Writing process

Pronouncing written words

Seize the day
Seize the day

I worked full time while I studied for my undergraduate degree.  It was back in the early days of off-campus study, and a lot of my subjects were done partly off-campus, with big chunks of lab time during the holidays.

I did a science degree.  Applied science, which I confess I have never used. I started working in IT and I’ve spent most of my life working in IT.

The thing is, science has a lot of words that can be difficult to pronounce.

Some are easy. Trinitrotoluene and deoxyribonucleic acid are two I never had problems with.  I could see the roots of each word and it’s a simple matter of sounding them out.

Even so, to this day, I am still more of reader of science words, than I am a speaker.

It’s not just science words.  There’s a quote that goes around Twitter occasionally.  Never make fun of someone if they mispronounce a word, it means they learned it by reading.  That is so true.  I find that a lot with Latin words.  All my Latin has come from reading, not from hearing much of it spoken.


Take deus ex machina.  The literal translation is “god in the machine”.  This is from old Greek and Roman plays where the ‘machine’ was a crane held over the stage. There was a ‘god’ in the crane and he (presumably mostly a he) sorted out the plot.

It signifies a character who suddenly enters a story and provides a solution that couldn’t have happened otherwise.

When I was younger I always pronounced it ‘deuce ex ma-shee-na’.  It’s actually pronounced ‘day-yoos ex mack-inna’.  (That looks very Ocker written there, that’s how we’d say it with an Australian accent, anyway.)

The internet has been a boon.  Want to know how to pronounce deus ex machina.  Google it, with the word ‘pronounce’ at the end.

There’s only one problem, of course.  Not everyone pronounces the word the same way.  I used to pronounce carpe diem as ‘carp dee-em’.  Now I have a choice of ‘kar-pah dee-em’ or ‘kar-pay dee-em’. It probably doesn’t matter much, except to a purist Latin speaker, but either kar-pah or kay-pay has to be better than plain old carp.

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