Saturday, February 23, 2013

Even You, the Princeton-and-Yale-Educated Sonia Sotomayor? A Most Glaring — and Unforgivable — Mispronunciation by a U.S. Supreme Court Justice

First, my customary declaration for posts on “mispronounced words”: The objective is NOT to denigrate or ridicule someone. Instead, I feature such posts in the belief that if a highly educated person is mispronouncing a particular word, there is an extremely high probability that at least a few of my blog readers are making the same error. In other words, these posts are meant to serve as “pronunciation alerts!

Now, click on the 30-second video clip below and note how U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor mispronounces the word chasm [as chaz-um] even though, just seconds earlier, PBS interviewer Gwen Ifill has pronounced it correctly [as kaz-um]. This is egregious! It is unforgivable, considering that chasm is far removed from the category of highfalutin, arcane, or grandiloquent words that were known to and used by only the late William F. Buckley. [Lest you think I am disparaging Mr. Buckley, please know that in my book “The Articulate Professional” I describe him as “a cerebral Olympian” and “a man of Olympian intellect.”]

A reminder why correct pronunciation matters: In the case of Supreme Court justices, you can automatically assume that they are highly educated, else they wouldn’t have made it to the nation’s highest court. [According to Wikipedia, Sonia Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and has a J.D. from Yale Law School.] But, if you were to hear such a glaring mispronunciation from, say, a new acquaintance whose background you know not, you wouldn’t be faulted for assuming that the person is not very well educated or that he or she leads an insular life.

© Copyright 2013  V. J. Singal


  1. I noticed this mispronounciation too. Sometimes a person's mispronounciations are a sign they are exposed to the word in question more in reading than in speech. I think Justice Sotomayor struggled with writing in school. I've also heard the affable Justice Breyer use the word "criteria" in the singular. For example, he said something like, "This was a criteria..." Another one is the word, "machinations," which 80% of politicians and journalists mispronounce. When the error rate is this high though I think this may make it "correct," esp. with machination -- not chasm.

    1. I greatly appreciate your taking the time to post a comment.

      Reference your remarks on the pronunciation of "machination": If you are implying that some pronounce the first syllable as "mak" and others as "mash," know that most respected dictionaries (including Merriam Webster's and American Heritage) show both pronunciations to be correct.