” is properly pronounced as either NITCH or NEESH. But this wasn’t always so.

For generations, the traditional English pronunciation was NITCH. A Gallic pronunciation, NEESH, has been gaining in popularity in recent decades, and now American dictionaries accept both versions.

“Niche” entered English in the 17th century, a borrowing from the French, who had borrowed it from the Latin nidus (nest).

We aren’t sure how it was pronounced originally, but 14 editions of Daniel Jones’s influential English Pronouncing Dictionary, from 1917 to 1977, give NITCH as the typical pronunciation and NEESH as a variant, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

In writing, it’s correctly spelled “niche,” and anyone who writes “nitch” should be scratched.

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