This is probably one of my favorite mispronunciations ever. I was sitting with one of my Singaporean clients and we were talking about tough English words. She mentioned some words that she recently found out she was mispronouncing and we had a laugh about them. You have to be able to laugh at yourself when it comes to these things! Then she said, “Oh, but the hardest one for me is ‘hippo-puh-TAY-mus.” I let out a giggle thinking she was purposely mispronouncing the word, but then it became clear that she was taught to say the word that way. I couldn’t believe it! “Your teachers pronounced it that way?!” “Yep.” Her whole life she had been saying hippo-puh-TAY-mus, never knowing it was incorrect. Thank goodness Seth Godin didn’t write about a purple hippopotamus. We’ve managed to keep the word out of mainstream vocabulary, and definitely far from business discourse… unless you work at a zoo.
So how do you pronounce ‘hippopotamus’ correctly? Click the play button for the 60-second Quick Fix!
This is a tough word because there are so many syllables and if you haven’t heard the word pronounced before, you might not know right away where you should place the stress. Primary stress should be on the third syllable (pot), and secondary stress on the first syllable (hip):
We see vowel reduction in the second syllable (po), which ends up sounding a bit like ‘puh’, the fourth syllable (a), which sounds like ‘uh’, and the letter U in ‘mus’ also reduces to the schwa sound. Listen to Part 2 of the free course for more information on vowel reduction and the schwa.
And of course, if you really can’t master this one, you can always just stick to “hippo”!
How were you taught to say ‘hippopotamus’? Are there any words you’ve discovered that your teachers actually taught you to say incorrectly? Let me know in the comments!