Yesterday in a video for an online course I am doing, the speaker used the word vertiginous. This is an example of a word in my ‘passive vocabulary’ – one which I understand when I (more usually) read it (this was the first time I have consciously heard it), but do not and probably would not use myself. The speaker actually used it in a quotation, which came up  on the screen just before he started speaking, so I saw it before I heard it. I had a momentary thought of ‘Oh, I haven’t consciously heard that before – I wonder how it’s pronounced’.

I had never closely looked at or attempted to pronounce it, silently or aloud. Prior to this, I probably would have written *vertiginious and pronounced it as *‘VER-te-JIN-i-ous’, though I would have checked in both cases before embarrassing myself in public. When typing, I am saved by the red underline; when speaking, there is no red underline. Words in a person’s passive vocabulary are always in danger of being mispronounced. They do not have to be long or difficult, either. A running joke in choir I sang in was the pronunciation of awry as ‘awe-ry’ rather than ‘a-rye’. Apparently one chorister had once pronounced it like that and the conductor and some other choristers made it a point to mock her (gently) whenever they could.

The pronunciation is ‘ver-TI-je-nous’, and the word is related to vertigo, which I found while researching this is not necessary related to heights: the ‘vert’ is the same as in revert and reverse, and has the meaning ‘turning, spinning’.


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