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Inaugural pronunciations

Q: Please comment on the pronunciation of “inauguration” as
in-aw-guh-RAY-shun. When did this pronunciation become so ubiquitous, even among NPR news readers? Is it “wrong”?

A: Times change, and the pronunciation of “inauguration” is a good example.

When we discussed this subject three years ago on our blog, we said the only pronunciations of “inaugurate,” “inauguration,” and “inaugural” we’d ever heard had a “y” sound in the third syllable: in-AW-gyuh-rate … in-aw-gyuh-RAY-shun … in-AW-gyuh-rel.

And we said those were the only pronunciations given in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.).

But we also noted that one dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.), included the non-“y” pronunciations as equal variants: in-AW-guh-rate … in-aw-guh-RAY-shun … in-AW-guh-rel. (As we said in 2010, that last one sounds to us like “doggerel.”)

But apparently the flatter pronunciations are taking hold. Since we wrote that post, a fifth edition of American Heritage has been published, and that dictionary now accepts the pronunciations minus the “y” sound.

A pronunciation can’t be considered “wrong” if even one standard dictionary accepts it. And certainly the evidence of two dictionaries means the “y”-less pronunciations of “inaugurate,” “inauguration,” and “inaugural” are now entrenched in standard English.

We still believe that most people pronounce “inauguration” and its derivatives with a “y” sound. But the people have a choice!

Inaugurations, of course, augur new beginnings. In 2011 we wrote about the etymology of “augur,” the word at the root of “inauguration.”

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