Quite a few people found it rather shocking that in my 2008 LPD pronunciation preference poll as many as 15% of the BrE respondents said that for mischievous they preferred the pronunciation mɪsˈtʃiːviəs, with the figure rising to 29% for those born since 1981. An older poll had already reported 11% of Americans preferring it, too.My problem for today is that most of those who say mɪsˈtʃiːviəs would probably want to spell it correspondingly, as “mischievious”. If they do, should we simply condemn this as a spelling mistake, or is it time to consider recognizing it as an alternative spelling? It seems reasonable to suppose that in a hundred years’ time it may have more or less totally displaced “mischievous”. Or at the very least that the OED’s characterization of it as “regional, colloq. and humorous” may need to be revised.
There are several other similar cases. I have just seen the veteran broadcaster Esther Rantzen on television talking about something being prəʊˈtruːbərənt, i.e. protuberant. I do give this -ˈtruː- variant in LPD under protuberant, though with a warning triangle. Ought I to remove the triangle from “protruberant”, as I have from “mischievious”?
Then what about Sarah Palin’s “refudiate” for “repudiate”?
Or our old friend “pronounciation” for “pronunciation”? (You wouldn’t believe the number of journalists and radio and TV presenters who want to talk to me about “pronounciation”. I almost feel churlish when I pointedly reply with reference to “pronunciation”. But not quite.)
These are not exactly malapropisms, because a malapropism involves confusing the meanings of two distinct dictionary words. They’re not exactly mispronunciations, either. They’re more a recasting or regularization of what is felt to be irregular, in writing as much as in speech.
The same problem, in a milder form, arises with “re-occurrence” for what I call “recurrence”, and with “to disassociate” in place of “to dissociate”. I suspect the younger generation doesn’t even feel uneasy, as I do, at these forms. (I mustn’t fall foul of the recency illusion. The OED reveals that they’re not exactly new. No matter.)