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Q: I think it’s pretentious to pronounce “vase” as if it rhymes with “Oz” (as in the Wizard of Oz). I’ve always pronounced it to sound like VAZE – that is, with a long “a.” Is there a correct pronunciation?

A: The word “vase” can be correctly pronounced three ways: as if it rhymed with (1) “base,” (2) “haze,” or (3) “Oz,” like the Wiz.

All three pronunciations are given, in that order, in both The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.).

Merriam-Webster’s notes that #1 is used “oftenest” in the US. The #2 pronunciation is heard “usually” in Canada but “also” in the US. And #3 is heard “usually” in Britain, “also” in Canada, and “sometimes” in the US.

While the British now pronounce “vase” with a broad “a” (the “Oz” version), it wasn’t always so.

The Oxford English Dictionary notes that the Brits once pronounced it with a long “a” (rhyming with “base” or “haze”), and that these “earlier pronunciations … are still current in America.”

The OED cites examples of English poems in which “vase” rhymes “face” (Swift, 1731), as well as “place” and “grace” (Byron, 1822). Nineteenth-century American poets rhymed “vase” with “grace” (Emerson, 1847), “chase” (Whittier, 1857), and “case” (Lowell, 1860).

So your pronunciation with a long “a” has history on its side. I go into a lot more detail about British and American pronunciation in “Stiff Upper Lips,” a chapter in my new book, Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language, written with my husband, Stewart.

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