February Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Welcome to February, the shortest yet most misunderstood month of the year.

How often have you heard someone not simply stress both Rs, but tumble over them? How often?

Sometimes it seems the only word more mispronounced than February is often.

Here’s the scoop: The English language loves to make things complicated. For starters, there’s English-English (the Mother Tongue) and there’s American English. We don’t always pronounce things the way they do across the pond. Remember “vitamin,” “laboratory,” “aluminum”? Then, there are consonants and vowels that are supposed to remain silent (when you live five hours or so west of the Greenwich Mean), yet stubbornly those letters take up the most awkward positions in words.

For February, the first R is silent, the second is not. “Feb-u-ary,” never “Feb-RU-ary.” It’s just that simple.

Those of us who grew up with a silent T in “often” often cringe when actors, newscasters and public speakers hit that T. It adds an unexpectedly Sloane-y tone to American ears. I fear we may have crossed the rubicon on this one, though. Too many popular figures choose “off – ten” while the original, “offen,” has been cast off into the Land of Disuse.

Where do you stand on “February” and “often”? Which other mispronunciations sound like fingernails on a blackboard to you?