MUNDANE MYSTERIES: How To Pronounce “Caramel” Correctly

Thanks to the intricacies of our amazing English language, one thing is all but guaranteed: more often than not, we’re all going to mispronounce a word (or twelve). Because of the complexity of American English, how a word is spelled doesn’t always exactly indicate how it’s supposed to sound. And that can cause some embarrassment when you try to pronounce a word that you’ve only ever read but have never had to say aloud. Then, on top of that complexity, there’s the confusion that arises when a word has significantly different pronunciations across various regions of the country. Like the word “caramel”. It’s spelled the same, regardless of where you are. But how do you say it correctly?

There are at least two definitive pronunciations of caramel used here in the U.S. For most folks in the Southeast & on the East Coast, the brown, chewy candy is usually called CARE-uh-mull. For most folks from western & northern U.S., the middle syllable gets dropped altogether, so they pronounce it CAR-mull. Meanwhile, over in the UK, they tend to favor the southern/east coast pronunciation, but with a twist, pronouncing the first syllable as care (as in care-a-mel), but the last syllable as MELL.

But with multiple pronunciations of the word in our overly complex English language, it’s not always obvious which one might be correct. The middle-syllable droppers and the every-syllable-pronouncers may insist that their way is THE correct method, the truth is: both pronunciations are actually acceptable.

How is that possible? That there are two wholly correct ways to say the same word? Well, it comes down to majority rule. The overall English-speaking public decides how & when words are used, not linguists or dictionary makers. As a matter of fact, because both pronunciations of caramel are so popular, the dictionary makers at Merriam-Webster’s actually include both pronunciations in its entry for the word.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via Twitter (@AndyWebbRadio), or shoot me an email at andy@wfre.com.

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