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Word of the week: mischievous

Last Friday, Channel 4 devoted the hours after 9pm to the sitcom “Friday Night Dinner”, to mark the show’s 10th anniversary. We have been big fans of the show for the last couple of years and were looking forward to it. There was a documentary featuring interviews with the cast, crew members (including the writer, Robert Popper) and celebrity fans. One of the show’s stars, Paul Ritter, died last month aged 54, so the documentary turned into a tribute to him, and to the two actresses who played his mother and his mother-in-law (Rosalind Knight and Frances Cuka), both of whom died in 2020. There were also the three episodes of “Friday Night Dinner” voted as the nation’s favourites. We had seen them all many times so, as a family, we didn’t watch all three of them again this time round.  

In the documentary, one of the other actors described Ritter as “mischievous” but pronounced it, as some people do, with an extra “i”: “mischievious”, four syllables rather than the three syllables it should have. I don’t get too hung up on pronunciation, another word that people often add an extra vowel to, making it “pronounciation” rather than as it’s spelt. In these cases, people are generally repeating something that they have heard rather than read. If they had read “mischievous” or “pronunciation” before hearing them, they would probably pronounce them correctly.  

Somewhere over the last year, on a friend’s Twitter feed, there was a re-tweet of some useful advice: don’t criticize people for mis-pronouncing an unfamiliar based on its spelling. They probably came across it through their reading rather than hearing someone else say it, and there may be no-one in their life who can correct them. I was certainly corrected the first time I attempted to say “Siouxsie and the Banshees”, a band I read about before they were signed, and before I heard them played on the radio. “It’s not See-ook-sie and the Banshees,” a classmate told me, “It’s Soozie and the Banshees”. I have pronounced it correctly ever since.  

For the record, the only two words that I can find that end with the letters “ievous” are “grievous” and “mischievous” and the only two ending with “evious” are “devious” and “previous”. Most of us would rather be considered mischievous rather than devious, but maybe “mischievious” is a cross between the two. It’s not a recognized word right now, but if people keep saying it for the next 50 or 100 years it might become one.  


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