MUNDANE MYSTERIES: What’s The Correct Way To Pronounce “February”?

Now that the 2nd month of the year is almost over, let’s address a common issue:  just how is the month we’re in supposed to be pronounced?

Here in the US, the most common pronunciation of the word is “FEB-yoo-air-ee.” Both The Merriam-Webster Dictionary & The American Heritage Dictionary consider the common pronunciation correct, along with the less common, more traditional standard “FEB-roo-air-ee.” (which seems to irritate fans of the common pronunciation). But the loss of the first “r” in February didn’t just happen recently thanks to lazy Millenials or Gen-Z-ers. No, people have been avoiding that first “r” in February for, at least, the last 150 years…maybe even longer.

Thanks to certain conditions dealing with word stress & the other sounds in a word, we human beings just don’t seem to like having two r’s so close to each other in a word. And there’s a name for that linguistic situation, where we drop one sound because another of the same sound is too close to it: it’s called “dissimilation”, and it affects lots of languages, not just English. Some other words where people tend to drop one of the r’s: surprise, governor, berserk, paraphernalia, caterpillar, southerner, prerogative (along with plenty more). And while not everybody drops the r’s in those words, not many folks seem to get too riled up when they hear someone else do it.

There are, however, a few cases of “r” dissimilation that get people very riled up, namely in the words library & February. Library attracts attention thanks to its association with commonly disparaged dialects. February only seems to attract attention when someone asks what the proper pronunciation should be.

Things are a tad different over in the UK, where, certain British accents have the pronunciation of February including all the r’s but shortening the word’s syllables from four to three, so that it’s pronounced “FEB-ruhr-ree.” Meanwhile, down under in Australia, they go yet another route by using something close to our American “FEB-yoo-air-ee” pronunciation, but they shorten it to just three syllables (FEB-yuh-ree).

But whether you’re annoyed by people who don’t drop the first “r”, or you’re tired of being ridiculed because you pronounce the word as it’s written, you can take heart…because, however you pronounce it, the shortest month is, thankfully, almost over for another year.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me an email:  [email protected].