Misled on Beijing: The words that twist our tongues

(This is a reader-participation posting. You, too, can embarrass yourself thoroughly by fessing up to the words you’ve mispronounced, misconstrued or generally mistreated for most of your natural born days. Hit that comment button!)

Comes this, from the venerable Associated Press: Apparently the host city of the Michael Phelps Quadrennial Swimathon is Bay-JING, not Bay-ZHING.

Who knew?

Well, more than a billion Chinese citizens, for starters. And probably Richard Nixon, may he rest in semi-peace, and Henry Kissinger, who (I never thought I’d say a thing like this) might have been a handy fellow to have around to fend off the Russia-Georgia hot-war tiff that seems to have been made possible partly by American diplomatic and political miscues.

But not me, until the AP set me straight. And not the majority of our television talking heads. And maybe not you.

Some people seem to gravitate to the soft-z Bay-ZHING because it sounds, well, foreign and exotic, according to the AP. But that, the news service points out, is like saying New ZHER-zey: It just ain’t right. (And there’s nothing much exotic about New Jersey, although the views of Manhattan from West New York are pretty darned killer.)

So, the big question: What other words have we been mangling, misconstruing, mixing up? Which words in our private lexicons have meanings or pronunciations known only to us, even though we blissfully believe the rest of the English-speaking world is fully attuned to our singular and quaintly idiosyncratic interpretations?

Some years ago — oh, say when I was in my early 30s — a friend confessed that when she was a kid she thought the word “mis-led” was “MYZ-uld.” Heh-heh, I replied, and never let on that until that moment “misled” had MYZ-uld me completely. Oh, I knew about mis-led, and what it meant. But I was under the impression that there were two words: ordinary, garden variety mis-led, which was merely descriptive, and the beautiful MYZ-uld, which meant mis-led, but with nefarious purpose — a pirate word, a word signifying skulduggery. I miss it still.

I did better on ATH-ens, only tumbling to its true pronunciation in fourth- or fifth-grade world history, when the teacher got around to talking about Mt. Olympus and the Acropolis and other stuff I’d been reading and dreaming about for a few years. Trouble is, I’d only been reading about it, and in my little personal classical cosmos the great city of the ancient world was AY-thens, with a “th” like “the,” not like “therapy,” which I almost needed to deal with the disillusionment.

Sure, there are others. But why embarrass myself still more? Time for you to embarrass yourselves. Give us the lowdown on your badspeak. All of Art Scatterdom wants to know!