The Help Desk: I have a huge vocabulary. Why can't I pronounce any words correctly?

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I’m fed up with the reader’s curse. I have a big vocabulary and I know the names of plenty of important people, but it seems like every time I try to toss off a big word at work (elucidate, anyone?) or refer to a major historical figure, I mispronounce them terribly because I’ve only ever encountered them in print. (I still remember the first time I did this, back in high school, when I gave a presentation on Socrates who I referred to as “SEW-crates” several times.) I’m trying to sound smart, but mangling the pronunciation always makes me sound like a total moron.

I try to Google, for instance, “how do you pronounce Miriam Toews,” but different YouTube pronunciation guides offer completely different pronunciations. Should I just stick to monosyllabic words and bland British names from now on? And just to be safe, how do you pronounce “monosyllabic,” anyway?

Perplexed in Portage Bay

Dear Perplexed,

"Tanzaynia," "diversary," "covfefe," "premedication," "Nambia," and "infantroopen," are just a few of my favorite words President Donald Trump has mispronounced or made up entirely. These are the words I call to mind every time my vigilance slips and I mispronounce "pedestrian" in public. (Think of a pedophile injuring himself while taking a shit. That's how I pronounce it: "pedo-strain".)

For readers, that is the silver lining on the clusterfuck shit-pile of these last three years – if the leader of our nation can't pronounce basic words, or even fucking remember them, how can anyone judge you for mispronouncing "Socrates" or "elucidate" or "macabre"?

They can't. They are puckered assholes if they even try, so you go ahead and scream "Miriam Toews" from the rooftops until your pretty pink lungs cave in.