Friday 26 October 2012


An interesting misinterpretation of spelling from Richard Osman, the resident expert on the BBC1 programme Pointless: he referred to a baɪˈɒpɪk, that is a biopic, a film about someone’s life, a filmed biography. It is, of course, normally called a ˈbaɪə(ʊ)pɪk, being composed of bio- plus -pic(ture).

Given bionic baɪˈɒnɪk and myopic maɪˈɒpɪk ‘short-sighted’, you can understand where he was coming from. After all, biopic looks as if it contains the suffix -ic, which regularly throws the word stress onto the preceding syllable.

This word thus joins a list led (!) by misled (ˈmɪzl̩d instead of ˌmɪsˈled) and also containing items such as the seabed siːbd, infrared ɪnˈfreəd rays, and (my favourite) ˈsʌndrid (sundried) tomatoes.


  1. I would have expected ˈmaɪzl̩d rather than ˈmɪzl̩d.

    1. Yes, I still remember vividly - around the age of 13 - realising that there was NO verb *misle: I had seen the word 'misled' in books and had silently read it as ˈmaɪzl̩d'.

  2. I've heard baɪˈɒpɪk a number of times recently. Mark Lawson has said it on BBC Radio 4's Front Row, I'm sure. And that's a film review program, so you'd think he'd know better.

    Thomas Ryan.

  3. I like to pronounce the word "bigram" (only in my own mind, not aloud of course) as "big+ram".

  4. When I was about 10 I was embarrassed to discover "inclement" wasn't pronounced "ɪnkl̩mənt"

  5. Jack Windsor Lewis draws our attention to an OED entry for mizzle 'to confuse, muddle, mystify; to intoxicate, befuddle'. Now regional (Brit. and N. Amer.).

  6. The latest one to trip me up is 'miniseries', which I took to be the plural of 'minisery' until I realised it was 'mini-series'.

  7. Clerestory as /klərˈestəri/ ...

    Martin J Ball

  8. I was shocked when I realised it was bio-pic, and pronounced as such, just a couple of years ago. I had always idly assumed it was bi(o)-, op(er)-, -ic, without thinking "op" is no normal reflex of "opus".

  9. Even well respected linguists have fallen down on "biopic":

    (Gareth Roberts)

  10. How about two-syllable words that are both nouns and verbs, where, very often, the noun has the stress on the first syllable, whereas the verb carries the stress on the second syllable: record, contract, etc.
    With your comment on 'mizzle' in mind, isn't it possible, even likely, that the Osman pronunciation of the word will become the dominant?

  11. For me, misle definitely had the PRICE vowel, similar to but not rhyming with isle. And straphanger had the FACE vowel (i.e. /strəˈfeɪndʒər/), until I realized that its etymology was strap-hanger.

  12. Where can I write to John about a doubt not related at all with this post?

  13. A Google search on my name would lead you to my home page, where you will see my email address prominently displayed.

  14. Then there's legend = leg-end.

  15. Oh dear. I've always said it like Richard Osman, and think that's the only version I've heard.

  16. For years before I was corrected, I had /leɪpl/ for lapel.

  17. Triple with PRICE (as in triad, tricycle, trident) is not unheard-of either: it's the obvious pronunciation spelling, though all(?) native speakers use KIT.

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