Etymology Punctuation

Grocery business

Q: When I lived in Ohio in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I noticed that people pronounced “grocery” as GRO-shree instead of GRO-sir-ee. I live in New Jersey now and hear both pronunciations. Is GRO-shree an example of a shift in pronunciation, or is it a mistake?

A: Pat added a  chapter on pronunciation to the third edition of her grammar and usage book Woe Is I. Her advice on “grocery” is clear cut: “There’s no ‘sh’ in grocery. Say GRO-sir-ee.”

This pronunciation—three syllables and no “sh”—is also the only one given in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.).  

Another source, Garner’s Modern American Usage (3rd ed.), says either the two-syllable GRO-sree or the three-syllable GRO-sir-ee is acceptable.

Garner’s, which lists “grocery” among the most frequently mispronounced words in American English, calls GRO-shree a mispronunciation. 

But people who say GRO-shree do have one authority on their side. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) lists it among three acceptable variants (along with GRO-sree and GRO-sir-ee).

The “sh” pronunciation doesn’t appear, though, in our 1956 copy of Merriam-Webster’s New International Dictionary (the unabridged second edition).

This suggests that the Merriam-Webster’s lexicographers have recognized a shift in pronunciation. Will other dictionaries follow suit? We’ll see.

Both “grocer” and “grocery,” by the way, are very old words, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

“Grocer” first appeared in writing in 1321 and originally meant “one who buys and sells in the gross.”

It acquired a “y” suffix in 1436 and gave us “grocery” (originally “the goods sold by a grocer”), according to the OED.

The word “grocery” didn’t mean a grocer’s shop until the early 1800s.

But back to pronunciation. Our advice is to leave the “sh” out of “grocery,” but not to fret too much about people who leave it in.

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